Carlyle focused on return to Braves 'pen
Reliever learning to live and pitch with diabetes
ATLANTA -- Outing after dismal outing began to weigh on Braves reliever Buddy Carlyle's mind. He was distraught over the way he was pitching. He had no desire to show up at the ballpark. He even thought about quitting.
In 14 outings this year, Carlyle compiled an 8.14 ERA and surrendered four home runs in just 19 1/3 innings pitched. He surrendered grand slams to the Mets and Diamondbacks in a four-game span. After a solid 2008 campaign, Carlyle clearly wasn't himself.
"I haven't felt right since mid-to-late April," Carlyle said Sunday. "I just thought it was me. Everyone goes through stretches of the season where you don't feel right. This just seemed to last forever. I wasn't sure what was going on."
After dropping 20 pounds, Carlyle had an idea of what was causing his misery. Blood tests confirmed his suspicions. He had Type 1 Diabetes, a disease that affects over 700,000 Americans. Instead of fixing a delivery flaw or a shoulder issue, Carlyle now had to learn how to manage a potentially dangerous ailment.
"My first priority was to figure out how to live normally," Carlyle said. "Then I could worry about working out and pitching."
Thoughts of scouting reports and bullpen sessions quickly turned to insulin readings and glucose levels. But Carlyle, in his third year with the Braves, knew he had to find a way to get back on the mound.
If nothing else, at least he knew what the problem was. When he was suffering from a lack of velocity and reduced command, he threw bullpen sessions almost daily to try to diagnose the problem.
The dreadful start began to take its toll on the 31-year-old Omaha, Neb., native. Playing baseball was no longer fun for him and he lacked confidence.
"Obviously my numbers speak for themselves on how bad it got," Carlyle said. "I felt like I was embarrassing myself every time I pitched. I started to feel like I didn't want to be at the stadium anymore. I didn't want the [bullpen] phone to ring and it be my name anymore. It scared me because I thought maybe I should quit playing because I didn't have any passion to play at all."
Since being diagnosed, Carlyle has realized it's fully possible for him to live a long and healthy life with the disease. It would be easy for him to feel sorry for himself, but instead he has focused his energy on returning to the Braves' bullpen.
After learning how to inject himself with insulin and check his glucose levels, he has already become used to the everyday trials of life with diabetes. On Sunday, he threw his second bullpen session since being diagnosed with the disease. After he finished, he immediately took out his diabetes supplies and pricked a finger on his left hand.
"When you exert yourself, your glucose level goes down," Carlyle said. "You have to be careful. If I'm sitting at 85 or 90 and it goes down, you can have immediate problems. That's when you get people who pass out while they're driving."
Fortunately for Carlyle, he has a small fraternity of fellow diabetics in the Majors to rely on for support. He has spoken with Mariners reliever Brandon Morrow, who has managed the disease while pitching. Morrow's teammate, Mark Lowe, has also been diagnosed, along with Phillies reliever Clay Condrey.
Additionally, Carlyle hopes to reach out to Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, perhaps the most famous professional athlete with diabetes, in hopes of learning more about life as a diabetic professional athlete.
"I want to reach out to Jay Cutler," Carlyle said. "I try to ask everybody questions. Everyone's diabetes is totally different. It's nice to get opinions."
Carlyle hopes to throw a few more bullpen sessions before taking his next step towards returning to action. He thinks his biggest test will be throwing a couple innings of a simulated game so that he can monitor his levels before and after each inning. It is during this simulation he hopes to learn just how much of an adjustment pitching with diabetes will be.
"You can definitely pitch with diabetes," Carlyle said. "I just need to check my levels after each inning. Luckily, the adjustment will usually be adding sugar and not having to inject myself with insulin. I could just eat a Powerbar or something to get my levels up."
Although there is no timetable for Carlyle's return, he hopes that it will be soon. When he does pitch for the Braves again, it will certainly serve as an inspiration for diabetics everywhere."
"I've had people tell me I'm an inspiration to diabetics if I go out and play," Carlyle said. "They tell me they're 70 years old and they've been living with it for 50 years. I want to write them back and tell them that they're my inspiration for living with it that long and being healthy."
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.