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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."

By Chico Harlan  |  February 13, 2009; 6:17 PM ET
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Next: Top Ten Questions For Spring Training


The way Chico (the pitcher) battled through the 2007 season earned my admiration. I'm rooting for him to make it back.

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 13, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Chico on Chico. Talk about karma.

Hope Matt makes it back. He more than held his ground during that crazy 2007 rotation. Plus, his pitch into the stands in Florida is one of my son's all-time favorites!

Posted by: AshburnVA | February 13, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

'Glad we got a new medical team.

Posted by: Natsgal | February 13, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Now I know why Shaffer is gone.

Perhaps one day Chico will be one-fifth of the pitcher Tom Glavine is. They have the same strategy of pitching at least. If Chico can just get past that small hump of not having good control, maybe he'll be all right.

Posted by: Dynatic | February 13, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, I do not think that there will be a spot for Chico, even if fully rehabbed. By September there will be the new wave of pitchers (Zimmermann, Detwiler, Strassburg, Balestar, Mock and Lannan) all with a brighter future than Matt Chico.

Posted by: driley | February 13, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

"Perhaps one day Chico will be one-fifth of the pitcher Tom Glavine is. They have the same strategy of pitching at least"

Other things Glavine and Chico have in common:

1) left-handed

2) mammals

3) ...

That's it. That's, as the bald guy would say, the list.

Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | February 13, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

I have one silly request, if you're keeping track of such things, Chico. Can you let us know if he's using - or is planning to use - his higher leg kick in 2009? St. Claire seemed to believe it could increase his velocity by a few MPH, and he certainly seemed comfortable with it.

Healthy, Matt Chico could be a league-average lefty. While the Nats are going to struggle to find space for him in the organization, there could be some trade value for him if he can make a comeback from Tommy John.

And now, Chico, go get a beer or something. Seriously, we appreciate the attention, but pitchers and catchers don't even officially report for 14 more hours. Don't burn yourself out on long toss, man!

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 13, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

@ Uncle_Teddy:

I wrote "one-fifth of Tom Glavine". Glavine's career ERA is 3.54. You do the math. Of course, like I said, if Chico obtains some control maybe his future will be even dandier!

/sarcasm off

Posted by: Dynatic | February 13, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I hope Chico proves all the armchair managers wrong, and gets back to the majors...

If I were him, I'd be ticked with the organization for having to throw with a bad elbow. They should have done an MRI!

Good luck "Tom", I mean Matt.

Posted by: AZnatfan | February 13, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

We're all rooting for you, Matt. I hope we see you back here, If not this year, then next.

Posted by: fischy | February 13, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure that if he is healthy he will be a September call up, if for no other reason to showcase him for at the very least an off season trade. I hope he makes it back....a good guy.

Posted by: cokedispatch | February 13, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Matt Chico will start Opening Day 2010. You heard it here first.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 13, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Didn't even get a chance to get newposted: from the last one:

Only if you're hitting above .500.
And it's fewer, not less.

"it's better that i walk 100 and strike out 100 than if i walk 50 and strike out 50. at the end of the year i'll make less outs."

Posted by: longterm | February 13, 2009 3:14 PM

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 13, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Matt Chico will start Opening Day 2010. You heard it here first.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 13, 2009 11:45 PM


You've had to much to drink, I think it's time you go to bed.

Posted by: Section505203 | February 14, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm also glad that we have new medical personnel, and sorry that Chico's injury wasn't found sooner. Hope that he recovers fully and is on the mound in Nats Park some day. Also hope that with the new medical personnel such oversights won't be repeated.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 14, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I'm also glad that we have a new post. Hope I'll see y'all over there.

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 14, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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