Ryan Sherriff’s journey: Rays reliever talks comeback and recovery

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 25: Ryan Sherriff #65 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Chicago Cubs in the fifth inning at Busch Stadium on September 25, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 25: Ryan Sherriff #65 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Chicago Cubs in the fifth inning at Busch Stadium on September 25, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Rays Colored Glasses was fortunate enough to talk with reliever Ryan Sherriff about his recovery from Tommy John surgery and the journey that resulted in him signing with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Ryan Sherriff almost walked away from the game of baseball — twice. Once in 2012, after the passing of his father, and again just 17 months ago after his release from the Cardinals following Tommy John surgery. Now, in the midst of a comeback that has lasted more than a year and a journey that has lasted a lifetime, Sherriff is poised to pitch on a major league mound once again.

The native of Culver City, California was first drafted in the 33rd round of the 2010 draft by the Washington Nationals, but he opted not to sign and instead attended Glendale Community College for his sophomore season. There, as a 21-year-old sophomore, Sherriff would improve his draft stock by five rounds when the Cardinals selected him in the 28th round in 2011.

Upon signing with the Cardinals, Sherriff would spend the following seven seasons chasing his ultimate dream of pitching in the major leagues. He would spend the first six full seasons of his professional career in the minor leagues and finally in 2017, after beginning the season with St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate, the 27-year-old southpaw would make his debut. On August 23rd Sherriff struck out four and tossed three scoreless innings against his current club. In total he would throw 14.1 innings in 2017, finishing with a 3.14 earned run average.

After opening the 2018 season in Triple-A, Sherriff would be recalled on March 31st. He landed on the injured list just a week later with a fractured toe and wouldn’t return until May 4th. Then, four days later he was optioned back to Triple-A. He would again land on the injured list just ten days later, but this time the injury was much more severe. On June 10th Sherriff underwent Tommy John surgery and on August 26th, the Cardinals released him.

While his release did not come as a surprise, the reality of the situation was stark and unsettling.

“Honestly I wasn’t surprised that the Cardinals released me. I knew it was going to happen at some point. I pitched in the minors with them for six years and looking at my track record nothing really surprised me. It was more of a disappointment because I knew I failed and had to start from scratch.”

But at 28, with limited big-league experience, starting from scratch isn’t necessarily a promising endeavor and as a result Sherriff was, “Honestly just thinking about what my next job would be.” So, when the Rays came calling last November it was certainly a surprise.

“I was so shocked when the Rays wanted to take a chance on me. I knew they had a reputation for signing guys with Tommy John but I didn’t know I was going to be one of them.”

The Rays are now hoping Sherriff can help them this season as they look to build on a 2019 campaign that saw them win 96 games and return to October for the first time since 2013. After signing with the Rays, Sherriff began the grueling and monotonous process of rehab with one goal in mind: to pitch again at the major league level.

Prior to signing with the Rays, Sherriff says, “There were days where I was like ‘Sweet, I can do this!’ and others where I wanted to give up.” But, now after being in the Rays organization for a little over a year he is happy, saying, “Being 29 now and 17 months later (after surgery), I got connected with the right people and I feel great.”

The path to the backfields of the Rays’ Port Charlotte complex was a long and winding one shrouded in personal disappointment and perseverance, yet well worth it for Sherriff who managed to return to game action this August in the Gulf Coast League.

“Taking the mound again was scary but thrilling at the same time. It’s my happy place.”

In total, Sherriff appeared in four GCL games and two games with the Rays High-A affiliate, the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Now, with spring training approaching Sherriff has his eyes set on making the first Opening Day roster of his career as the lefty-specialist the Rays are lacking. As for the following months, Sherriff is, “attacking this offseason like I do any other one. Just more rest days from throwing in between.”

With the 2020 season just a few short months away, his journey could be nearing completion. When asked about the prospect of pitching for the Rays next season, Sherriff said, “I’m pretty stoked about this season after posting the video of my two-seamer and all the feedback — it felt good to have my stuff back.”

The video, which Sherriff posted on Twitter on December 20th has generated over 160,000 views and has given Rays fans a look at the progress he has made to this point.

For Sherriff though, this is where he wants to be and he is doing what he wants to do. As for the journey as a whole, Sherriff says, “I’m just blessed and grateful about the situation.”