TORONTO — Blue Jays Rule 5 draft pick Glenn Sparkman didn’t even notice he had broken the thumb on his pitching hand when it first happened at spring training four months ago.
Sparkman and a group of other pitchers were doing a fielding exercise back in March at Toronto’s spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla., when a ball bounced off the grass and onto the tip of his right thumb.
"You get hit in the fingers all the time," Sparkman said, sitting in Toronto’s dugout for the first time before Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. "But I went back and I couldn’t bend my thumb I was like ‘what the heck? Something’s wrong."’
Sparkman, who was reinstated off the 60-day disabled list and added to the Blue Jays roster earlier Friday, had surgery to insert three pins into the broken thumb. Then came the rehab, which involved loosening of the thumb ligaments before he could get a feel for his pitches again.
Sparkman missed most of spring training and didn’t pitch in a minor league game until June 1. He went 2-4 with a 2.25 earned-run average over seven rehab appearances (20 innings) before receiving his long-awaited call to the big leagues.
"Whatever range of motion I got in the first week or two (after surgery) was probably what I was going to end up with," Sparkman said.
"I’m a straight thumb pitcher, I don’t really bend my thumb so it didn’t affect me there. It was just getting a feel (for my pitches) in general was probably the hardest thing."
Toronto designated right-handed reliever Chris Smith for assignment in the corresponding roster move.
Selected by the Blue Jays from Kansas City in last December’s Rule 5 draft, Sparkman had hoped to break camp out of spring training, joining 2016 Rule 5 success story Joe Biagini on Toronto’s roster.
The 25-year-old Texan had a career-high 5.22 ERA over 60 innings with the Royals organization in 2016, his first year back from Tommy John surgery. He’s 15-16 overall with a 2.65 ERA through parts of five minor league seasons.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Sparkman — with an arsenal that contains a fastball, slider, change-up and curveball — can provide multiple innings of relief out of the bullpen.
"We’ll give him a look," Gibbons said before Friday’s game. "They say he looked good down there (in his rehab starts)."
Sparkman said he hasn’t put much thought into how he’ll react when he gets the call to come into a major league game for the first time. He just knows he’ll be thrilled when it happens.
"I’ll enjoy it on the jog in, then get to business when I get on the mound," he said.