On May 17, Overton made what was at the time one of the best starts of the Reds season. He threw 7 ⅔ innings in a win over the Cleveland Guardians, and Overton was throwing so well that the umpire made a comment to Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson about how good Overton’s command was.
Overton left the mound that day feeling healthy and holding a 1.82 ERA. He had no idea that his back was in bad shape and that he wouldn’t make another start before going on the 60-day IL.
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Following a long road back, Overton returned to the Reds’ active roster for Friday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. He’ll initially come out of the bullpen, but Reds manager David Bell said Overton could make a start before the end of the season.
“That was the goal from the start, to make it back before the end of the year,” Overton said. “It was a grind. A back injury is nothing to play with so I had to take it super slow. We took everything slow but I feel really good now, and I’m excited to be back.”
Following that start against the Guardians, Overton threw a bullpen and still felt great. After the team flew to Toronto for a road series against the Blue Jays, his back felt stiff. The next day, his back was completely locked up.
Later that week, he was on the 60-day IL with a stress reaction in his lower back.
“I couldn’t really move,” Overton said. “I don’t think it was an acute thing, I think it just kind of happened and I was asymptomatic. That second day in Toronto I couldn’t move.”
Overton went to the Reds’ spring training facility in Arizona to start a long rehab process. In July, he started throwing from 90 feet. In the middle of August, he started throwing bullpen sessions.
Then, right when he was ready to go out on a rehab assignment in late August, Overton tweaked his hamstring.
“I was 100% ready to leave,” Overton said. “I did the conditioning for that day and it was just a lack of judgment. I had just thrown a bullpen and had been sweating a ton. I clearly needed some fluids and I went straight out and ran. Tweaked the hamstring. Thankfully it was just a grade one so it set me back two weeks.”
Overton started a rehab assignment on Sept. 13 and pitched in two minor league games before returning to the Reds. He’s currently built up to throw around 90 pitches.
“It's been a long road,” Bell said. “He was pitching great before he got injured and he's been through injury before but he worked really hard to get back. I'm really glad he was able to make it back with a couple of weeks left and we get to see him pitch again.”
Overton signed with the Reds last offseason as a minor league free agent. After starting the season in Triple-A, Overton got the call-up in late April and immediately made a big impact.
Even though Overton, 29, had been cut twice as a minor leaguer, played in an independent league and been a part of six MLB organizations, he developed some new pitches and delivered four impressive starts for the Reds early in the year.
Overton still has a lot to prove, and his goal for the last two weeks of this season is to set himself up well for an MLB opportunity with the Reds in 2023.
“I’m proving that I’m healthy and can pick up where I left off,” Overton said. “I’m really trying to earn my spot for next year. That’s pretty much the goal for the rest of the season … There’s a lot of opportunity here for next year. I’m trying to prove myself to show I need to be in that conversation.”
Injury updates: Minior, Senzel both out
Before Friday’s game, the Reds placed starting pitcher Mike Minor on the 10-day IL, moved center fielder Nick Senzel to the 60-day IL and sent catcher Aramis Garcia to Triple-A for a rehab assignment.
Reds infielder Donovan Solano was scratched from the lineup on Friday with an eye infection. Reds infielder Spencer Steer dealt with the same issue earlier in the week.
Preparing for rules changes
With rule changes on the way in 2023, including a pitch clock and regulations on defensive shifts, Bell said he hopes to get minor league players and coaches together with the major leaguers before next season to discuss what the rules look like in practice. Since these rules have been in place in the Minor Leagues, the minor league players and coaches have a feel for the impact the rule changes could have in MLB.
“We will need to make that a big focus in spring training,” Bell said. “I think there are a lot of things we probably haven’t thought of yet as far as the rules go, just different defensive alignments, for example, or what we can add into our running game to take advantage of the bigger bases.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Connor Overton returns from the injured list to join the Reds bullpen