Tommy John surgery. Doctors removing a ligament from somewhere on your body to replace a torn elbow tendon is so common, pitchers such as Brett Anderson sometimes return as strong, if not stronger.
The Oklahoman's 2006 Player of the Year out of Stillwater, Anderson is ahead of schedule. The son of Oklahoma State baseball coach Frank Anderson, Brett Anderson hopes to make a long-awaited rehab start next week in an extended spring training game in Arizona.
The left-hander in the Oakland A's system pitched well before chronic pain required surgery last July. Anderson hopes to begin alternating rehab starts late this month at Class A Stockton and Class AAA Sacramento, two A's minor league clubs near Oakland.
If things go according to plan, Anderson could be back in the Majors by the end of June or early July.
“You don't want to look too far ahead,” Brett Anderson said. “You have to build your arm strength up, go one or two innings early and stretch it out. Eventually you need to be up to 100 pitches (a game). I'm taking it one day at a time. But I feel good.”
Anderson, 24, was one of the American League's top young left-handers before the injury. He had four plus pitches — a 95 mph fastball, effective curve and change-up and wicked slider, his out pitch.
He posted one of the AL's top ERAs (2.80) the year after a successful rookie season but made only 19 starts when pain first occurred. He took several weeks off to allow the elbow to heal without surgery.
The pain returned last season. Radar guns were revealing. During the 2009 season and early 2010, Anderson's fastball routinely clocked between 92 and 96 mph.
“It got to a point (last year) it took all of the 6-4, 240 pounds of myself just to get to 90 (mph),” Anderson said. “My breaking ball wasn't nearly as sharp. It was just rolling in.”
Now he feels like he did his rookie season.
Tommy John surgery replaces the elbow ligament with a tendon from the forearm, hamstring, hip or knee. Famed elbow and shoulder specialist Dr. James Andrews replaced Anderson's ulnar collateral ligament on July 14.
The long road back started with two months of range-of-motion treatments last summer. Anderson called it trainers “cranking” on his elbow, twisting it back and forth up to two hours per session.
Around Halloween, he began strengthening his shoulder and elbow. By Thanksgiving, he was doing light throwing. He arrived at spring training earlier than his teammates in mid-February, throwing from 58 feet in front of the mound on flat ground. It progressed to live batting practice.
Ten months after undergoing surgery, Anderson, a svelte 220 pounds, is close to pitching in a game.