Braves pitcher Brandon Beachy stretches before a recent spring training practice. (Reuters)
Brandon Beachy endured 13 months of rehab from Tommy John surgery and finally was back starting for the Braves late last summer. But his pitching elbow still wasn’t right. And when he stood before a mirror and extended his arms with elbows bent upward, he could see puffiness beneath the right one.
After more than a year of rigorous rehab, adhering to the program and doing as he was told, including resting for a few weeks because of inflammation at 11 1/2 months, there he was, still feeling pain. And frustration. All of that happened as the Braves were in the throes of a playoff race, trying to secure home-field advantage for the postseason.
“It was just frustrating,” Beachy said, recalling how it felt to know something still wasn’t right in his elbow. “You can get a lot of stuff beating down on you mentally when that’s going on. Just trying to figure out what I can do to get it right, and it seemed like nothing I could do. It was out of my control.
“There was a little piece of bone floating around in my joint. There’s no amount of treatment or exercises I do that’s going to remove that and keep it from filling up with fluid.”
He made only five major league starts before having the debris removed from his elbow via season-ending arthroscopic surgery Sept. 26. Now he’s back, rejuvenated and hopeful at a time of year when every team and most players feel rejuvenated and hopeful. Except he has more reason than most to feel that way.
“Right now it feels good,” said Beachy, a pitcher many people seem to have forgotten had a 2.00 ERA and majors-leading .171 opponents’ average in 13 starts before Tommy John surgery in June 2012.
“Beachy is something special when he’s healthy,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We all saw that the first couple of months of 2012. We missed him the last year and a half. Hopefully he comes back and stays healthy. I faced him a couple of days ago (in batting practice), and the ball was coming out nicely.”
Beachy is penciled in to start the season in the rotation with the returning trio of Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran and Mike Minor. The fifth spot is up for grabs until Gavin Floyd comes off the disabled list around May, but Beachy has a spot if healthy.
“I’m not going in with the assumption that if I’m healthy that’s what I’m going to be right away,” he said, referring to his lofty pre-Tommy John performance level. “I have to work for that. That’s not going to come easy. I haven’t pitched regularly for such a long time. I don’t know if I would assume that coming out in April, to be that again.”
“But I think I can be very effective and be good” while working back, he said. “I intend to be good, assuming I’m healthy.”
He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in five starts July 29-Aug. 20, including a 2.73 ERA and .198 opponents’ average in the last four. Beachy showed flashes of his old form, but never had consistent velocity or late movement on his fastball, and his breaking pitches didn’t have the same bite. He went back to Dr. James Andrews, and an MRI showed debris.
On Sept. 26 he had arthroscopic surgery — a “cleaning out” procedure — that ended his season.
“He couldn’t extend his arm,” Medlen said. “It’s frustrating as a fan, I’m sure, because they’re like, ‘He’s not reliable; he’s not durable.’ Well (expletive), man, you try going out there and feeling something jab in your ligament every time you throw. But he’s cleaned out now, he’s healthy. He’s one of the hardest workers in the clubhouse, and we have complete faith that he’s going to come back to be what he was before he had surgery.”
Beachy was throwing off a mound by January and entered spring training on the same schedule as the other projected rotation members, albeit taking it a little easier for the first weeks as as a self-imposed precaution.
“You can tell he wants to get back to where he was,” catcher Gerald Laird said. “He was just uncomfortable last year. It’s tough. He wanted to come back and compete with us down the stretch, and he just couldn’t do it. You could see it in his eyes. The work he puts in in the weight room and the training room to try to get back. …
“I think you’re going to see a different guy this year. He works his tail off. He wants to get back where he was, and I think he’s going to help us tremendously. If you ask him, I think he’s going to try to get back to where he was. If he can do that, it’s going to make our rotation that much better.”