Brewers pitcher Tom Gorzelanny posted a 2.70 ERA in 33 relief appearances last season.
Charles LeClaire/Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
MILWAUKEE — Tom Gorzelanny has spent plenty of time in Arizona this season — too much if you ask him.
Between spring training and the first six weeks of the season, the veteran left-hander watched the Milwaukee Brewers sprint out to a fast start from Maryvale Baseball Park and a Phoenix hotel room.
"It was very tough," Gorzelanny said. "Seeing the guys playing so well, watching it on TV wasn’t fun at all. That’s where the patience starts testing me when I really wanted to be back with the team. I had to stick it out."
Activated from the disabled list Saturday, Gorzelanny’s first road trip with the Brewers happens to be back in Arizona, but he’ll gladly return to Phoenix knowing his long path back to the big leagues after left shoulder surgery is finally complete.
Gorzelanny thought the Dec. 3 procedure to repair tears to the rotator cuff and labrum in his left shoulder would be relatively simple, as he was shooting to be ready for Opening Day or shortly thereafter.
As it turns out, the first surgery of his career was anything but simple.
"I thought I’d be back with 12 weeks throwing, a month of throwing off the mound, build up and then go," Gorzelanny said. "When we pegged the (possible return) date of two weeks after Opening Day, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s perfect.’ It was a battle and a struggle, just trying to be as patient as I could, keep throwing and working hard."
Gorzelanny began a rehab assignment with Class-A Brevard County and pitched six innings over three relief appearances with the Manatees before heading to Triple-A Nashville. Even after seven outings with the Sounds, there were questions as to if Gorzelanny was ready to pitch at the big-league level.
The Brewers had to make a decision on the 31-year-old with the 30-day rehab assignment up. While possibly not 100 percent, Gorzelanny was ready to be activated after being encouraged with is last few rehab outings.
"I don’t know if I feel back to myself," Gorzelanny said. "I think it’s something that, anybody who’s had a surgery, you kind of deal with, that year with some soreness and stuff. I started feeling like everything was kind of falling into place about four, five outings ago. I just had my spring training. Still there’s some kinks to get out. This is my April 1 right now."
The Brewers opted to go to an eight-man bullpen for the time being, making Gorzelanny the fourth left-hander in their relief corps. It’s rare for a team to have more than two lefties in the bullpen let alone four, but Will Smith and Zach Duke are both pitching well and the team remains committed to Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang.
"Has that ever happened in the history of baseball?" Gorzelanny asked jokingly. "I remember signing over here and everybody talking about how it’s been a struggle to have a lefty in the pen. Now, we’ve got four. It’s interesting."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke feels the current mix in the bullpen can work because the left-handers he has aren’t specialists.
"(I’m comfortable) with Smith being able to get righties and lefties," Roenicke said. "I know Duke, we’ve kind of matched up a little more with left-handers, but he’s been getting out right-handers also.
"It depends on where Gorzelanny is. If he is where he was last year before we started him, he was getting out everybody. I was bringing him into games not worrying about lefty (or) righty. We’re a little bit different. These guys aren’t matchup guys."
At least early on, the Brewers plan to ease Gorzelanny back into the mix as much as they can. Signed to a two-year, $6 million contract before the 2013 season to pitch out of the bullpen, Gorzelanny ended up making 10 starts in his first year with the Brewers.
He posted a 4.81 ERA in those 10 starts, as Gorzelanny was much more effective out of the bullpen with a 2.70 ERA in 33 relief appearances.
"It’s been a really long time — a lot longer than I expected," Gorzelanny said. "It was a process. I never had a surgery before. Having a shoulder surgery is probably the toughest thing to come back from."