Josh Beckett, Michael Pineda among pitchers working way back from injury
Yesterday, we looked at nine hitters attempting to comeback from significant injury this spring. Today, let's turn our attention to the pitchers attempting similar comebacks. Pitching injuries being what they are, I needed to pare this list down a bit. So, I've eliminated pitchers who were active in the major leagues at the end of the 2013 season (such as Neftali Feliz, Tommy Hanson, Clay Buchholz and Brandon McCarthy) and limited this list to those who have been cleared for game action this spring, which eliminates the likes of Jaime Garcia, Jesse Crain, and Tommy John recipients Chad Billingsley, Gavin Floyd, Jason Motte, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, and Casey Kelly, among others. I've also left out Johnny Cueto, as we dealt with him in my list of stars with something to prove last week. That left me with seven men, listed here in order of the number of days they spent on the disabled list in 2013.
2013 DL days: 178
Harrison posted a 3.34 ERA (132 ERA+) over 62 starts in 2011 and 2012, winning 18 games, making the All-Star team, and picking up some Cy Young votes in the latter season. But after his first two starts in 2013, he hit the disabled list with a herniated disc that required two surgeries. Then, in September, he developed thoracic outlet syndrome in his right (non-pitching) shoulder, requiring a third surgery that officially ended his season. Harrison arrived in camp 30 pounds lighter and ready to keep pace with the rest of the pitchers, but neck and back stiffness prevented him from being ready when games started. The 28-year-old lefty is scheduled to finally see some action in a B-game against the Royals on Tuesday, but his late start could mean that he will start the season on the disabled list.
2013 DL days: 167
Beachy struck out 169 men in 141 2/3 innings in his first significant major league exposure in 2011 and was among the major league leaders with a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in June 2012 when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow, necessitating Tommy John surgery. Beachy returned to the Braves at the end of July last year and turned in several quality starts, but his elbow still wasn't quite right and he went back on the disabled list less than a month after his return. This spring, the 27-year-old has been on schedule with the rest of the Braves' starters, but he left his most recent start on Monday with elbow and bicep tightness after failing to crack 90 miles per hour with his fastball, which usually sits in the low-90s, sending Braves fans already nervous about Kris Medlen's elbow into a panic.
Beachy said after that outing that he's not concerned about his elbow and that he has been assured by his doctors that his ligament is fine, but admitted that he didn't come to camp feeling 100 percent and that he has inflammation in the joint. Beachy's discomfort may be typical for a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, but that doesn't buy him extra time before Opening Day or change the fact that his surgery was nearly 21 months ago yet he is still being limited by elbow problems, even if they're not necessarily season-threatening. With Medlen, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010, on his way to see Dr. James Andrews, Beachy's struggles are increasingly troubling for the Braves and their fans.
Josh Beckett, RHP, Dodgers
2013 DL days: 158
Beckett's strong finish with the Dodgers in 2012 (2.93 ERA with a spike in his strikeout rate) and previous pattern of strong odd-year seasons had any expecting a rebound from the former Marlins and Red Sox ace in his age-32 season. Instead, he struggled through eight starts then hit the disabled list in mid-May with thoracic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder, a condition which eventually required season-ending surgery in July. Beckett is back in action this spring with the inside track to the fifth spot in the crowded Dodgers rotation and the added incentive of 2014 being his walk year, but Paul Maholm, who battled some elbow issues late last year and early this spring, plans to make Beckett fight for that spot.
2013 DL days: 126
The forearm strain Rodriguez suffered in early June last year wasn't expected to be sesaon-ending, and it never required surgery. Nonetheless, Wandy missed the Pirates' run to the postseason, but hopes to contribute to their return this year. A.J. Burnett's unexpected departure both clears room for Rodriguez and increases the Pirates' need for him to mount a full comeback. In the four seasons prior to 2013, Rodriguez averaged 199 innings per season and posted a 114 ERA+, but he's now 35 and was diagnosed with arthritis in his pitching elbow in September.
2013 DL days: 114
Pineda hasn't thrown a major league pitch since 2011, but he only spent 114 days on the disabled list in 2013. Pineda, who had surgery to repair the labrum in his pitching shoulder in May 2012, was activated in June and optioned to the minors, where he made ten starts, including six at Triple-A, before being shut down again with stiffness and fatigue in his shoulder. Still, he pitched well in that window, striking out 26 men against just six walks in 23 1/3 Triple-A innings, and he is off to a good start this spring, having struck out four of the seven batters he faced in his first appearance and allowing just one to reach base. Pineda, who was an All-Star as a rookie with the Mariners in 2011, is still just 25, and the Yankees hope he can recapture that form in his final four team-controlled seasons. Given his age, lack of experience, and the fact that he missed most of the last two seasons, he'll likely be on an innings limit even if he is able to be part of the Yankees' rotation this season. Still, given the struggles of and organizational disenchantment with now-ex-catcher Jesus Montero in Seattle, even a modest performance from Pineda would give the Yankees the edge in the trade that sent Pineda to New York two years ago.
2013 DL days: 89
In between his Tommy John surgery in August 2007 and the shoulder inflammation that wiped out most of his 2011 season, Josh Johnson went 36-13 with a 2.80 ERA (151 ERA+), 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings, made two All-Star teams and led the National League in ERA (2.30) and finished fifth in that year's Cy Young voting. It's not clear if he's still capable of being that pitcher, even when healthy, however. Johnson didn't miss a start for the Marlins in 2012 but was barely above average, posting a 3.81 ERA (107 ERA+) with his weakest peripherals since before his Tommy John surgery. Traded to the Blue Jays, he managed just 16 starts and a 6.20 ERA last year while battling forearm and shoulder problems and had surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow in October. The good news on Johnson is he's still just 30, struck out more than a man per inning amidst his struggles last year, has been healthy thus far this spring, and San Diego (and Petco Park) is a good place for a pitcher to go to get well (something the Padres hope benefits Kelly and fellow Tommy John recipient Joe Wieland, as well). Johnson joined the Padres on a one-year, $8 million contract that will pay him another $1.25 million if he makes 26 starts, but will give the Padres a $4 million option on his 2015 season if he fails to make seven starts.
2013 DL days: 75 Of all of the injuries suffered by the pitchers on this list, Hudson's broken right ankle is of the least concern going forward, both because it was neither an arm nor back injury (as all of the above were) and because it was a fluke. Hudson's ankle was fractured when Hudson was covering first base and Eric Young, Jr. stepped on it. One might be concerned about Hudson being 38 and having seen his ERA increase in each of the last three seasons (from 2.83 in 2010 to 3.97 in 2013), but his peripherals have remained steady and he's moving into a very pitching-friendly ballpark. Hudson may not have the best 2014 of the seven pitchers on this list, but he's the best bet heading into the season.