Matt Chico, Back On The Mound
Matt Chico has something of a supporting actor role in my dead tree story for tomorrow, but I figured he also deserves a little spotlight. Think back for a moment to one year ago. Chico was coming off a 31-start, 167-inning rookie season. When spring training broke, Chico had a spot in the rotation. He was just 24. Few in baseball projected Chico to have much high-end potential, but he seemed to operate with an admirable serviceability. You didn't need a spot on the Chico family tree to envision a healthy career as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
Now, Chico is starting over after Tommy John surgery.
On Monday, he threw his first bullpen since the July surgery. Today was session No. 3. Spin Williams, an organizational pitching coach, and trainer Steve Gober watched as Chico threw. Occasionally, they reminded him to go easy. Chico was not supposed to throw anything harder than 45-50 mph. Even though he felt like he could.
"That's the hardest part," Chico said, "just holding back."
The "pop" that later revealed itself as a full elbow tear came in his fourth start of 2008, Chico said today. That was against the Mets, April 16.
Chico had never dealt with an injury more serious than tendinitis, but he knew something was wrong. He told the team doctor, Ben Shaffer (since replaced). Eventually, two other doctors examined the injury, too, but they found no tear. None of the doctors conducted an MRI, Chico said.
And Chico kept pitching... for another month. The pain kept getting worse.
(Statistical sidebar. In Chico's first three starts of 2008, before the injury, he had a 3.72 ERA in 19-1/3 IP. Subsequently, in eight games -- five starts -- Chico had 7.85 ERA in 28-2/3 IP.)
Finally, Chico paid a visit to orthopedist James Andrews, who performed an MRI and noticed the full tear.
"A lot of guys have come back from this surgery now, and I don't want to say they've perfected it, obviously it's not perfect," Chico said. "But the numbers have grown over the years to where they can get guys back and healthy. As far as health-wise, the numbers are pretty good. I didn't have any problem thinking, 'I can't get back to the big leagues or I can't pitch again in the big leagues.'
"My goal is to get back to the big leagues in September. Whether that's reachable is hard to tell. There are a lot of things that have to happen for that to occur. I have to be feeling good, healthy and then the other thing is, there has to be a spot open for me."
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