"Obviously, a lot of our rotation is in the same boat,'' said left-hander Drew Smyly, who had his surgery in July, 2017. "We can all go through it together and help each other. We're all over the hump. Time will tell if we can stay healthy, but it will be a good year for us."
The Rangers' projected rotation includes four members who have had TJ surgery: right-handers Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Edinson Volquez to go with Smyly. The 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers are the most recent example of a TJ-heavy rotation. They got 66 starts from Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood.
Each Dodgers starter was several years removed from the surgery. With the Rangers, only Lynn qualifiers under that heading. He had his surgery in November, 2015.
The other three all had their surgery in the last 17 months. Volquez did not pitch in a game last season. Miller had 35 1/3 innings, including 16 in the majors, with Arizona.
Smyly has worked one minor-league inning in the last two seasons.
Smyly is trying to follow the precedent set by Ryan Madson, who had one minor-league inning in 2012-14 and briefly retired after TJ surgery. Madson had made 367 relief appearances in the last four seasons.
"It was not fun,'' said Smyly, who leaned on friends and fellow TJ-repaired pitchers Alex Cobb and Matt Moore during the rehabilitation. "It's been a long road. That's what Tommy John is. I'm hopeful it's behind me. I'm excited to go to spring training healthy and pitch and pick up where I left off.''
When last seen on a major-league mound, Smyly was finishing up a good second half with Tampa Bay in 2016. He had adapted to the Rays' suggestion of working high in the strike zone with a 90-mph fastball to go with the curveball and cutter and went 5-2 with a 4.08 ERA in 13 second-half starts.
"The Rays taught me a lot about myself,'' Smyly said. "I learned a lot.''
Smyly, traded to Seattle in the offseason, followed that up with a strong start against Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. When Smyly returned to the Mariners' spring-training camp, he knew something was wrong with the left elbow. Seattle shut him down after three spring-training appearances.
The Mariners declined to tender a contract after the 2017 season, and the Chicago Cubs snapped up Smyly on a multi-year deal with 2019 in mind. The Cubs considered using Smyly out of the bullpen in the final month last season but decided that would be pushing him too hard.
"I don't think that would have been the smartest thing,'' Smyly said of pitching for a contender in September. "If I'd had another month of minor-league games, maybe I could have done that.''
Miller, Smyly and Volquez are where they should be going into spring training, general manager Jon Daniels said. Smyly has thrown off a mound twice and plans on several more bullpen sessions before camp opens.
Daniels acknowledged all three could require the same treatment left-hander Mike Minor received. The Rangers found ways to get extra rest for Minor, who had missed two seasons because of shoulder surgery.
"I don't want to look down the road,'' said Smyly, obtained from the Cubs in a deal that allowed them to pick up the option on left-hander Cole Hamels. "I'm excited for spring training and being healthy and pitching.
"My concern is being healthy and available to the team. I'm not worried about how many starts I get. I want to make all my starts, but I'm also excited just to be pitching.''
Home run strugglesThe home run caused problems for Drew Smyly in his last two major-league seasons. A look at the highest homers-per-nine-innings rate among left-handers with at least 200 innings since 2015:
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