High School Sports

Braves pitcher from the Coast can ‘see light at end of tunnel’ in return from surgery

Former New York Yankees relief pitcher Jacob Lindgren throws underwent Tommy John surgery Aug. 5, 2016. He signed with the Atlanta Braves during the offseason but has not pitched this year due to rehabbing back from the surgery.
Former New York Yankees relief pitcher Jacob Lindgren throws underwent Tommy John surgery Aug. 5, 2016. He signed with the Atlanta Braves during the offseason but has not pitched this year due to rehabbing back from the surgery. AP File

Jacob Lindgren hasn’t officially thrown a “meaningful” pitch since April 21, 2016, but try telling that to the former St. Stanislaus and Mississippi State left-hander. To him, every pitch the last 12 months has been significant.

The Coast native made a rapid ascent through the New York Yankees farm system, debuting in the Majors in May 2015, but suffered a major setback last August when he underwent Tommy John surgery.

The road back to the mound after going under the knife has been long, but the Atlanta Braves pitcher told the Sun Herald on Tuesday he can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Lindgren, who signed with the Braves in December, hit a major milestone last Friday when he threw live batting practice for the first time, more than 12 months after surgery on his left elbow. Lindgren threw BP again Tuesday and expects to be back on the mound Friday for another session.

“I’ve been playing catch and throwing bullpens for the past month. It’s feeling better and better,” he said. “I’m just listening to my arm and if it’s telling me I can do more, then I do more; but if it’s telling me to let off I hold up a little bit. I’m just taking it day by day.”

The return from Tommy John surgery is an arduous one, with many pitchers taking upward of 18 months to start to feel “normal” again.

Just getting your arm out of a sling, and gripping a baseball normally are two milestones. Then there’s playing catch, long tossing, throwing on flat ground, moving to the mound, throwing bullpens and batting practices, all to earn the right — or confidence — to get back on the mound in a meaningful game.

“It has definitely been a process. Once I started getting more throws in my program, it was like my arm had to get used to the stress level and putting more on it. It’s kind of a big spiral in the upward direction,” Lindgren said. “I was definitely a little tense at first. I just kept easing into it and doing a little bit more each time. It just kept feeling better and better.”

Lindgren said he threw 20 pitches in both sessions and expects to begin increasing his pitch count in increments of five moving forward.

Lindgren is hopeful he can possibly throw in a couple simulation games and maybe participate in the Braves’ instructional league in late September if he continues to progress.

Lindgren’s comeback has also allowed him to not only rehabilitate his left arm, but also tweak his delivery and make small adjustments; work on a two-seam grip and hone his slider.

“You always have to adapt your game and get better, so I have this time to work on some things that I wouldn’t be able to if I was in season,” Lindgren said.

The end goal, he said, is to head into spring training 2018 ready to compete for a roster spot as the same Lindgren who tore through the Yankees’ minor league system.

“I feel normal throwing. There’s some maintenance things to stay ahead of things, but for the most part I’m staying with my routine,” he said. “Obviously I want to feel right before I leave here so there won’t be any doubt in my mind when I return for spring training next year.”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

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