DUNEDIN, Florida - "December 27."
Drew Hutchison is quick to respond when asked the date he first threw a baseball following his Tommy John surgery last August.
Kyle Drabek rhymes off the timing of his second elbow ligament replacement procedure as if it happened yesterday.
As their teammates usher in a new spring, knowing another season gets underway in just over a month, three Blue Jays pitchers – Hutchison, Drabek and reliever Luis Perez – are consumed by benchmark dates, their rehab protocols and the ups and the downs of recovering from a complicated, invasive surgery.
"Yeah it's tough," said Drabek, peering up from a crossword puzzle, about the daily grind of recovery. "But it's one of those things you have to do. If you want to keep playing, you're going to have to do (the rehab.) It's sometimes easy but more times hard, especially during the season when you're watching your teammates play. Even right now in the spring, watching everyone throwing bullpens and you can't do it, that isn't fun."
Tommy John surgery is named after the former Dodgers pitcher, who tore his ulnar ligament in 1974. The procedure involves removing a tendon from elsewhere, typically the hip, and grafting it to the elbow joint. Rehabilitation takes a year, on average. John, a left-hander who won 288 career games, returned in 1976 and pitched until 1989, retiring at age 46.
Pioneered by Dr. Frank Jobe and mastered by world-renowned athletic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, most athletes who have the surgery nowadays fully recover.
Drabek and Perez are a couple of weeks ahead of Hutchison in the rehab process. They do long toss from 120 feet, Hutchison 110 feet. The Blue Jays have a policy requiring pitchers wait a year post-surgery before throwing off a mound. Perez had his operation in late July.
Pitching coach Pete Walker, who did not have elbow problems but had knee, neck and shoulder surgeries during his career, keeps a close eye on each pitcher's recuperation knowing all three remain key pieces of the Blue Jays' future.
"You set goals, whether they're daily, weekly, monthly and you try to reach those and maintain them," said Walker. "When they have some issues, we can always discuss it. I've certainly been there. That's one thing with a lot of these guys, I can relate to them in a lot of different ways."
The three pitchers share their experiences, which seems to help.
"(Working with Drabek and Perez) has made it better than to be down here by yourself," said Hutchison, who was in Dunedin all winter as part of his rehab. "You never want anybody else to have to go through it also but it helps."
Drabek has already been through a Tommy John rehab, his first such surgery in 2007.
"Knowing some of the things that go on, I had help, and if I can help 'Hutch' and Perez in any way obviously I will," said Drabek.
While it is unlikely Hutchison and Drabek will pitch for the Blue Jays before September, at the earliest, both want to be in game action of some kind after the All-Star break. Perez could contribute down the stretch, his situation different because he's a reliever.
"You've got to be realistic," said Walker. "But to have that frame of mind right now is great, those are the kind of motivated guys you want coming back from (serious) injuries."
- The Blue Jays have revealed their pitching lineup through Tuesday. Grapefruit League action starts Saturday.
Here's the schedule, in likely order of appearance, with the number of innings each is expected to pitch in brackets:
- When you hear the nickname "Hank White" thrown around, know it's in reference to Henry Blanco. The moniker has followed Blanco; the Blue Jays are his tenth organization in a 16-year major league career, "Hank" being slang for Henry and "White" the anglicized version of his last name. Blanco is a popular teammate who hopes to manage in the big leagues when his playing days are over.
- About a dozen Blue Jays attended the Maple Leafs game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Tuesday night; J.P. Arencibia, Ricky Romero, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson among them. The hometown Lightning got the better of the Leafs, 4-2.
- Ricky Romero (@RickyRo24) says he got his fair share of nasty messages during his difficult 2012 season. "I'm the type of guy who never really pays attention to that sort of stuff," said Romero. "I'm not trying to satisfy anyone but the 25 guys in this clubhouse. I don't try to live by anyone else's expectations. I'm sure the same people writing that stuff, if they had you face-to-face, they wouldn't say anything."