Jason Adam on verge of major-league debut with hometown team
The story of Royals reliever Jason Adam’s first major-league call-up begins in a barber’s chair in Nebraska.
It has to.
In that chair on Friday morning, Adam, a right-handed pitcher from Overland Park who was promoted to Class AAA Omaha a mere 10 days ago, learned for the first time in his nearly eight-year professional career that a major-league team wanted him on its roster.
He had spent his previous three seasons rehabbing from a series of four elbow surgeries on the arm that made him the Royals’ fifth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Blue Valley Northwest. He’d been traded from Kansas City to the Twins for Josh Willingham in 2014. He’d missed the 2015 and '16 seasons rehabbing and suffered a setback with the Padres last spring training that limited him to 13 late-season outings.
In spite of it all, the Royals wanted him to join their bullpen at Kauffman Stadium for Friday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers. They had just made room on their 40-man roster to select his contract after out-righting Brandon Maurer and optioning Scott Barlow to Class AAA Omaha.
Relief washed over Adam.
The chair provided him a respite — once he’d gotten over the initial dread that accompanied the phone call, anyway.
“I call (Omaha manager Brian Poldberg) and he goes, ‘I know I had to give you this news a couple years ago but we traded you again,’” Adam said. “I go, ‘You can’t be serious.’ He goes, ‘No, I’m kidding. You’re going to KC.’ I was speechless.”
You can’t fault him that. Adam is 26, and he’s already been a free agent twice. When doctors had to go back into his elbow for a fourth surgery prior to the 2015 season — this one placed one screw that still holds the once-fractured elbow together — a major-league debut seemed unrealistic.
Adam couldn’t think of much beyond “crazy" as an accurate description of his emotions.
“I wish I could put it into words,” he said. “You dream about this day since you’re 8 years old. But to have it be in your hometown — it’s crazy. I can’t explain it.”
At this point, he doesn’t need to. His winding journey has done much of that for him.
“That’ll say something about his character when he steps on that mound, too,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That he’s a fighter, he’s a competitor and he’s gonna go out and do everything he can be to be successful.”
In recent months, Adam has been so successful that the Royals began keeping closer tabs on him. They signed him back in August, just four days after the Padres released him following his only outing with their Class AA affiliate. A Royals pitching coordinator had seen Adam pitching during his rehab in Arizona and puzzled over Adam’s release.
“We always keep tabs on the guys we trade,” said Royals assistant general manager Scott Sharp.
The Royals saw potential. Adam pitched in seven games with their Class AA Northwest Arkansas club at the end of the season and returned to the Naturals after spring training.
Since then, Adam has posted a 1.00 ERA in 10 games spanning 18 innings between stints at Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. He has reached 97 mph with his fastball and thrown a curveball that helped him limit batters to a .119 batting average and rack up 26 strikeouts.
Maurer, the struggling reliever optioned down to Omaha last month, was nowhere near ready to rejoin the major-league club. He had a 13.50 ERA in seven outings when the Royals took him off their 40-man roster on Thursday.
And Barlow, who pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief for the Royals in two games this week, needed consistent work as a starter in Omaha’s rotation to continue his development.
So it was that Adam, who was a starter before the stress fracture derailed his career, became the next man to help shore up the Royals bullpen.
“I feel like everything’s come full circle. It’s been really fun to see,” said Adam, who went through with a haircut before he left the barber's chair and apprised his wife and family of the news.
It has been for his teammates, too. Second baseman Whit Merrifield, a member of the same 2010 draft class, engulfed Adam in a bear hug as soon as Adam checked in with Yost upon arrival at Kauffman Stadium.
Merrifield hadn’t seen Adam since spring training, when the pitcher slept on a pull-out couch in Merrifield's living room.
“One of my best guys,” Merrifield said. “I’m glad he’s here.”