There are numbers that indicate why right-hander Josh Dew is pitching in independent league baseball with the Wichita Wingnuts.
There’s 88, 89 and 90, which is normally the miles per hour he throws his best pitch, a sinker.
There’s 28, which is his age.
And there’s 14, which is the round of the draft in which Dew was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007 out of Troy University.
But there are also numbers that make you wonder why Dew isn’t still in affiliated baseball somewhere. Why, even, he isn’t pitching in the big leagues.
There is 1.58, his ERA for the Wingnuts the past three regular seasons. There’s 56, the number of saves he has accumulated.
Dew is a victim of all of these numbers in one way or another. What they add up to, really, is a pitcher who just might be capable of competing at a much higher level, but one who will probably never get the chance to find out.
Instead of looking for better opportunities after a career year, Dew is contemplating retirement. Frustrated by the brick wall that has gone up in front of him, Dew has resigned himself to the fact that Wichita could be the end of the road.
So if that’s the case, he wants to win an American Association championship. And if another season in Wichita affords itself, he says he might come back.
“I love Wichita and I love the Wingnuts,” said Dew, who nailed down the win in extra innings of Game 1 in the American Association semifinals at Grand Prairie on Wednesday night with a perfect 12th inning. “The best part of this team and this organization is that they demand winning. You have to win to stay on the team here. It makes things a little more stressful, but at the same time it’s a lot more fun.”
Dew was fast-tracked by the Cardinals in 2008, his first full season in pro ball. He reached Double-A Springfield after posting a 1.73 ERA in 21 relief appearances at high Class-A Palm Beach in the Florida State League.
But Dew started having hip issues. Then he developed a stress fracture in his right elbow. He missed the entire 2009 season and the Cardinals, proving once again what a tough business baseball can be, released Dew. He has been a dominant bullpen guy since, blowing only three saves in 59 opportunities for the Wingnuts the past three seasons in 91 games.
“I got a fair opportunity with the Cardinals but the injury bug caught up to me,” Dew said. “It’s tough in affiliated baseball for guys like me who aren’t a top-round pick and I got a little unlucky. But I’ve enjoyed independent baseball and I’ve been successful. I just wish I had a chance to make it back to the big leagues.”
Dew did get a chance to pitch in the Mexican League, regarded as the equal of a Triple-A League, in 2012. Appearing in 29 games with Monclova, after having his contract purchased from the Wingnuts, Dew was 0-2 with a 5.20 ERA.
“That was a different experience,” said Dew, not the first American player to struggle during his first exposure to baseball in Mexico. “I never had to adjust to elevation before. The ball moves different out of your hand there. My change-up is one of my best pitches and I really struggled with it there. And I don’t speak Spanish, so that was a struggle. I had played winter ball in Puerto Rico, but it’s so American-ized and everybody speaks English there. This was totally different.”
Dew has had two surgeries on his right hip due to a torn labrum, most recently in 2011, his first season with the Wingnuts. He still feels a pinch when his pitching mechanics stray even slightly.
“I think I’m pretty much going to have soreness there the rest of my life,” Dew said. “But I’ve figured out some ways around the pain. And I have a couple of exercises that I do to make it feel better. I have to be careful about not dragging my foot and sometimes if I pitch too many days in a row it can start to bother me.”
Even with the pain of pitching — and for Dew it has been as much emotional as physical — he’s not sure how he’ll ever tear himself away from the game. Sometimes he thinks it would be the right thing to find a job outside of baseball and finally move on with his life. His dream of pitching in the big leagues is fading.
“I’ve come to a reality,” Dew said. “Pro teams are drafting 18-year-olds and in some cases 16-year-olds. The minor leagues of affiliated baseball are for a younger age group.”
Dew is 28. It’s becoming harder and harder for him to see a fit.
But that’s OK, he said. He’s content being a lock-down closer for the Wichita Wingnuts.
“I do it for the enjoyment of the game,” he said. “There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of coming into a game when things are on the line. I’m addicted to the rush of baseball.”