NEW BRITAIN — Left-handed pitcher Nick Greenwood has tripped the lights at the very highest level of his profession.
Less than two years ago, during the 2014 season, the 28-year-old graduate of Xavier High, whose father lives in Southington, was pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most respected and admired franchises in Major League Baseball.
Last year was spent primarily with the Cardinals’ Triple-A club Memphis in the Pacific Coast League. Greenwood was recalled to St. Louis for what amounted to one appearance, a loss to the Pirates on July 11.
Greenwood requested his free agency in November. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs at the end of January, but was released in the final week of spring training. Driven by the notion that he could regain big-league stature, he connected with the New Britain Bees of the independent Atlantic League and is preparing for a resurrection.
“Going from a year ago in the big leagues and now here in independent ball? I signed with Chicago and it didn’t work out,” Greenwood said this week. “I don’t think it was performance-based. They told me it was a numbers thing. That’s what they told me. I threw well in camp and it just didn’t work out. I gave up one hit all spring.
“The week after, I was waiting for something and the phone never rang. You sit there and you think, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can still compete; I can still do well.’ Maybe it’s not the situation I want right now, but who knows? In a month, things could change.”
Greenwood first met Bees manager Stan Cliburn Tuesday morning and came away feeling good about his decision.
“My first impression is that he loves baseball and knows the game,” Greenwood said. “He knows how this league works, which is important to me because it’s my first time in independent ball. I feel like I’m going to have a lot of questions for him and learn a lot.”
The 2014 season is one Greenwood won’t soon forget. Serving as a long reliever/spot starter during two stints in St. Louis, he compiled a 2-1 record with a 4.75 ERA in 19 games. In 36 innings, he allowed 36 hits, walked just five and struck out 17.
“Playing five, six years before I got [to the majors], there was definitely doubt,” Greenwood said. “2013 didn’t start out too well and ended strong. 2014 started out really strong and nothing was happening, but that call really makes all that doubt go away. I was able to go up there and contribute and help them get to the NLCS.
“I was up there for 40 days, came down and was only down for eight days when [Cards closer] Jason Motte got hurt and I was up for the rest of the year.”
Greenwood first arrived on the big league scene in mid-June. On June 16, he debuted at home against the Mets and earned the win, allowing a run in 3 1/3 innings. He threw 60 pitches, 38 for strikes, featuring a hard sinker. He pitched in nine games through July 22, and 10 after being recalled.
Greenwood was invited to major league camp last spring, but he was sent back to Triple-A.
“I didn’t have the best big league camp — not great, but not terrible,” he said. “I just didn’t throw too well.”
Thrust into a starting role, Greenwood compiled a 13-6 record. His inning total ballooned to 129, the highest total in a professional career that began in 2009 after the San Diego Padres selected him in the 14th round out of the University of Rhode Island. His ERA was 5.79 and he yielded 166 hits.
“I never had a year like that before,” Greenwood said. “I came out of the pen, but they needed a spot starter and I would up starting the entire time. I went from  innings in ’14 to 130 the following season. I’m not saying that as an excuse. I found a way to win 13 games and I was competitive, but it just didn’t work out. I think it kind of ran its course in St. Louis. They had some young guys who were coming up. It was a mutual thing.”
Not knowing his role had an adverse effect.
“I would have success the first five innings, but I’m not a guy who throws 95,” Greenwood said. “I’m a finesse guy. I throw the ball over the plate and let them put it in play. When it gets to the sixth, seventh inning against [Triple-A and major league hitters], it’s tough when you don’t have that 95 where you can make a mistake. It’s tough when you’re throwing 88, 90 and you’re on the third time through the order.
“That’s the kind of year I was having, but that’s no excuse. I had some games when I went 8 1/3, but more times than less, I lost it after the fifth inning.”
Greenwood has put some thought into becoming a late-inning left-handed specialist, a role that has extended and shined a light on many careers, but he’ll be starting for the Bees. He’s been designated to start the second game of the season a week from Friday, 6:35 p.m., against the York Revolution at home.
“I’m not going to rule that out. I’m open to [the specialist role],” said Greenwood, who is contemplating a career in coaching when his playing days are over. “I’m only 28 and I have time to venture into that avenue as it comes about. But I’m going to go out there, throw the best I can, try to open some eyes and see if I can get back with another club.
“I got a couple more years left. I want to make my family proud.”