Athletes condition their bodies to prevent injury and to ensure long-term health after their playing days are done. Despite all the preparation, sometimes injuries just happen and that can put major stress on the player both physically and mentally.
Understanding this challenge first-hand, Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Tom Robson has officially completed the grueling rehabilitation that comes with undergoing Tommy John surgery. While the amount of time missed due to this procedure varies from athlete to athlete, most return to action roughly 12 to 18 months afterward.
Robson fell between those numbers at 14 months, as he went on the disabled list in May 2014 and returned to action this past July.
The organization wanted to ease Robson back into his role as he missed an extended amount of time, so they assigned him to the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays on July 7. After making three appearances in rookie ball, he was promoted to the Vancouver Canadians on July 18 before returning to his 2014 club, the Lansing Lugnuts, on July 30.
Posting an 0-3 record with a 4.91 ERA in 36.2 innings between the three levels wasn’t quite the comeback performance the prospect was looking for, as he was viewed as one of the Blue Jays’ best pitching prospects prior to his injury. While Robson would have preferred better numbers in 2015, he’s happy with how his arm feels right now, as he knows that he will be in tip-top shape this spring. His confidence comes from him getting to work with a lot of the Blue Jays coaches at their annual instructional league held in the fall.
“I spent six weeks at the instructional league to kick off my offseason routine,” stated Robson. “After that I went home to relax for a couple weeks. After a short break I hit the gym to get bigger, stronger, and faster. Basically I’m doing anything to get my body in top shape for 2016.”
It’s not just Robson who is impressed with the progression he has made the last 14 months, as Lugnuts pitching coach Jeff Ware has high praise for the prospect this season and moving forward with his career.
“Tom Robson has handled his rehab well,” stated Ware. “Tom has dealt with a little adversity this year. He’s such a competitor out there. We’re all competitive, but Tom is really competitive. He’s a perfectionist and wants to be perfect out there on the mound. We’ve needed to get him to understand it’s okay to not be perfect. You want to strive for perfection, but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen. I had to let him know he hasn’t pitched in over a year and we’re just getting innings under his belt right now. We’re letting him get a feel for his pitches again. He’s shown glances of his power fastball, his changeup, and his curveball. He really spins his curveball. Tom has a big league curveball and a big league arm as well.”
After going through Tommy John you want a coach who is knowledgeable and who has your best interests at heart. Feeling that he had that in Ware, Robson admits that he enjoyed his short stint in Lansing last year, working with the former major leaguer.
“Jeff is great,” said Robson. “We get along really well. He’s very knowledgeable. Jeff has helped me out a lot. I think by the end of last season he had me cleaned up and ready to go for this season.”
Obviously the rehabilitation process brings challenges to the table. Discussing what obstacles he faced during his absence from the game, Robson admits he found the rehabilitation both physically and mentally arduous.
“The rehab from Tommy John was really long mentally,” explained Robson. “The toughest part was all the early mornings I spent going through all the rehab stuff. I spent 14 months on the DL and that’s a long time. But I’m happy it’s over and I’m back competing every day.”
Like many pitchers who came before him, Robson has noticed some definite changes in his pitches. Many pitchers finds increased velocity after Tommy John and a little trouble locating their off-speed stuff as their arm strength returns.
“My velocity is more consistent since going through Tommy John,” stated Robson. “I could always throw pretty hard before, but not on a consistent basis.”
Robson added. “My secondary pitches are good, but not as consistent as before. As far as throwing them over the plate for strikes they’re not quite there yet, but I definitely see the potential there for sure.”
Now that he feels completely healthy, Robson can start to put all the pieces back together like a puzzle. Fans are hoping that the British Columbia native can find the same level of success he had in 2013 when he went 6-0 with a 1.12 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and an opponent batting average of .196 in 64.1 innings split between the Bluefield Blue Jays and Vancouver Canadians.
While nobody can predict the future, it’s safe to say Blue Jays fans are thrilled to see Tom Robson healthy again and competing in the game he loves.