Braves starter Beachy's rehab still on schedule
ATLANTA — Brandon Beachy feels just fine. Thanks for asking.
The Braves right-hander certainly feels better than he did in the weeks leading up to June 16 of last year, when he started feeling the discomfort and pain that goes hand-in-hand with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the right elbow. He's now better than he was while being relegated to the dugout for the rest of the 2012 season while his team marched on and lost in the one-game wild-card playoff. He feels better now that his appetite and throwing strength have returned following the Tommy John surgery.
Yes, everything is much better.
That's why, occasionally, doctors are telling him to hit the brakes.
"Every step I've come to I've felt like I can throw harder, throw farther, do more. I've felt great. But the plan is in place for a reason and I trust that," said Beachy, who boasted the lowest ERA in the majors before being shut down last summer. "I went through a little built-in shutdown period right around the holidays where I was feeling great, but it's just kinda built in and that's what they've figured out is you're going to come back feeling better once you have these weeks off. I wasn't thrilled. In my mind, I know it's for my own good but I want to get back as soon as possible."
In other words: Beachy's rehab is right on schedule, but this particular recovery is a process of patience. It's a year-long ordeal — returning from Tommy John surgery, that is — and even though the body and elbow feel fine, cooler (and smarter) heads advise lighter workloads every time, which is not always an easy sell with successful, competitive athletes.
Fortunately for Beachy, there's a Braves clubhouse that has essentially acted as a support group for the past seven months. Fellow starters on the rotation, Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen, know all about the post-Tommy John ambitious urges, pseudo-feelings of an elbow fully healed and the postponed haste to get back on the mound.
It comes with the territory.
"There's been some days where my body's not in sync and throwing a baseball seems foreign to me. I can always talk to (Hudson) about that and he's got reassuring things to say. He's very calm," the 26-year-old starter said. "Talking to Kris Medlen, he told me, 'You're gonna feel great. You're gonna feel like you can do more, but don't. It's not worth it.' Those are just little pieces of advice that I'm glad to have."
Beachy was pitching at minor leagues affiliate Myrtle Beach when Hudson was propelling himself through the rehab process there and he witnessed Medlen's successful recovery first-hand with the big-league club.
"You gotta have patience. As much as you wanna skip some steps and push through it and hurry things along, you really can't do it. You gotta play things by the book," said Hudson, who underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2008 season and returned late in 2009. "They have a pretty good idea of what it takes to be successful after the surgery and you just have to be patient and understand that it's a 12- to 13-month deal. I think he's gonna be smart about it.
"We need him for the long haul. Not only for this year, but years to come."
Before the announcement came down that his third season in the majors — one featuring a 5-5 record, 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings and that league-low 2.00 ERA — would be cut short, Beachy had already been feeling soreness in the elbow, although the symptoms shifted from day to day. Different treatments for different symptoms. One day, the elbow would flare up; the next, soreness elsewhere. Then, after getting a shot after his second-to-last start then taking a week off, he knew something was officially wrong prior to the Orioles game on June 16.
That was that.
In most instances, repairing a damaged UCL — a ligament that provides the stability crucial to an overhand throwing motion — through surgery allows pitchers to return stronger than before if they were performing with discomfort, as Beachy was last season. The success rate at the professional level hovers around 82 to 92 percent, according to experts.
Of course, that's if the pitcher sticks to the program, which is not always a simplistic matter.
"It's the sitting in here, sitting in the dugout and watching in October and all the 'What Ifs' that play through my mind," Beachy said of the difficulty. "And then to continually be reminded of that every day as I'm rehabbing."
He rehabs three hours a day before heading to the gym for his normal weightlifting and workout routine. After losing 15 pounds following the surgery, he's back to his usual playing weight. He's long-tossing at around 120 feet and moving farther back every week.
As far as Beachy can tell, his return date is still set for mid-June.
He's ready to be one of the guys again, ready for spring training, ready for the next five months to (hopefully) fly by.
"Hopefully my elbow doesn't have anything different to say about that."