Single-A RHP Matt Blackham recently was recognized as the South Atlantic League's Relief Pitcher of the Month for July. His success certainly has been more rewarding after missing all of last season recovering from procedures to repair a fractured tip of his pitching elbow as well as to reposition the arm's ulnar nerve.
Blackham, a 29th-round pick in 2014 out of Middle Tennessee State, is 4-2 with a 1.62 ERA and four saves in 33 relief appearances with Class A Columbia this season. He has struck out 74 batters and has a 1.04 WHIP and .190 opponent batting average in 50 innings.
"At first I was kind of scared," Blackham said about his return to action. "I was ready to get it over with and get the first game out of the way. It had been two years."
Since the beginning of July, Blackham has not allowed an earned run in 13 straight appearances. He has limited opponents to eight hits and four walks while striking out 31 in 20 innings during that span.
The elbow fracture is believed to have stemmed from cumulative stress, although it came to a head during spring training in 2016. As for moving the nerve, that was to address a likely unrelated tingling sensation in fingertips.
March, 2016: Blackham warms up during minor-league camp in St. Lucie (Credit: Adam Rubin)
"It had been sore for a while," Blackham said about the elbow. "One day I was throwing, right when teams broke last year in spring training, and it just popped on me playing catch."
Doctors inserted a screw as part of the surgery to repair the fracture. Blackham needed seven months to heal from the dual procedures. He resumed playing catch in November. Dating to high school, Blackham has now undergone four elbow procedures in his pitching career.
He had been a starter with the Brooklyn Cyclones back in 2015, going 2-2 with a 3.82 ERA in six starts. Blackham's fastball is sitting at 94 to 96 mph out of the bullpen. He also throws a knuckle curve and changeup.
His positive momentum is building as he adds more distance from the elbow issues.
"At first it was just getting back into things," Blackham said. "And then you're obviously enjoying the moment. I'm just glad that I'm playing again. I'm just glad that I'm able to throw a ball again after four elbow surgeries."
Organizational Leaders (Position Players)...
Average: Rigoberto Terrazas, Kingsport, .371; Dominic Smith, Vegas, .330; Amed Rosario, Vegas, .328; Wagner Lagrange, Kingsport, .325; Jeremy Vasquez, Brooklyn, .317; Dionis Paulino, Kingsport, .313; Guillermo Granadillo, GCL Mets, .306; Hansel Moreno, Kingsport, .297; Juan Uriarte, Kingsport, .295; Luis Guillorme, Binghamton, .294.
Home Runs: Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 23; Dominic Smith, Vegas, 16; Peter Alonso, St. Lucie, 16; Dash Winningham, Columbia, 13.
RBI: Dominic Smith, Vegas, 76; Travis Taijeron, Vegas, 72; Michael Paez, St. Lucie, 62; Dash Winningham, Columbia, 59; Amed Rosario, Vegas, 58.
Steals: Champ Stuart, Binghamton, 33; Jacob Zanon, Columbia, 28; Jose Miguel Medina, Brooklyn, 24; Patrick Biondi, Binghamton, 20.
Organizational Leaders (Pitchers)...
ERA: Jaison Vilera, GCL Mets, 1.49; Merandy Gonzalez, St. Lucie, 1.78; Corey Oswalt, Binghamton, 2.32; Briam Campusano, GCL Mets, 3.00; Jose Carlos Medina, Brooklyn, 3.53; Harol Gonzalez, Columbia, 3.56; PJ Conlon, Binghamton, 3.60; Christian James, Kingsport, 3.80; Yeizo Campos, GCL Mets, 3.86; Mickey Jannis, Binghamton, 3.93.
Wins: Gonzalez, St. Lucie, 12; Casey Delgado, Binghamton, 10; Jordan Humphreys, St. Lucie, 10.
Saves: Cory Burns, Binghamton, 18; Adonis Uceta, St. Lucie, 13; Chasen Bradford, Vegas, 11; Tyler Bashlor, Binghamton, 11; Tim Peterson, Binghamton, 7.
Strikeouts: Nabil Crismatt, St. Lucie, 123; PJ Conlon, Binghamton, 99; Corey Oswalt, Binghamton, 97; Harol Gonzalez, Columbia, 91; Merandy Gonzalez, St. Lucie, 89.
Adam Rubin (Facebook | Twitter | Contact) has covered the Mets since 2002. He previously worked for the Daily News and ESPN. He also serves as assistant athletic director for strategic communications at NYIT. He is a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the University of Pennsylvania.