How far are Matt Harvey, other Tommy John pitchers from returning?
The Mets' plans for Matt Harvey are taking shape. The 25-year-old righty has been clearing milestones in his return from October 2013 Tommy John surgery, and if all continues to go according to plan, we now know when he'll make both his exhibition and regular season debuts. Though the date of his surgery leaves him outside the headcount of major league pitchers who went under the knife in such fashion in '14—30 of them, according to TJ surgery database keeper Jon Roegele—he's hardly alone among the notables making their way back to the mound this season.
Harvey, who hasn't pitched competitively since Aug. 24, 2013, threw 43 pitches on Friday against a quartet of Mets hitters who stood in but did not swing, then returned to face swinging hitters—David Wright and Curtis Granderson, both of whom chased his rediscovered curveball—in a 26-pitch session on Monday. The Mets have announced that he will make his first Grapefruit League start this coming Friday, throwing 35-40 pitches against the Tigers, who will put forth David Price; if there's such thing as a must-see exhibition in the first week of March, that would seem to qualify.
Harvey is not in the mix to start for the team on Opening Day, though barring a setback, he'll start the team's third game of the regular season on April 9 against the Nationals, then make his return to Citi Field on April 14 against the Phillies. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen told reporters on Monday that he's likely to throw 180 to 190 innings this year.
What follows here is a quick look at the progress of some of the bigger names among those returning from surgery. The list is by no means comprehensive, and I'm ruling out anybody who went under the knife after last year's All-Star break such as Tyler Skaggs (Aug. 13), since their chances of pitching competitively in 2015 appear to be slim. The pitchers are listed alphabetically.
A model of durability for having reeled off nine straight seasons of at least 199 innings coming into 2014—the last eight of them for the Reds—Arroyo made just 14 starts for the Diamondbacks before hitting the disabled list in mid-June and undergoing surgery on July 15. Arizona Republic beat reporter Nick Piecoro reported that the now-38-year-old righty is expected back before the All-Star break, but he's only been playing catch for about a month and has yet to begin pitching off a mound.
After undergoing his first Tommy John surgery in June 2012, Beachy made just five starts in late '13 before going on the shelf again due to irritation in his elbow, undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur and debride inflamed tissue in September of that year. His bad luck continued, as he underwent a second TJ last March 21 and was nontendered by the Braves in December.
A couple of weeks ago, Beachy signed an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Dodgers with a base salary of $2.75 million and an option for 2016 that escalates with this year's workload. The team—which has cornered the market on oft-injured hurlers on guaranteed deals for Beachy, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and Dustin McGowan, plus minor league ones for David Aardsma, Erik Bedard, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Santos—is eyeing a return for him around the All-Star break.
Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks
After earning All-Star honors and emerging as the staff ace in 2013, Corbin was anointed the Diamondbacks' Opening Day starter for '14, but before he could hop a plane for Australia to face off with Clayton Kershaw, he was diagnosed with a torn UCL and went under the knife on March 25. As of last week, he was reportedly long-tossing from 120 feet, but despite nearing a return to throwing off a mound, the team is taking a very conservative approach with his rehab, viewing it as a 15-month recovery period instead of the customary 12—fallout from Daniel Hudson having re-torn his UCL less than a year after his first surgery. Such a process would put Corbin on a major league mound sometime in June.
The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year made just eight starts last year in one of the more troubling run-ups to TJ, altering his delivery and pitching through discomfort to the point that his UCL "came off [the] bone completely," resulting in surgery last May 16. For all of that, Fernandez's rehab is going as planned; he threw his first bullpen session off a mound on Sunday, throwing 10 warmup pitches and 15 fastballs. He's got a ways to go, though, as the Marlins plan for him to make his season debut sometime between June 15 and July 15, 13 to 14 months after he went down.
After throwing 200 1/3 innings in his first full major league season in 2013, Griffin battled ineffectiveness last spring. An initial diagnosis of elbow tendinitis looked as though it would knock him out of action for the first two months of the season, but discomfort during strengthening exercises led to a late April diagnosis of a tear, and he underwent surgery on April 30. The 27-year-old righty has been throwing bullpen sessions with an eye towards a June return.
The Padres couldn't complain that they hadn't seen the warning signs when they signed Johnson to an $8 million deal in November 2013. Johnson had pitched to a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts for Toronto, spending a total of three months on the disabled list in two stints, the second of which was a season-ending forearm strain; in October, he had bone spurs removed from the elbow. Though he made a strong showing early in the Cactus League season, he suffered a flexor strain in late March. A month later, he underwent Tommy John surgery, his second (his first was in '07).
Despite having been burned by him, the Padres (under new management, admittedly) re-signed Johnson to a one-year deal with a $1 million base plus incentives. The 31-year-old righty is scheduled to throw to a catcher on flat ground next week, with a rough target of June 1 for his return to major league action.
After undergoing his first TJ in August 2010, Medlen emerged as one of the Braves' top starters in '12 and '13, but he pulled himself from a March 9 Grapefruit League start with what was initially diagnosed as a forearm strain. Ultimately, he beat teammate and fellow two-time TJer Beachy to the operating table by three days, then endured the same fate in December, a nontender by the rebuilding team. Soon afterward, the Royals signed him to a two-year, $8.5 million deal that includes $10 million worth of incentive bonuses and a $10 million mutual option for '17.
With that security and just a $2 million base salary for 2015, the Royals are taking Medlen's return particularly slowly. As of last week, he didn't even know when his first post-surgical bullpen session would be. The team has indicated that they don't expect the 29-year-old righty back until the second half of the season.
Moore made just two starts for the Rays last year before undergoing surgery on April 22, thus becoming the team's first major league pitcher since 2009 to do so. The 25-year-old lefty is reportedly making steady progress, with president of baseball operations Matt Silverman saying last week, "We're probably looking at a June-ish return, and we'll be able to firm up that timetable as we get closer to that."
After bouncing in and out of the Yankees' rotation for four seasons, Nova hoped to build on a strong 2013 second-half showing and put it all together last year. Four starts into the season, he was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear and underwent surgery on April 29. The 28-year-old righty has thrown a handful of bullpen sessions thus far this spring but has yet to face live hitters; he's expected in the Yankees' rotation no earlier than June.
Jarrod Parker, A's
Since undergoing his first TJ on Oct. 28, 2009, Parker had put together two strong seasons in Oakland's rotation, playing a key role in the team's back-to-back AL West titles in '12 and '13. Like Griffin, he struggled in his initial exhibition outings last spring. Diagnosed with forearm tightness in mid-March, his follow-up with Dr. James Andrews led to him having surgery on March 25.
The 26-year-old righty has been throwing bullpen sessions, and on Tuesday, he was scheduled to take the wraps of his entire arsenal for the first time since surgery. As with Griffin, the A's currently plan for him to return in June.