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Kansas City Royals reliever Dan Altavilla returns to majors after nearly 3 seasons

Dan Altavilla walked off the mound after getting Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts to fly out to center field. It was a pivotal moment for the veteran reliever, as he had just surrendered a home run.

Altavilla, who was pitching for the San Diego Padres at the time, managed to limit the damage.

And the Padres needed that … three years ago.

Unfortunately, Altavilla wouldn’t throw another pitch for the Padres. On April 17, 2021, he was placed on the 10-day injured list with right-elbow inflammation.

After further medical evaluation, Altavilla posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he had undergone Tommy John surgery. It wasn’t the news any pitcher wants to hear: Altavilla had a long road of recovery ahead of him.

The days turned into weeks. The weeks into months.

Then, Altavilla hit the one-year mark. Before he could look up, he was 1,151 days removed from pitching in a Major League Baseball game.

The long journey back is finally over. He finally has another opportunity to step onto a big-league mound again.

The Kansas City Royals recalled Altavilla from Triple-A Omaha, and he was available to make his 2024 debut at Kauffman Stadium in Monday’s series opener against the New York Yankees. In a corresponding move, the Royals sent Will Klein back to Omaha.

“It’s a long time coming to get back,” Altavilla said. “I’m just proud to be here.”

Altavilla adds another experienced option in the Royals’ bullpen. He began his major-league career with the Seattle Mariners in 2016. Altavilla went on to appear in 11 games with the Padres across two seasons.

Injuries sapped much of his service time. Altavilla, who will turn 32 in September, was 28 when he last appeared in an MLB game.

A lot has changed since that matchup against the Dodgers. Los Angeles, for instance, acquired Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman in free agency.

Meanwhile, Royals stars Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino were both starring for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, KC’s Double-A affiliate.

“I was just sitting over at the hotel waiting to get the call to come over,” Altavilla said. “I was pretty anxious just to, you know, get in the car and drive over. But walking into the clubhouse brought a lot of good memories back. I’m looking forward to making some more.”

Altavilla has pitched well since recovering from Tommy John surgery last year. He made eight minor-league appearances in the Boston Red Sox organization. Then, he pitched for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League.

The Royals were impressed with his performance in the Dominican. Altavilla went 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 10 games, striking out nine batters. Reports indicated he touched 98 mph on the radar gun with Tigres del Licey.

This offseason, Altavilla signed a minor-league contract with the Royals and received a non-roster invitation to spring training in Surprise, Arizona.

Altavilla continued to pitch well there. And then he was sent to Triple-A Omaha to start the year, where he turned in a 2.63 ERA with three saves across 27 1/3 innings.

The Royals began a key stretch against the New York Yankees and Dodgers this week. Altavilla is a fresh arm and could see action out of the bullpen. He also could be a candidate to open for Royals starter Daniel Lynch IV on Thursday.

“We have always thought highly of his stuff,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “He’s been in the big leagues and gotten big outs before. He knows what it takes. When he is healthy, we feel really good about him.”

Altavilla is ready to help the team. He sharpened his pitches in Omaha. And he made a few adjustments, listened to his body and developed a routine along the way.

“The last time I’ve been here was in (2021),” Altavilla said. “Just two surgeries, you know, I put all that stuff in the past.

“I had my time to be emotional about it. I’ve just been working really hard and trying to execute each day. I’m just glad to be here.”