0-7, 7.11 ERA.
Those are the rookie numbers that will forever be branded to White Sox pitcher Dylan Covey. It was a 2017 season in which he admits today, “I wasn’t ready for the major leagues.”
He gave up 20 home runs in 70 innings. He wore the pain of failure on the field and off it.
“It was definitely one of the toughest things I’ve ever been through in my life,” Covey said about the 2017 season in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.
That admission by Covey is something when you consider his life almost ended soon after being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010.
It was August 15th, Covey’s 19th birthday. He was celebrating with friends at Magic Mountain amusement park in Southern California.
He had recently completed routine blood work requested by the Brewers. The results came back. Alarms went off. A frantic phone call came from his dad, who told him, “You need to go to the emergency room.”
Covey had been walking around with Type 1 Diabetes for a year and didn’t know it.
“They told me if I didn’t come in, I was a week, two weeks away from possibly going into a coma,” Covey said. “I had lost 40 pounds my senior year. I weighed about 180 pounds. I looked sick. If you would see a picture of me now from back then you would be like, ‘Wow, skin and bones.’ I was pale white. Sickly white.”
Since he was projected to be a first round pick, Covey had been working out harder than he ever had before. He assumed that the rigorous training was the reason for his significant weight loss.
Instead, he was on the brink of death.
“Yeah, who knows how much longer it could have been,” Covey said of his undiagnosed condition. “They said I was so sick, but since it happened over a year, I got used to feeling so sick every day that I didn’t even notice.”
That routine physical requested by the Brewers saved his life.
“Yeah, it could have. Definitely.”
Covey’s road back was a long one. Instead of signing with the Brewers, he left around $1.6 million on the table, enrolled at the University of San Diego where a baseball scholarship was waiting, and tried to play baseball while learning how to live with a disease that had zapped his energy and turned him into a zombie. Covey would often sleep around 15 hours a day.
“It was tough for me. I remember waking up at 6 in the morning and saying to myself, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ And then going to 6am weights, getting back at 7 and having class at 8 and being like this is hard. This is tough.”
Covey eventually adjusted to his new condition, which now includes having an automated insulin pump hooked to his body, even when he pitches.
In 2013, Covey went back into the MLB draft. He was picked in the 4th round by the Oakland A’s. However, after 3 seasons in the minors, the A’s lost faith in Covey in 2016, leaving him unprotected.
“I remember talking to my agent saying, ‘What’s the deal?’”
Covey had a 1.84 ERA in 29.1 innings before suffering an oblique injury that ended his 2016 season.
“I felt like I deserved to be protected based off what I did before the injury. They were just like no, you’re Rule 5.”
Covey’s agent told him that two teams were interested in him, but wouldn’t say who. The White Sox would turn out to be one of them.
Feeling burned by the A’s, Covey took the mound the very next day in the championship game of the Fall League, and took out his anger on some helpless minor league hitters.
“It was my last outing before the Rule 5 (draft). I threw four perfect innings, I gave up a run in the 5th and we ended up winning the championship, but I remember being pissed off that game, because it was the day after finding out I wasn’t protected,” Covey said. “I was pissed and I just went out there with nothing to lose and I threw it well.”
On December 6th, the White Sox officially started their rebuild, trading Chris Sale to the Red Sox at the MLB Winter Meetings. Two days later was the Rule 5 draft, where the White Sox would claim the player taken one pick after Sale in that 2010 draft, Dylan Covey.
“My wife sprinted into the bedroom and told me. I was half asleep. I roll over and looked at my phone and it was blowing up. I had a missed call from Rick Hahn. That’s how I found out,” Covey explained.
Believing in Covey’s potential, but unable to stash him in the minor leagues because of Rule 5 stipulations, the White Sox had to keep Covey in the majors all season, even though as he now puts it, he wasn’t ready.
“In the back of my head I knew that this wasn’t the best of me, and I knew that all year,’ Covey said of his winless, sometimes hopeless season. “It was tough, and I was trying to learn on the fly and develop, facing the best hitters in the world.”
The White Sox would give him another chance this season, but he’d have to earn his way back to the majors.
“They DFA’d me, they said you’re going to start in Triple-A, you’re going to be a starting pitcher. Let’s see what you got,” Covey said. “I was like alright, that’s it. I was upset, but at the same time I was pitching stress free for the first time in so long that it really helped me. I was able to relax out there and find some things that I had lost the last couple years that really accelerated me this year.”
During his struggles, he listened to the advice of White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.
“I remember Coop said over and over and over again, ‘The year of experience that you’ve had this year, regardless of the stats, regardless of the outcome is going to mean so much for you when you get back here.’ That was dead on,” Covey said. “I couldn’t imagine, even feeling as good as I do now, I couldn’t imagine facing big leaguers for the first time again. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t trust myself. That was my biggest thing, I was not trusting the stuff that I had. And now that I do, I can just let it fly and I feel good about it.”
After going 3-2 with a 3.45 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte, Covey was called back up to the majors in May, replacing Carson Fulmer in the rotation. He beat the Baltimore Orioles on May 23 for his first victory in over a year, an absolute eternity for a pitcher.
But that was only the beginning of Covey’s new beginning.
Three starts later, he threw 6 scoreless innings against the first place Boston Red Sox, outdueling the pitcher taken right before him in that 2010 draft, Chris Sale.
“It’s crazy how things circle back,” Covey explained. “I met (Sale) the next day in our clubhouse. He told me good job. It was sweet. It was a cool experience to go toe-to-toe with one of the best, and coming out on top was a good feeling.”
When the White Sox are ready to compete, many expect Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning to be apart of this new winning era on the South Side.
You don’t hear people attaching Covey’s name to that group, but he expects to be along for the ride as a key member of the White Sox rotation in the future.
“Yeah, absolutely. I think my stuff plays at this level for sure. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity I’ve gotten with the White Sox, and if I keep pitching the way I know I can, and I keep staying confident and keep throwing strikes, I will be a part of this going forward. I’m super excited about it.”