Rutgers baseball’s comeback kid: After 4 surgeries, Middletown’s Garrett French is Dealing


Jerry Carino

Story from: Jerry Carino via Asbury Park Press

Garrett French was in pain. Constant pain. You don’t realize how much you use an elbow until you can’t.  After two seasons on the shelf, still unable to extend his pitching arm despite three surgeries, the Middletown High School North graduate thought his Rutgers baseball career might be over.

“I considered hanging it up multiple times,” French said. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to throw the ball again or have a normal arm.”

The competitor inside him gave it one more shot. And behold, after surgery No. 4, French has become a key part of the Scarlet Knights’ staff during this remarkable season. In 12 appearances, tied for second-most on the team, he’s 2-0 with two saves and a 3.60 ERA. Rutgers, ranked 22nd in the country, has won 12 straight games and takes a 27-6 record (8-1 in the Big Ten) into this weekend’s home series with Indiana.

“It’s a great comeback after many setbacks,” Rutgers coach Steve Owens said. “He stuck with it, had a desire to keep playing and found a way to get through it. It’s fun to see a smile on his face because he’s enjoying playing well for his team.”  French debuted at Rutgers in 2019 as a jack-of-all-trades, pitching and seeing time at designated hitter and even third base. The right arm trouble was brewing, however.


From November of my freshman year, I had pain throwing the ball,” he said. “Ripped my ligament off the bone and in half.”  In February of 2020, right before the pandemic canceled the season, he underwent Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ligament. Problems remained.  “My elbow never got full extension, didn’t move correctly,” he explained. “I had a golf-ball sized spur in my elbow; it grew from the trauma of the surgery.”

Rutgers baseball pitcher Garrett French
Photo via Steve Hockstein-Harvard Studio
Two arthroscopic surgeries, in June 2020 and November 2020, didn’t fix the problem.  “The last time I almost got all the way back,” he said. “I was throwing a bunch of sliders and my arm was hanging, shaking, swelling up.”

French sat out the 2021 campaign and underwent the final, successful procedure last May.

“In October, first time I got on the mound and threw, I was absolutely a little nervous and out of control,” he said. “My adrenaline was pumping. I hadn’t thrown to anyone in two years. It was a hard adjustment to make, facing live batters.”

He made it — and something funny happened to his arsenal. It expanded.

“I throw one or two miles per hour slower, but I have a changeup now that I never had before,” French said. “My arm used to hyperextend; now it doesn’t. I think that helped my changeup improve drastically. Now my changeup is my best pitch.”

Owens, who was hired in the summer of 2019, never had seen French healthy.

“There’s always a risk with surgery, but I haven’t seen anyone have this many setbacks and obstacles,” he said. “That’s very uncommon. It’s even more uncommon for someone to persevere through it.”

Now, Owens said, “he’s continuing to progress and develop. He is still getting comfortable pitching in games because it’s been so long.”

There was a breakthrough of sorts April 2 against Minnesota. French relieved starter Nathan Florence after six innings and went the final three, allowing two hits while striking out three and walking none. He earned the save.

“At the beginning of the year we could throw him about an inning and then he would lose his command,” Owens said. “Now we’ve used him for as many as three innings.”

Rutgers is rolling

As French will tell you, it’s good to be a pitcher on a team whose lineup is mowing down opponents. “This is the best team I’ve ever played on,” he said. “We have a bunch of dudes in the lineup.” Jersey dudes, to boot.

Ryan Lasko (Jackson Memorial) is hitting .331 with 41 runs scored, 11 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 26 RBIs. Chris Brito (Perth Amboy) is hitting .308 with seven homers and 40 RBIs. Millburn grad Richie Schiekofer (.328, 23 RBIs). Toms River North grad Mike Nyisztor (.278), Franklin grad Josh Kuroda-Grauer (.309), Egg Harbor grad Jordan Sweeney (.289), Franklin grad Garrett Callaghan (.295), and Absecon’s Tony Santa Maria (.336, 40 RBIs) are regulars.

“This is a team,” Owens said. “There are other teams that have pitchers that throw harder and some individuals who are talented guys. But as a team, we’ve got a good lineup and we have pitchers who throw strikes and do their roles. Our position guys have fielded very well and we’ve been fortunate with pretty good health so far.”

The biggest intangible?

“These guys are unselfish,” Owens said. “Ryan Lasko has hit seventh and Chris Brito has hit eighth and they don’t care. They’re mature players. know there are reasons for where I put them and why.” French doesn’t question his role either. The injuries and the agony provided an unexpected gift: perspective. He’s an academic senior now, graduating with a criminal justice degree next month, but plans to come back for at least one more year.

“I’m just trying to have fun and play every day like it’s my last,” he said. “You don’t know when it’s going to end. I thought it was over.”