- Steve Nesius/AP
The last few years have seen a surge in Tommy John surgeries, and while many debate the causes, one of the most difficult things any player can go through is the recovery.
The Tampa Bay Rays may have just come up with a simple way to make that recovery process easier: Get the pitcher a partner.
In May of last season, both Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays and Chase Whitley of the New York Yankees had Tommy John surgery within a week of each other. In November, with the Yankees trying to free up roster spots, the Rays claimed Whitley off of waivers.
At the time, the move was looked at as a buy-low move typical of the low-revenue Rays. But it turns out the Rays may have also had a second motive, one based on the idea that both pitchers would be on the same 14-month to 15-month recovery schedule.
Cobb was recently a guest on the “This Week in Rays Baseball” podcast with Neil Solondz and the pair discussed his recovery from Tommy John surgery. According to Cobb, Whitley is convinced that he was only claimed by the Rays to help Cobb during his recovery and according to Cobb it is something every team should try to do.
“We joke a lot – he jokes about it more than I do – but he’s convinced that they let me bring him in as my little pet to kind of motivate me and play along with me to keep me focused,” Cobb told Solondz. “If every organization could somehow do this or somehow pull this off it would definitely help both of those guys going through it.”
Cobb further explained that it is immensely helpful to have Whitley there during the workouts.
“Every day with Chase Whitley, we’re working with each other every single day, motivating each other, pushing each other to get better, not just on the throwing aspect, but on the physical aspect of getting stronger, getting better endurance,” Cobb said. “That’s a huge bonus for me.”
In this age of Tommy John surgeries, one of the common themes heard when pitchers discuss the recovery is how helpful it can be just to talk to other pitchers who have already gone through the procedure. On the one hand, the recovery can be a lonely existence for an athlete in a sport where you are used to being among teammates every day for 7 months to 8 months. On top of that, there are the mental hurdles associated with learning to pitch again and the fear of another injury.
It may not always be possible to find a second pitcher who was injured at the same time, but it seems like a simple thing to do if available, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more teams doing it.