FARGO-Fargo-Moorhead starting pitcher Trey McNutt had 3,000 miles and 45 hours in his 2012 Honda Accord to think about his life on his drive from Panama City, Fla., to Seattle. It was 2015 and he was making the drive alone for one last chance to keep his baseball career alive.
He thought about his daughter back in Florida. He thought about the fact he was unemployed, recently released from the Chicago Cubs organization. He thought about his fastball only topping out at 89 miles per hour after shoulder surgery. He used to hit 98.
He was 25 years old and he was thinking about the fact his career might be over.
"It was definitely scary, a million things going through your head," McNutt said before F-M was topped by Kansas City 6-4 Friday at Newman Outdoor Field. "I had no job at the time and really no other interests. Plus, I was also going to Seattle where it's rainy and gloomy. It was grueling at times, but I was able to keep pushing and paid off in the end."
McNutt grew up in the small town of Haleyville, Ala. He's been pitching since he was 9 years old. His uncle was Sean Whiteside, who pitched in a couple of games with the Detroit Tigers when he was 24. He taught McNutt throughout his youth.
"I always loved it," McNutt said. "My uncle told me if I kept my head on straight I could play beyond college. Pretty much when I was in high school that's when I got locked in and realized I do have a shot to play at the highest level as possible."
McNutt was drafted by the Cubs in the 32nd round in 2009. He came up with a fastball, slurve and a changeup was worked into his repertoire. He made appearances in games as high as Double-A from 2010-2013, but shoulder surgery changed everything. He lost velocity on his fastball and was released.
McNutt became friends with Casey Weathers in the minor leagues of the Cubs system. In fact, the two were teammates on the RedHawks last season. Weathers went through the same problem, losing speed on his fastball at one point in his career. He told McNutt to give Driveline Baseball, a training program in Seattle, a shot before giving up. Five days after being released from the Cubs, McNutt drove from Arizona to Seattle, but was told his arm was not ready for the training just yet. He went back to Florida for six weeks to get his arm ready before making the trip back to Seattle.
He trained with Driveline and began lifting heavy weights, something he had never done because pitchers tend to avoid heavy lifting. He decided to try something different and got in the best shape of his life. He was released from the Cubs in July when his fastball was topping out at 89. The next time he threw off a mound was indoors the following January. He was throwing between 94 and 96 with his fastball.
"It was definitely worth the risk," McNutt said. "I got it all back and in the moment it freaks you out. I was very fortunate I was able to get back and compete professionally again."
After a brief stint in the San Diego Padres organization, McNutt found himself in the bullpen for the RedHawks last season. After the season, he told F-M manager Michael Schlact he wanted to be a starter again.
"If you look at his resume in 2012 the Cubs drafted him as a starter," Schlact said. "He has it on his resume and he showed us he could do it through arm strength and durability."
McNutt is 0-2 with a 4.35 earned-run average in five starts this season. The 28-year-old has struck out 37 in 31 innings, leading the RedHawks.
"He goes out there every five days and he's given us good outings," Schlact said. "He's a leader. He's a true veteran-type guy. He's played bunch of different levels. He's the type of hard worker we want some of these young guys to emulate."
The RedHawks (12-14) didn't get a quality start Friday, as F-M starter Benji Waite lasted just three innings, giving up six runs on 10 hits. The RedHawks trailed 6-1 after four innings, but clawed back with three in the bottom of the fourth. They would get no closer, as Kansas City put up zeroes. Lucas Irvine got the win on the mound, giving up three runs on eight hits through seven innings, while striking out five and walking none. The RedHawks put two on in the bottom of the ninth, but Maikol Gonzalez flew out.
McNutt, on the other hand, hopes he has another long drive in front of him for his baseball career except with less question marks.
"It's great to be starting again," McNutt said. "Starting is something I feel like I can still do and now that I'm at the later part of my career I thought it was my best shot to get back into affiliated ball and show I can compete six or seven innings and get guys out."