There was Trevor Gott on Friday, inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, playing cards with teammates three hours before the Washington Nationals’ season opener against the Cincinnati Reds, back in big leagues.
“Obviously,” said the former Tates Creek and University of Kentucky star, “I’m really happy with it.”
The 25-year-old right-handed relief pitcher made the Nationals’ roster after a standout spring in which he posted a 1.54 ERA in 11 2/3 innings over 11 appearances.
“I just went in trying to prove that I had trained hard in the offseason and put myself in a position to succeed,” he said. “I think I did, and that’s the first step.”
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It’s especially gratifying considering what Gott has experienced the past two seasons, spending more time in the minors than the majors before undergoing hernia surgery last August.
“That’s tough to run out on the mound and not feel like yourself and try and compete with these guys that are the best in the world,” Gott said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had anything that low.”
Drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres in 2013, Gott was traded a year later to the Los Angeles Angeles, where he made his major league debut on June 14, 2015, at the age of 22.
After going 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA in 47 2/3 innings that season, Gott was traded to the Nationals in the offseason. He spent most of the 2016 season at the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, where he pitched in 35 games compared to nine for Washington.
The same was true last season. Gott pitched in just four games for the Nationals — two in June where he was roughed up for five runs in 1 2/3 innings by the Braves; and two in July where in one appearance he allowed five runs without recording an out against the Reds — compared to 30 games with Syracuse before being shut down for surgery.
Post-surgery, Gott decided to take a different approach to the offseason. He remained in Jupiter, Fla., near the Nationals’ spring training facility instead of returning home to Lexington for the entire winter.
“That’s where I trained and you can get outdoors and throw. And I was around a bunch of other guys …,” he said. “You’re around those guys and it kind of keeps you in the game. You get back home, obviously seeing family and stuff, but you’ve got your friends and you’re not 100 percent into it. I think it was a huge step for me going down there and getting myself ready.”
It worked. “I don’t want to say I was in the best shape of my life, that’s what everyone says,” he said, “but compared to the previous offseasons coming into spring, I felt a lot more prepared for this one.”
He means not only physically, but mentally.
“You learn a lot from failure,” Gott said. “You learn a lot about your body. I think the big thing for me was learning about my body, how to keep it healthy, how to eat right, how to just take care of myself because these seasons are long.
“And just how to get through the hard times because there’s going to be a lot of those in this game, a lot of failure and you have to get past it.”
Now he’s on a team that has won back-to-back division titles but lost each year in the first round of the playoffs.
“I’m just happy to play with these guys and learn from them and pick their brains and have them help me get through this stuff,” Gott said. “Personally, I want to stay healthy and prove that I belong here in the big leagues. I’ve had some success in the past, but it’s what you’ve done for me lately and I haven’t done much lately. So just getting myself back and competing at the big league level and showing I belong.”