During spring training, Dave Eiland was kind enough to give me a few minutes to talk about his Tommy John surgery and the status Danny Duffy's and Felipe Paulino's rehabilitation. I far as I can find, Eiland is the only pitching coach to ever had Tommy John surgery.
What were the circumstances behind you needing Tommy John surgery?
At first my injury was diagnosed as a strain. They told me to take some days off. Then, I resumed my throwing and it was still painful. Again, they said it was strain and to keep throwing through the pain. I threw through it, but it never got better. They did a contrast MRI with some dye, and saw it [ulnar collateral ligament] was torn. But, my flexior pronator had torn off the bone as well which made it twice as bad. So I had my surgery and rehabbed not missing a day for ten and a half straight months. Christmas eve, New Year's Day, didn't miss a day. I was 34-years-old and had to do this right because of my age.
I came back and starting pitching at eleven months. In my second game, I blew it again. Flexor pronator ripped off the bone taking the ligament right with it. That was it for me because I was approaching thirty-five. I had my second Tommy John eleven and half months after my first surgery, two [surgeries] with in a year. That is when I knew if was over.
Did you ever throw 100% after the surgery?
I pitched 2 innings in a spring training game. I got sore afterwards. They brought me back 2 days later. I really had some soreness in my forearm. I should have said no, I need another day. My approach was going to take the ball whenever they ask me to pitch and go with it. I had no red flags leading up to that point. The next game I got 2 quick outs. Next hitter, "Pow", it blew.
What did you tell Paulino and Duffy after they found out they need surgery?
I told them it is all about the rehab. I told them it is not going to be fun. It's going to be grueling. It's going to be monotonous. You get out of it what you put into it. The hardest part is not sometimes the physical part, it the mental part. Getting your mind right everyday you go into your rehab to do it. If you want to get back and be as good or better than before, it's all about the rehab. It has to be done. You go through those days, weeks, when it really gets monotonous, boring. You get down about it and you just have to fight through it. It's hard.
How is their rehab going?
They are doing well. But my experience is take another month. It's not something you can do in twelve months. You can't come back and pitch at the major league level. Maybe some guys can, you are really pushing your envelop. If you don't do this right, you will come back too some, blow it again, and your career is over. Maybe, maybe not. Who knows. You can't rush or fool mother nature. That stuff has to heal. Coming out and throwing sides and BP is fine, but throwing a game is whole new animal, especially throwing against big leaguers. You're going to reach out a little further. You're going to pull down a little harder. You're going to reach back a little more. You're going to see the adrenaline take over.
One of the last things to come back is the command. You might feel strong. You might be fast. You might be good to go. Pitching off the mound and competing in a game is all together different then throwing sides and batting practice. My suggestion is if you think everything feels good, take another month.
The pair looks wonderful and looks like they can pitch in a game right now. You can't be fooled with what you see on the side. You have to go through the protocol and do what you have to do.