By Kevin T. Czerwinski
Nate Bump needed a savior. Mike Keady only needed a tuxedo.
Ultimately, both got what they wanted and as a result, Bump is on the verge of completing one of the more astonishing comebacks in recent baseball history. The Lehigh Valley right-hander has provided the brightest spot in what has been an otherwise pedestrian season for the IronPigs.
Bump is 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA through eight starts after signing with the Phillies as a free agent this winter. Those numbers, however, are nothing compared to what Bump has accomplished since the mid June in 2008. The former first-round pick [25th overall by the Giants in 1998] is 23-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 40 games [34 starts]. He’s pitched 233 innings during that stretch, including 51 for Lehigh Valley, leaving some to wonder what he has to do to get back to the big leagues.
Considering that Bump – who underwent the last of three shoulder surgeries in 2006 – was all but retired after sitting out the 2007 season, his story is that much more remarkable. The fact that Keady, a pitching coach and owner of Diamond Dreams Baseball Academy in Palm Beach, needed a bit of fashion help one day in the fall of 2007 provided a chance meeting that saved Bump’s career.
“”I was actually shopping for a tuxedo when I met his wife [Cheryl], who worked at the store,” Keady said. “We talked and I told her what I did and she asked if her husband could be a coach for me. When she told me who she was and who her husband was, I was completely floored. I watched him pitch when he was with the Marlins and predicted at the time that he was going to hurt his shoulder.
“She told me had the surgeries and that he was retired but I still wanted to work with him. I wanted an opportunity to teach him my philosophy. After a few weeks of trying to convince him, we finally met.”
Keady encouraged Bump to give his philosophy on pitching a chance. They began working out and in the first session Bump experienced the pain in his arm that had hampered him for many years. After listening to Keady, though, Bump was throwing pain free by the end of that first workout.
“Ultimately I taught him how to use his body to take the stress off his arm,” Keady said. “The arm motion is effortless and when you use your mechanics properly you get better location and your pitches are more explosive.”
So if Keady is such an “arm whisperer” then why isn’t he with a Major League organization? He admits it’s a great question, one that he answers freely. For the time being, he says, his methods and those taught at every level in professional baseball are just a bit different.
Keady has played ball and at one time was a top prospect in his native Canada. He was a collegiate star as a freshman, throwing a mid-90s fastball. He was being scouted by several clubs, including the Yankees, when he blew out his arm in the summer of 1991.
“That summer was my moment of reckoning,” Keady said. “I didn’t want to go home as just another injured ballplayer. I started to question coaching philosophies that were giving me arm pain. Through time I started to modify my mechanics and it took the pressure and stress off my arm and the pain was gone.
“I wound up working for a year  with the Expos as an intern in player development and scouting and then I opened a baseball school. I knew I was on to something because the people with the Expos told me this was pretty special. They told me I have a gift and that I should pursue it. So I haven’t rushed into working for an organization because I’ve been working on what I need to do.”
What Keady is doing is putting the finishing touches on a DVD about his philosophy and Bump is his star pupil. After working out with Keady for a few months in the winter of 2007-8, Bump re-signed with the Giants and spent much of that season at Double-A Connecticut of the Eastern League.
The Giants let him go following the season and Bump signed with Camden of the Atlantic League, where he went 8-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 12 2009 starts. That was good enough to draw some interest from Detroit, which signed him in July. Bump was 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 starts for the Mud Hens but couldn’t crack the Tigers’ rotation and was not re-signed last winter.
The Penn State product hooked up with the Phillies this winter and has been among the biggest surprises in their farm system since.
“I feel good,” Bump said. “I’ve done a lot to change the way I pitch. I had a lot of help and it’s paying off. Mike completely got me to change my mechanics and I’ve been staying healthy ever since. I’ve put in hundreds of hours to get to where I’m at. I still work with him every other day during the off-season and call him during the season for the occasional tune-up.
“I didn’t know where this would go. It was like learning how to play baseball all over again. That first winter, some of my bullpens were horrible. But as the winter moved along, there were signs that this could be very good. I’m proud of my numbers and my work ethic. I’m proud that I’ve been able to throw the ball with such consistency.”
Bump has allowed only one run in each of his last three starts, lowering his ERA more than three-quarters of a run over that 21-inning stretch. The problem, however, is that he is not on Philadelphia’s 40-man roster and is unlikely to get there in the near future. Unless the Phils release or trade him, he seems destined to stay in Lehigh Valley for much, if not all, of this year.
“I know my fastball speed is an issue for a lot of organizations,” said Bump, who appeared in 113 games over the course of three seasons [2003-05] for the Marlins. “It’s 88-89 and occasionally I’ll hit 90. By the end of August last year I was hitting 92. And my sinker is 86 to 89.
“I know for a fact I was ready for the big leagues last year. But the Tigers, they were more of a speed-oriented organization. It could be one of the reasons, one of those variables that I can’t control that I am fighting against. You just have to have blinders on and keep going about your business.”
Business has been good for Bump for quite some time. He simply keeps winning games and pitching well in Lehigh Valley. And it’s all because of a chance meeting at a Florida department store.
Keady got the tuxedo he needed that day. More importantly, though, Bump found his savior.
“It was all very random,” Bump said. “Just amazing.”
Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at email@example.com.