TORONTO — The other day Brett Cecil pressed his thumb into the middle of his left calf muscle and felt the space where it’s torn clean across, digging into the canyon that separates his calf into two segments.
“Yeah, it’s pretty gross,” Cecil says. “But I dunno — maybe that’ll help keep them apart.”
Yes, Cecil wants to keep his calf muscle completely torn for now, he really doesn’t want the healing process to begin. That’s because at the moment his calf feels completely numb, like there’s nothing even there. That’s what’s giving him hope he can still pitch this October.
He knows that once his calf begins to heal, the sensation will return, and bring pain with it. He knows that’s the point when he’ll have to take it easy on his leg and let it completely heal. That’s the point when he can’t pitch.
“It’ll just heal on its own. I’m not really sure when or how it will start, but I’m hoping it doesn’t start until after the World Series — if we get there,” Cecil says. “I don’t want to feel it right now.”
Cecil is on a mission. Determined to pitch again for the Toronto Blue Jays after tearing that muscle a week and a half ago, the left-handed reliever has been slowly pushing his body further and further, getting to the point where he threw off a mound for the second time since the injury Tuesday afternoon at Rogers Centre. He threw 25 pitches, working in all of his offerings and trying to pitch with the intensity he would during a game.
He’s been running on an anti-gravity treadmill, working his way up to 30-second spurts at 70 per cent of his body weight. He’s been lying on the trainer’s table, having his leg contorted in every direction. He’s been repeating tedious balance and strengthening exercises, building up endurance in his lower leg muscles, which will take on the brunt of the force and stabilization his torn calf can no longer provide.
He’s doing it all with one goal in mind — pitching in the World Series, should the Blue Jays get past the Kansas City Royals.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be ready to go for the World Series,” Cecil says. “The guys have got to get me there first, but I’ll make sure I’m there for them.”
It’s hard to understate just how crippling Cecil’s injury has been to the Blue Jays’ post-season, a fact that was laid painfully bare throughout the 14-2 curb-stomping they endured on Tuesday.
When R.A. Dickey lasted just 1.2 innings and Liam Hendriks was pushed to his absolute maximum with 4.1 innings behind him, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was forced to go to LaTroy Hawkins and Ryan Tepera, for fear of burning his top bullpen options Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez and Mark Lowe.
Hawkins and Tepera were astonishingly ineffective, allowing seven runs over 1.2 innings combined, which forced Gibbons to end up burning Lowe anyway. If Cecil had been available, the Blue Jays manager likely would have gone to him, Sanchez or Osuna earlier in the game, in order to keep things from getting out of hand.
“Cecil was really one of our top guys. He probably was our top guy, even though he wasn’t necessarily filling that closer’s role during the season,” Gibbons said. “You’d love to have him. He was so valuable to us.”
It’s a domino effect. If Cecil was available to the Blue Jays over their past seven games, he likely would have pitched some of the high-leverage innings that Sanchez and Osuna have been logging.
“If [Cecil’s] here and he’s pitching some of those innings, now those other guys are a little stronger, a little fresher,” Gibbons says. “It adds that one more guy down there. Now you have four go-to guys instead of three. So, [Cecil’s injury] really affects you. But, you now what, that’s the way it goes.”
The silver lining is that if the Blue Jays are able to come back from their 3-1 deficit against the Royals, Gibbons will have that luxury once again. Cecil is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Thursday (assuming the Blue Jays are still alive) and start working towards running on flat ground after that. He says all of his pitches are where he wants them to be and that coming off the mound to field his position is the final hurdle he has to clear before he knows he’s ready.
“Everything in game situations happens so quick. It’s hard to replicate that,” Cecil says. “Like when there’s a bunt, and I need to switch my feet, push off with this leg or that leg. It’s another piece to the puzzle.”
When Cecil pitches now he feels the muscles in his leg working harder, compensating for the lack of his calf. Even though the injury is to his drive leg, he doesn’t anticipate he’ll experience a dip in velocity. That’s because when Cecil sits back and loads for his delivery, he puts the majority of his weight on the outside of his leg, which remains uninjured.
He does utilize a small, split-second twist and push in his delivery, which activated his calf in the past, but when he’s made the move during his bullpen session he hasn’t felt any pain, and has simply pushed off the outside of his foot to help compensate.
Everything’s coming together for Cecil. What remains to be seen is if his team can put him in a position to return.
“If we get to that point, it’ll be amazing,” Cecil says. “I can’t wait to run out of the bullpen.”