Sacramento River Cats

Michael Broadway shining for River Cats this season

Sacramento River Cats pitcher Michael Broadway is having an outstanding season.
Sacramento River Cats pitcher Michael Broadway is having an outstanding season.

In baseball parlance, Michael Broadway has been a lights-out reliever for the River Cats this season. His nickname is Bone-crusher, bestowed by outfielder Brett Jackson, who may have been influenced by the right-hander’s 6-foot-5, 215-pound build. If that wears off, though, there’s a story in Broadway’s past that could make Lights-out a suitable replacement.

Broadway, 28, throws a high-90s fastball and a hard slider. In 21 games this season sharing closer duties in Sacramento, he has a 1.05 ERA, five saves and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-6. Those are unprecedented numbers for Broadway, who in 10-plus minor-league seasons has pitched for four organizations while dealing with inconsistency and injuries.

In 2011, Broadway was pitching in the Atlanta Braves’ organization with elbow pain, and in April that year he had “clean-up” surgery on his elbow. It was supposed to sideline him for six weeks, he said, but he missed the rest of the season. The pain persisted in the offseason, so Broadway returned to orthopedic surgeon James Andrews intending to have another “exploratory” procedure.

Broadway said he was hooked up to an IV, about to be wheeled into the operating room. And then the lights went out.

38-6 River Cats pitcher Michael Broadway’s strikeouts-to-walks ratio

“There was a power outage at the hospital,” Broadway said. “(Andrews) was like, ‘We can’t start surgery off backup generators.’”

Andrews, scheduled to leave town within hours, offered to perform the surgery when he returned in several days, but Broadway said he and his father didn’t feel like waiting. There also was uncertainty about the cause of the elbow pain and whether the surgery was necessary.

“I wasn’t going to quit (baseball), but at the same time I was like, maybe this isn’t going to work out,” Broadway said. “At this point in time, (the elbow) was either going to get better or not. Either way, we just decided to go home, play it out.”

Broadway said he received multiple platelet-rich-plasma shots and started working with an instructor on “movement patterns” of his arm. Eventually, he said, the elbow pain became “manageable,” then went away. Broadway signed with the Padres in May 2012, the Nationals the following spring and the Giants after the 2013 season. He spent nearly all of 2014 rehabbing a shoulder injury, but in the Venezuelan Winter League he had a 1.12 ERA in 15 games.

This season, he has been one of the best relievers in the Pacific Coast League. River Cats manager Bob Mariano was surprised when he discovered how long Broadway, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Braves in 2005, has been in the minors.

“I think he’s had some injuries,” Mariano said. “He’s healthy now, and I’ll tell you what – he’s been impressive. Hard slider; he’s got good velocity. He’s got a chance to pitch in the big leagues. He has the stuff to do it.”

Broadway has had trouble throwing strikes in the past, a reason his walk total this season is notable. He said his velocity came around “gradually” – he was a “high-80s to low-90s guy” at Pope County High School in Illinois – and when he started throwing harder, he had to learn how to control and summon that speed consistently, and with consistent mechanics. His best numbers have come in parts of four seasons at Triple A, where he has a 3.23 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 751/3 innings.

“The closer you get to (the majors) and then have a setback, the more you kind of want it,” Broadway said. “You’re like, ‘I was that close.’ And you kind of develop a relentless mindset of chasing something.

“If you feel like you can get healthy from whatever injury you have, and you realize you have the opportunity to get there if you have a relentless work ethic, why would you not? And I feel like that certainly plays a role in how my stuff is right now.”

Early each June, when the major-league draft comes around, Broadway said it catches him a little by surprise. It’s been 10 years since he was drafted, although, he said, shaking his head, that it “absolutely” doesn’t feel that long. Healthy and performing well, Broadway said he feels as close to realizing his goal of reaching the majors as he ever has, but he said “as far as how close I really am, I don’t know.

“I’m just out there to pitch for whoever puts me in the game,” he said, “wherever I’m at, out there to be in the moment.”