ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sergio Santos still feels the triceps soreness that landed him on the disabled list last month “a little bit,” but the Toronto Blue Jays set-up man is ready to start game action Thursday with an eye toward throwing on consecutive days next week for single-A Dunedin.
While a timeline for his return remains fluid, two weeks give or take sounds like a fair estimate barring setbacks. The pain, above the back of his elbow, has ebbed significantly from where it was during spring training and again April 14 when he went on the DL, and he thinks the time has come to test himself.
“It’s gotten to a point where it’s very manageable and to where I can go out and pitch,” Santos explained Tuesday afternoon. “I think that’s why we really want to push it this week, or this next coming week, to kind of push it to see where I’m at, to see how I’m bouncing back from the innings, whether it be one day’s rest or back-to-back.
“To me, back-to-back is big because I know I’m going to be doing it quite a bit. Hopefully we’re winning and that will happen, but just looking forward to that, getting back out and hopefully joining this team soon.”
Santos — along with fellow recovering pitchers Dustin McGowan, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison — reconnected with the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field, each pausing to offer updates on their recoveries and/or rehabilitations.
McGowan, the latest convert to the weighted ball training program introduced to the club by Steve Delabar, is feeling strong improvements in his shoulder’s recovery the day after pitching and he expects to begin a rehab assignment as a reliever next week.
Drabek and Hutchison, meanwhile, are making steady gains in their rehabilitation programs after elbow ligament replacement surgery, working out on a daily basis with Luis Perez, a third Tommy John victim from last season.
Of the group, only Santos’s return to the majors appears imminent, although progress by the other four would go a long way in replenishing the lost depth in the upper levels of the Blue Jays system (although McGowan and Perez are out of options and can’t be assigned to the minors without clearing waivers).
Expected to help set up for Casey Janssen and sub in for the closer when workload dictates a day of rest, Santos appeared in two games before deciding the pain was too much for him to play through.
He went seven days without throwing before starting to build up again, tossing bullpens of 20, 30 and 35 pitches to set him up for planned stints in extended spring contests Thursday and Sunday.
The remaining soreness he attributes to the usual aches and pains pitchers go through — the Blue Jays wouldn’t let him pitch if they were concerned about it — and he’s eager to see how his arm responds once things are turned up.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to this week; I feel like I’m at a point where we’re going to find out one way or the other, you know good or bad, like I don’t want to waste any more time,” he said. “I want to get healthy. We’re going to push it and hopefully it gets there.
“It’s pretty close to being symptom free. If you ask any pitcher, they’re going to have some general soreness everywhere in their arm. I don’t think anybody throws 100 per cent every time out so it’s just getting to a point where I can get out there and be effective.”
McGowan is striving for the same thing, although there’s always a need for caution to accompany any optimism regarding his status.
Back at the end of spring training, when McGowan saw some Grapefruit League action, there was talk that he might not be that far from a return. But he soon shut things down for a week after struggling with his recovery, started the year on the 15-day DL, and was transferred to the 60-day DL on April 7.
It was then he started a new throwing program and became the latest weighted ball convert, joining Delabar, Brett Cecil and Casey Janssen, and the results have him thinking his shoulder will be able to handle life as a reliever.
“Recovery has been the worst part, so they set up a program that would help recovery and so far it’s been awesome,” he said. “I pitched yesterday, and today, no soreness whatsoever. Been doing it for three weeks now, and it’s working pretty well.
“It’s everything. I have a little more zip on my ball. But for me, it’s not about the zip. It’s recovery. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to be strong and feel good.”
That’s how Drabek, Hutchison and Perez feel, although all three are continuing on a similarly steady pace.
Drabek expects to throw some live batting practice in the next week or two, with Perez (who visited the Blue Jays on Monday) likely to do the same right around then, and Hutchison on track to see some hitters in about three weeks.
“Right now me and Hutch are pretty much on the same schedule,” said Drabek. “Luis is on a little different one because he’s ahead. So we all stretch together, PFP together, all that stuff. As far it goes, I throw with Hutch every day. Same day, same bullpen, so it works out nice.”
Drabek is on his second Tommy John surgery so the Blue Jays are bringing him along at a slower pace, although his work started earlier the first time.
“With the Phillies the first time I had it, I was actually home for a while just relaxing and letting it somewhat heal,” he said. “Here, we were ready to go, cast off, stretching and I think it’s helped out a bunch. I haven’t had a setback yet with my arm, so I’m excited about that.”
Hutchison is itching to push things along himself, but isn’t likely to see any game action until at least a year from his surgery date. Though some pitchers come back faster than that, the Blue Jays prefer to have their players wait a year before returning to competitive play.
“You always want to do more but you know you have to follow the process and do what they tell you to do because that’s what’s in your best interest,” said Hutchison. “I feel good, which is good, but you also realize that it’s the process and you need to follow the process.”
That process includes plenty of tedious exercises, and lots of free time, something that prompted Drabek to pick up a new friend to help pass the time.
“Just got a dog this off-season,” he explained, “so trying to teach him how to be a good boy.”