Taking a line from that Beatles song, “it’s a long and winding road.”
That can best describe the path Diamondbacks’ right-hander Daniel Hudson is facing these days. Coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last summer, Hudson indicated he’s progressing in the rehab program, but absence from the baseball field, he said, is simply, “killing me.”
The time window for recovery from this major, reconstructive operation is one full calendar year. At this point, Hudson is on track to return to the rotation sometime around the All-Star break.
At the end of last season, he projected a mid-June return, but now, that’s not terribly realistic.
“Even if I felt ready to push myself, I’m not going to do that,” he said in the Diamondbacks’ Salt River clubhouse Saturday. “I’m prepared to listen to the medical staff because these guys are the experts. By coming back early, I don’t want to jeopardize my future.”
Last spring, Hudson, who turns 26 in early March, was coming off a 16-12 season in 2011, a neat 3.49 ERA in 33 starts, and the Diamondbacks’ organization predicted bigger things. Success from the winning the National League West Division coupled with heightened expectations for the 2012 season put Hudson in a defined role.
Battling Ian Kennedy for the number one spot among starters, Hudson broke slowly out of the gate, and eventually landed on the disabled list. He complied a 3-2 record in only nine starts, but his 7.35 ERA was uncharacteristic, Then, the red flags and ultimate discovery of his severe injury.
By late June, doctors discovered Hudson tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and the so-called Tommy John surgery was recommended.
Placed immediately on the DL, Hudson said the first few weeks were painful, physically and psychologically.
“I know this is a slow process, but I missed being around the game and my teammates,” he said. “Tried to follow by watching games on TV, and then began to hang around the clubhouse. I sat on the bench and supported my teammates as best I could.”
By mid-autumn, Hudson began tossing a tennis ball short distances, and now progressed to throws of 120 feet. Within the next week, he expects to lengthen throws to 135 feet and manager Kurt Gibson said he thinks Hudson may be ready for a short bullpen session sometime in March.
Following his current, rehab period, Hudson faces a dilemma which all injured athletes confront.
Some hold to the theory that when a starter is declared well enough to participate in regular season games, they are then placed back in the starting line-up.
Both the Diamondbacks and Hudson believe differently.
“My hope it’s a tough decision,” said general manager Kevin Towers. “If Hudson’s replacement in the rotation is doing well, then it’s a tough call. We know he is a tough, fierce competitor and wants to get the ball when he’s ready. Then again, there could very well be a need for a starter.”
Hudson discounts the notion of an immediate return to the line-up, and supports his teammates.
“If the guy in there is going well, there’s no need to pull out him,” he added. “When I’m ready to come back, I’ll do whatever they ask of me.”
THE FIRST FEW DAYS …
In meeting the media Saturday, Gibson said he’s altered the spring training routine.
Players will tend to go harder two days in a row and then scale down. Gibson calls this “a recovery day,” and indicates that’s the way he will prepare players for the season ahead.
“Right now, it’s about getting arms ready, getting bats ready, getting legs ready,” he said. “It’s a process, and we plan for recovery periods.”
Beginning Sunday, Gibson said pitchers will throw live batting practice. During BP Friday and Saturday, coaches threw to groups of hitters.
On Saturday, one group featured Miguel Montero, Cody Ross, Martin Prado and back-up catcher Wil Nieves.
Bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock threw BP to these players, and walking off the field, said, “not a bad group.”
Not to mention there’s close to $130 million dollars tied up in these four players.
A FIRST …
Major League baseball will conduct its initial Media Day for all 15 teams training in the Phoenix area on President's Day.
This Monday afternoon, Joe Torre, who will manage the team from the United States in the up-coming World Baseball Classic, will meet the press in Chase Field.
That will follow three, one hour sessions with field managers and general managers of teams training in the Valley. Gibson and Towers are scheduled to hold their media session at 4 p.m.