The Pitcher’s Elbow: Tommy John Surgery and Life on the Edge of the Knife

Throwing for the Pigs - July 2015

Throwing for the Pigs – July 2015

Years ago, Jesse heard scouts tell him that the career of all special athletes inevitably means periodically having to deal with serious injury and/or illness. “When you make your living with your body, things happen.” The best advice he was given is not to think or worry about injury, even though you know it’s an inevitability. There are always bumps in the road no matter what you do. You deal with them all the way to the end of your journey. Success will come when success comes.

Jesse got closer in 2015 to his ultimate goal of getting called up to the major leagues. But he had to pitch in pain sometimes throughout the season, and stand on the mound during many of his outings knowing he was without his normally electric stuff.

In fact, it’s likely Jesse pitched all of last season with an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that was not going to do him much good in the end. He first experienced real pain during winter ball in Puerto Rico last October. But he was shut down after that for a month, then slowly got himself in gear for the 2015 season. During spring training his arm felt great and that showed in his side work and on the mound both with the major league club and in games on the back field. Phillies coaches and even guys in the media felt he was having one of the best camps for any of the organization’s pitchers.

Then the season started and the grind of daily training plus getting a start every five days took its toll. By the end of April there were outings where everything seemed fine, and other outings where Jesse knew he was going to have to throw in pain and that there would come a point during games where every pitch would become an interesting excursion. Trainers and coaches knew that he was struggling with arm issues. Every pitcher does from time to time. But he tested out fine enough with standard physical protocols. Still, he knew he could shut himself down. That’s not Jesse, though.

His velocity was down much of the season. By mid-August he knew he needed to pack it in. Besides his inability to successfully perform at the level he needed to, he was in agony out on the mound.

There’s a lot we could say about how the media covers players once it’s clear they’re injured. But what’s the point? We’ve learned that the press doesn’t really do a very good job reporting on reality to the fans.

Here’s what you need to know: Jesse had Tommy John surgery in October, is already out of his brace here in mid-November, and is being diligent with rehab work every week. His range of motion is coming back quickly. There’s no pain to speak of. In fact, just out of surgery he said the way his arm felt after being cut open and messed around with was nothing compared to how it felt during much of the season.

It’s just a matter of time before he’s got a ball in his hand playing catch with his old man and his brothers. The 2016 season will likely be spent in Florida slowly rehabbing and gearing up for 2017. The media can write whatever they need to, but it’s likely the Phillies will have a young pitcher in the wings that folks have forgotten about getting himself ready for a return to the mound and a shot at that final step.

On the mound in Lehigh Valley -- July 2015

On the mound in Lehigh Valley — July 2015

Stay tuned. It ain’t over. In fact, it ain’t really gotten going yet. Just watch.

See you out there.

For more on Tommy John, see these incredible articles by Tim Rohan from this October’s New York Times (just before Jesse went under Dr. Michael Ciccotti’s knife):

“Scars of the Game,” October 6, 2015

“With Tommy John Surgery, Every Scar Tells a Story,” October 6, 2015

One thought on “The Pitcher’s Elbow: Tommy John Surgery and Life on the Edge of the Knife

  1. Pingback: A New Start: Pirates and Rehab in 2016 | Jesse Biddle – LHP

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