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Jarrod Parker: The Long And Winding Roads Of TJS

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Shortly after I purchased my trusty cassette recorder, Jarrod Parker was born.
Shortly after I purchased my trusty cassette recorder, Jarrod Parker was born.

You know those 8-10 months you never hear about right after a pitcher has Tommy John surgery? After the surgery, but before the first pitch is thrown, tentatively, on a back bullpen mound somewhere, lies a road paved with fear, uncertainty, rest, rehabilitation, pain, and something pitchers are not used to: not really being in control. Armed with my amazing state-of-the-art-back-in-the-1980s tape recorder, this was the focus of my March 8th interview with Jarrod Parker, two days before he was to have his first throwing session.

Nico: I'm just trying to understand what it's like for the person going through Tommy John surgery, not so much the baseball side of it, and you are kind of the resident expert at this point. {this elicits a hearty laugh from Parker} Because to the fans, for about a year you almost hear nothing, you just wait to hear that the player's back and I have to think that year is a pretty --

Parker: Oh yeah, there's a lot more that goes into it obviously --

Nico: So can you walk me through it so that I feel like I've had Tommy John surgery?

Parker: Yeah: you have your surgery, it's a pretty long process and then you begin the rehab and more than just the baseball side of it you kinda realize you're not gonna play that year. That sets in pretty quick, that life goes on without you baseball-wise and you have to try to figure out what you can do to get over those feelings or to use those feelings in the right direction.

So for me it was just working out, motivating, eating right. You talk to a lot of guys who have gone through a rehab process, and there's a lot of searching for answers. Either way, whether it's having a better diet, taking the right supplements, doing certain things working out -- you're trying to find answers to get better, get healthy.

Nico: Now what does your elbow actually feel like the first couple of months?

Parker: Yeah, I mean the first couple of months there's a lot of pain. You're pushing scar tissue around, you're breaking up a lot of stuff that's going on in there, lots of soft tissue, and actually there's swelling and it's just one of those things where you have to suck it up, bite the bullet, and you know that each and every day if it feels a little bit better you're going in the right direction.

So you can just kind of be that tough mentally and what you really need to do is each and every day just focus on that one day. It's hard -- you're looking ahead of that program to "When am I going to throw, when am I going to pitch? But more or less it's when and what I need to get done this day, how can I do it and to what extent?

Nico: Is the early rehab painful, or is it just resting and getting through "doing nothing"?

Parker: It's kind of a little bit of both. You go through where your swelling's going down, your scar tissue is starting to form, your ligament is still healing -- there's a lot of that. That first 4 months it's a lot of "just be there, let it heal," and do the things you can do, like icing, some of the small things. It's just the human body healing itself -- it takes time because there's really no other way to (heal) besides just getting the rest and putting your effort into that program.

Nico: What I would think would be maybe the hardest piece would be when you first start throwing, and you have to get yourself to do things that you're told "Yes, you can do this" but your brain is telling your arm "Don't do this" --

Parker: Yes, there's that mental block of like "What if it doesn't feel right?" Or "What if it hurts again?" or "What's it supposed to feel like?" You kind of have to learn ... for me, fortunately -- well, not really fortunate, but -- going through it a second time I kind of knew what was ok to be a little sore, or what I was going to be feeling, and basically (I was) not holding back mentally.

You kind of get over that feeling pretty quickly when you've gone through it, so you just have to push through some things and kind of know that it's all right in there -- that's why you bust your ass for 4-5 months before, so that when you're throwing you (are over) that mental hurdle and I think you can do a lot with just being strong and being powerful mentally. And being positive. Everyone knows the good vibes and the good attitude is going to help you in long run for sure.

Nico: How has the first and second time been different?

{As I ask the question, Ryan Cook walks by, looks down at my tape recorder, and exclaims, "Oh!!! Nice!!!" Later, as I am near his locker when Dan Otero walks by, Cook calls out to Otero and points to the tape recorder. I don't know exactly to spell Otero's response, which is the stifling of a spontaneous laugh, snort or chortle. I'm confused; doesn't everyone still use cassette tapes?}

Parker: Well, besides the obvious of one being in the minor leagues and one being in the big leagues, I think being 26 you're a lot more mature, there's a lot more things you've had your head and hands on and you can wrap your head around "I'm not gonna pitch, but what can I do to get ready to pitch." And not dwelling on stuff. You could say, "Aw, I was gonna do this last year and I was gonna be here and be there and now I'm not..." You just kind of push through it and move on with (realizing that) the "shoulda-coulda-woulda"s don't really matter.

Nico: Now what is the plan? I actually haven't heard anything specific about "bullpen/rotation". There's so little known, really, about second Tommy Johns, so I'm sure this is something you've thought a ton about --

Parker: -- yeah, that thought to me is kind of fun. I want to prove that theory wrong and I want to show that it's a very capable thing (for a pitcher) to do and come back from and be strong, maybe even better. That's what makes it kind of fun: People are going to say "Well this guy said 14-18 months...This guy said 16." But we're all different. We're not robots and I think that's kind of the thing that motivates me.

I don't want to be the guy who's back 2 years after surgery; I want to be the guy that pushes the limit and got after it, and got right, and it worked. And I don't think everybody should be so scared about it -- some of those feelings go away, and those kinds of small things you have to pick up and use because you don't have the confidence boost to punch out the side.

Nico: Now, are you thinking you will regain the velocity that you had, or that it will be a tick down, or that stamina will be an issue? Where do you expect to be post second-TJS -- or do you just plan to prove everything wrong?

Parker: Yeah, I kind of just want to roll with the punches at this point. I think right I feel like the velo is coming back and the command is all coming back, and it's usually a couple of the first things to come back. And I wanted to make sure I focused this time on stretching out my fastball and working on that command so it's there right away and there's nothing really holding me back.

We've seen a lot of guys have success with a really good fastball and I think that's something you can come back and it just simplifies it when you return from not pitching and you get out there -- you're nervous, things speed up, and you haven't done it for a while, so I think any way you can simplify it and be comfortable out there is going to help.

Nico: Is there any reason that you know of that you were one of those "2 Tommy John" guys, when fastball-changeup being your bread and butter I would not have necessarily predicted that you were the most likely candidate.

Parker: Yeah, I think also that's a very common misconception -- there's not really one reason. Everybody's different. There's guys with great mechanics that have (TJS), there's guys that are in the best shape of their life, unbelievable athletes, that have it, or there's guys who don't have it that aren't in shape, it's just crazy. Arm angle, higher legs working ... We're trying to fix it, and put reasons on it, and I could give you 10 reasons why I had it or why I think I had it, but at this point I'm beyond thinking about that and I'm just doing what I can to effect what's in the future versus "Why?" and where I could have prevented it. I love to watch other people and hear their ideas about it, but it's hard for me to think for myself at this point why it happened, but it is what it is.

Nico: I mean there must have been some time in the last 4 years when you said, "Why me?"

Parker: Yeah, I mean ... yeah. I tell the story: I went to Dr. Andrews thinking "There's no way it's torn this time. It could be a little messed up in there, some scar tissue, some fluid." It was just a very shocking thing to find out. It's tough, there no doubt. Coming back here was the hardest part -- facing your teammates, trying to be a part (of the team), but then you have to be selfish in a situation like that, which in this sport is not easy to do.

(But) you have to get right, get back, and everybody in this clubhouse is rooting for you and they're all on your side. They're all your teammates so they want it just as bad as you do, and as soon as you come back they know you're a part of everything. So it's tough to get over that mental thing of being a little separated and outcast, but it comes right back because we all have the same stuff in common -- it's just the fraternity of baseball.

At the end of the interview, instinctively I thanked Parker and shook his right hand and just as I was shaking his hand I had this panicky thought: "What if I break his right elbow???" Luckily, I'm extremely weak. Since the interview, Parker has thrown twice in the bullpen, once to live hitters, and so far so good. Both from a baseball, and from a personal, standpoint, I truly wish Jarrod well in his quest to rewrite the rules of TJS recovery.