For the last five months or so Jacob Lindgren has been resigned to just rolling his fingers across a baseball.
Slider. Then fastball. Then back to slider; each time changing grips to allow his fingers to get reacquainted to holding a baseball.
All that changes Friday.
For many of us, Friday will be just another day of the week. It’s always a good day — hello weekend! — but not write-home-to-mom big. That’s not the case for Lindgren.
On Friday, the former St. Stanislaus and Mississippi State pitcher throws a baseball for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery Aug. 5 to repair a severed ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. It’s a day Lindgren has dreamed about for months.
“It’ll be a good day,” Lindgren told the Sun Herald on Monday, “that’s for sure.”
The Atlanta Braves pitcher won’t let rip any low-90s fastballs. In fact, he won’t pop a mitt for a while. But just letting the ball loose Friday will feel good.
“It’s a very slow process. I’ll start at 45 feet on my first day with just very light (throwing),” he said. “Lots of arching under the throws. Nothing straight.”
Should everything go as planned, Lindgren said he could throw serious bullpens by September with the end game being to really let loose in 2018 spring training.
That’s a long-term play for the Atlanta Braves, who signed Lindgren Dec. 4, but one they hope is worth the wait.
Lindgren said the Braves have long been admirers of his, dating back to his days toeing the rubber at SSC. Even when the Yankees drafted Lindgren 55th overall in 2014, the Braves kept tabs on the left-hander. And when Lindgren was non-tendered by the Yankees in December to make room on their 40-man roster, the Braves pounced.
The 48 hours or so between being non-tendered by one organization and signed by another was unique for Lindgren, who was hanging out with former Gulfport Admiral and MSU teammate Jonathan Holder on his bachelor party.
“We were actually on a fishing trip down in South Louisiana and that’s when everything went down,” Lindgren said of Holder, who made his MLB debut with the Yankees last season. “He was with me when everything transpired.”
Signing with the Braves was exciting for Lindgren. Although he grew up a Minnesota Twins fan — his dad is from Minnesota — the Braves were always of interest.
“A lot of my friends growing up were big Braves fans, so it was pretty cool to get to move to that team,” Lindgren said. “Obviously with New York, it’s one of the most historic teams in baseball. But the Braves are the ‘team of the South’ and I’ll be a little closer to home.
“... It was hard to pass up. The Braves, it was the best deal and I felt like it was a good fit for me.”
Lindgren said when the Yankees cut him loose he had a mix of suitors, offering both minor league and major league contracts. Lindgren chose the Braves’ offer, which, will get him to salary arbitration sooner as a “super 2.” The Braves, in the midst of a rebuild and moving to a new ballpark, are investing in Lindgren in the short-term in the hopes of a long-term payoff.
“(The Braves) see me fitting in more in the back end,” Lindgren said. “They see a lot of upside in me, with me being a middle-to-back end guy.
“Obviously I have to prove myself, but they see a lot of upside in me.”
After being drafted in 2014, Lindgren shot through the Yankees’ farm system, playing at four different levels, posting a 2.19 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. He opened 2015 with Triple-A Scranton, registering a 1.23 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings before making his debut with the Yankees. He went on to appear in seven games, earning a 5.14 ERA. Lindgren ended up virtually all of the 2016 season due to bone spurs before undergoing surgery in August. Lindgren said he was originally scheduled to start throwing in November, but he said the Braves use a more cautious timetable and typically have Tommy John patients wait six months before picking up a baseball.
Despite the series of setbacks, Lindgren remains optimistic about his place in baseball.
“The last 24 months have been a learning process,” he said. “You learn how to cope with certain things and know what you have to do to get back out there. You normally set goals and try to meet those goals, but with rehab, you take it one day at a time and it’s a slow process.
“I think I’m ready for it (playing catch), that’s for sure.”
Lindgren has an interesting connection to Andy Cannizaro, who was hired away from LSU to replace new Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen as baseball coach. Prior to starting his coaching career, Cannizaro served as a Yankees scout for six years and was responsible for drafting Lindgren (as well as Holder).
“I think he’s going to be really good for the program,” Lindgren said. “I think he’ll be able to get top recruits to Mississippi State for sure.”
Cannizaro will make his debut Feb. 17 when the Bulldogs host Texas Tech.