Matt Lloyd vividly remembers how his 2022 baseball season came to an unexpected end.
The Calgary native was patrolling first base for the Chattanooga Lookouts in a May 3rd game against Rocket City, when Trash Pandas’ outfielder Trey Cabbage hit one off the fence during the sixth inning.
Rightfielder Isiah Gilliam was able to get the ball quickly, catching Cabbage in a pickle between first and second base.
He scrambled back as the relay came in, leading to a close call with Lloyd at the bag.
“I tried to catch it and dive and tag him at basically the same time,” the 26-year-old told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“I felt a pop, my whole body went over while my cleat stayed in the ground.”
Lloyd got up and didn’t think anything of it as he wasn’t feeling any pain.
After the inning was over, he went back to the dugout and told his trainer about the pop, so he got some more tape for his already bandaged up ankle.
In the next half-inning, Lloyd was due up to the plate, and with two out, he popped up on his first pitch.
That’s when he knew something was wrong.
“As soon as I turned my foot, I just felt, like, all the way up my leg, up to my knee, it felt like my leg was coming apart,” the Cincinnati Reds prospect remembered.
It would be the last time he’d step onto the field for the Lookouts in 2022.
NOT READY YET
Lloyd was placed on the injured reserve on May 8th and immediately began rehabbing his injured foot.
Treating it like a sprain, which he had suffered before, he thought he wasn’t really feeling any better.
Despite that, Lloyd was cleared to play and reported to the Reds’ Arizona Complex League team, where he saw action in a couple of games, only to feel the same pain go through his leg as he swung a bat.
“At that point, we finally got the MRI and X-ray imaging back and it turns out the ligament that holds the tibia and fibia together basically blew out and I had damaged a couple of other ligaments,” Lloyd said.
“Essentially, my leg was actually coming apart within my leg, the bones were kind of like splaying with certain movements like rotation.”
As painful as the prognosis was, he was happy to have a clear answer to why he wasn’t getting better, and he could actually put together a rehabilitation plan.
SLOW AND STEADY
The diagnosis meant surgery for Lloyd, who hadn’t faced a major hurdle like this since being drafted in the 15th round by the Reds in the 2019 MLB Draft.
The challenge with the injury is that it involved upwards of eight weeks where he wasn’t able to put any weight on his leg.
He started off on crutches before moving onto a scooter, wearing a walking boot, and beginning the slow process of essentially learning to walk again.
Lloyd says the exercise activities were tedious, starting with rubber band exercises and escalating to step-ups, calf-raises, and eventually, an underwater treadmill.
“I started walking and did that for a couple of weeks,” he said. “Jogging, slowly, day-by-day, brick-by-brick, just building back into it.”
Every step of the way, Lloyd admits there was a hesitancy in trying new things for fear there might be a step backwards, so building confidence was the biggest thing he tried to do.
“Every time I’d do it, I’d get a little more confidence,” he said.
“The next time it’s a little easier, then the next time – it’s just starting slow and building on top of what you’ve already done.”
Then there was the graduation to baseball-related activities, like working on agility and running on grass with cleans on again.
“It’s definitely freaky, but I knew I was in good hands with the Reds and the rehab team there,” Lloyd said.
“I knew they wouldn’t ask me to do anything I wasn’t capable of and then it’s just trusting them, trusting the ankle, trusting the surgeon and just building that confidence.”
DOCUMENTING THE PROCESS
On June 16th, Lloyd took to Instagram to show a photo of his cast, and video of the play and his next at-bat.
“It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” he wrote in his post.
Since then, he’s used Instagram Stories to document his journey back to the field, feeling it was important for people to see what he was going through.
While many athletes say the mental comeback can be harder than the physical, Lloyd feels he’s the opposite.
“The physical part was just hard when it’s a weight-bearing injury where every step you take is almost like a little mental battle.”
“Especially when you’re in the boot and that kind of thing, it just takes a while and it’s hard to take it slow sometimes,” he said.
Lloyd’s mental game was also aided by the support of his Reds’ teammates as well as fellow Canadian Josh Naylor, who suffered a similar injury in June 2021.
“It’s inspiring to see that he’s been able to come back from it at the big league level,” Lloyd said.
“With his injury, I think it was much worse than what mine was, so just being able to reach out to him and ask him questions I had throughout my rehab, he’s been a big inspiration for me.”
CLEANING UP HIS GAME
Heading into the winter, Lloyd was actually excited about the prospects of getting back onto the field for spring training, as he believes cutting his season short was actually going to provide him with a full off-season.
While he doesn’t feel any pressure, Lloyd wants to not only come back to where he was, but come back stronger and more focused. His primary concern during the winter has been consistency.
Before his injury, Lloyd was hitting just .187 in 20 games, with 14 hits including two home runs, 10 walks, and 25 strikeouts.
“Just cleaning up the little inefficiencies here and there,” he said. “I want to simplify my swing a little bit, cut down on the strikeouts, get more contact and just control the zone more so I’m not swinging at bad pitches.”
He has a good roadmap to follow, as he’s watched some of his teammates move up the Reds’ depth charts, including Dawgs Academy alum Alejo Lopez.
“That just adds more fuel to the fire,” Lloyd said. “He’s proved he can do it, so the proof is in the pudding that it’s right there for me, too.”
He also doesn’t think he’s too far away either, and he believes a strong start to the season will catch the attention of a rebuilding Reds team.
However, Lloyd is also keeping his goals realistic.
“They told me I would have a game progression once I’m fully cleared to play,” he said.
“So I get to ease back into it, in a sense, so I won’t be just going to be in on day one and playing nine innings.”
He expects to play three innings in one game, then get a day off, then play a little more another day, and just keep building until he can muster a full game.
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If he does end up back at Chattanooga, he will do everything he can to earn a promotion to the Triple-A Louisville Bats, and eventually, the big league squad.
With spring training getting underway with pitchers and catchers reporting on February 14th, he’s hoping he’s just a few months away from showing what he’s capable of.
“I want to make it hard for them to not want to call me up,” Lloyd said.