Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Keith Comstock (Part 1)

SURPRISE, Ariz. – After running into some elbow issues in spring training, hard-throwing prospect Matt West rehabbed through the season's first half before recently returning to action. Lone Star Dugout sat down with Texas Rangers rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock to discuss West and the general rehab process pitchers go through in part one of this two-part interview.

Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Keith Comstock (Part 2)

Jason Cole: Matt West was here rehabbing through the first half of the season, and now he's out in Myrtle Beach. What was the rehab process like with him? Where was he at when he left here?

Keith Comstock: It was hard for Matt. He's new to pitching, for one. And he's new to being hurt. Even when he was a position player, if he got hurt, he thought, ‘I'll play through it.' And as a pitcher, you don't have that mentality.

So it was really difficult for Matt to get through the ‘you can't do anything' stage. All you can do is run, lift, and do your arm care. You can't throw, you can't do PFP––you can't do any of that stuff. That was really hard for him in the beginning. And then in the middle, it was tough having to do that stuff without throwing. Because everything he wanted to base it on was throwing. He was smart enough to figure out that opportunities like this don't come around a lot, and he didn't want to blow it.

Once he started to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel––once he was able to get on the mound––then everything else seemed to fall into place. He started to work a little bit harder in his running, the weight room picked up, and then he started saying, ‘Okay, I am going to pitch. I thought I was going to be out for the whole year.'

With guys that first get hurt, six weeks seems like six months. And then you realize that everybody else is playing, and you're thinking, ‘I've got to jump on to this treadmill running.' That's what we do in rehab, and that's what he had to surrender to that kind of mentality. Once he did, then he was a different guy.

Cole: How was he looking on the mound by the time that he got out of Arizona?

Comstock: Well, unfortunately, we never got to see him in the game because it was right at the end of extended. It was right at the end of games, so the timetable unfortunately––we never got to see it. It was that break between extended and AZL, and we couldn't get that game time in that we wanted to. And we knew that. So the live BPs that we did, and the simulated games that we tried to simulate as much as possible––it really doesn't give that game inspiration for Matt.

Cole: Is that why he's being brought along somewhat slowly in Myrtle Beach so far?

Comstock: No question about it, yeah. We knew we were behind. He had a setback, which is common. I just got off the phone with Derek Holland a couple weeks ago about what he was going through. He felt like he was sliding backwards––or backsliding. I said, ‘In baseball, we backslide all the time.' If you've been in the game long enough, you'll backslide 10 times. You go to Triple-A to Double-A, you're backsliding. It's getting sidetracked and off-track––that's the problem.

Fortunately for Matt West, he never got too sidetracked or off-track. He just got backtracked a couple times. And yeah, that is the reason for the slow play now. At some point it's going to get sped up. And when he starts getting his legs underneath him––his changeup, we've kind of modified. That might have been causing some of his issues, so we've had to back off on that. He had a great changeup. When you take away a weapon from a guy like that, then he had to understand that part of the game. I think he's starting to get it. But with Brad (Holman), Brad is a big help there.

Cole: Going off the top of my head, I know West went down early in spring training. I think it was before he got to pitch in any games. Did he come into camp with some pain?

Comstock: No. The only time I remember him speaking about some pain, he came back from Arlington––after that little January camp they have in Arlington––and he had some stiffness, so we backed him off then for about seven to 10 days. We kept him from throwing, and then we started him back up and he didn't have anything. He felt something in spring training, and they gave him a cortisone shot, which is the first thing we do to see if it helps. It didn't help, and that's when we decided to take the slow play.

Cole: How common is it to see something like that with converted position players? It does seem to happen quite a bit with those guys.

Comstock: It does. The words you said right there––it happens most to converted pitchers. It's not the normal pitchers that we see with the big setbacks or step-backs that we have. Some of those setbacks are caused by when we get into a slider––by the time we work into a slider. Then the new muscles start kicking in. Or he starts throwing it properly and it hurts.

So we do have those kind of things. But when it's a converted guy, as you pointed out, those converted guys––when they do have setbacks, then we have to really watch it because it's a new arm. I don't care if he's been in pro ball for five years, but it's a new pitcher and it's a new pitching arm.

We do see those things. Jon Edwards––we had it with Jon. Matt West. You name all our converted guys, and at some point, we've had some issues with them. Some have been long term, and some have been real short. You stop throwing, pick up a ball, say, ‘Hey, you're doing this wrong.' Sometimes it can be a PFP arm path that's messing them up.

Cole: Brett Weibley had Tommy John surgery after spring training in 2011, and he's been here for more than a year now. You've been around a number of pitchers who have been on rehab crew for over a year. When they've been here for so long and all of their friends are playing at the affiliates, how difficult is it to keep them focused on the goal of getting out of here? What do you have to do to keep them in line?

Comstock: Good question. We have stages here. The first stage is the training room, and they're in charge. We have (medical coordinator) Dale Gilbert, (rehab coordinator) T.J. Nagakawa, (medical operations coordinator) Matt Lucero, and Brian Bobier in the past. These guys are all in the training room. We're talking about surgery people––guys that are going to be here for a year.

So we know right there and then that the relationship is going to get started. You're going to be around this guy for a year on a daily basis. That relationship starts right there and then in that training room. Work habits start right there and then. Leadership skills, if we can find them––right there and then.

And then they go to (strength and conditioning coach) Napoleon Pichardo. And that's the second part. That's the two-thirds part of it. When Nappy gets ahold of them, that's a whole new ballgame. Nappy instills a whole lot of stuff.

By the time they get down to me––when the last third of their project is now beginning and when they're on the baseball field––I've either got totally new behavior, a modified behavior, or the same old, same old that we've had. And there's been two of those guys, and I'll speak of them freely now. Omar Beltre. Omar was the same-same. He never changed his body and never changed anything. And then we had a guy named Kevin Castner. And Kevin was a guy who wanted to work too hard. He did things that had gone way above and beyond the rehab and got hurt and never told us about it.

So those two guys are examples of not changing, not progressing, and not being able to get out of here. But once they get to me, I really see a totally different character guy. I see a totally different behavioral guy. I see everything that has been changed. And those four months or five months that they've been in those rooms––and not in my room yet––that's where all that stuff gets changed. So by the time they get to me, I've kind of got a finished product. Then it's up to me to finish it on the baseball side of it.

Cole: Just from my observation, it seemed like Tim Murphy and Neil Ramirez were two of the guys who went through that behavioral change to the positive. Obviously Neil wasn't out here for the full year, but do you feel those are two good examples of it?

Comstock: We didn't have Neil for a full year, but it sure felt like a full year because he kept getting hurt (laughs). So it felt like a full year with Neil. But yeah, those are great examples, and Brett (Weibley) falls in with those guys now. He's without a doubt a leader like those two. He went through his rehab as good as anybody else. Denny Peralta was the same way. Those guys were just fabulous in the rehab. Willie Eyre––I could give you my fab five of guys who had setbacks but still were able to work through those setbacks perfectly.

They didn't make that setback any worse. If you do a setback right, you will boomerang past the other stages because you've done it right and you'll just shoot through some other stages. And those guys did it right. When you get to be around those guys for a year, it's just a total pleasure.

Cole: Brett Weibley has had a couple live BP sessions at this point.

Comstock: Three now. Three or four, yeah.

Cole: What are your thoughts on his progress?

Comstock: He's just really progressing. What we really had to work on is that he was a high-wired, high-intensity linebacker mentality on a pitching mound. And that doesn't coexist very well. But that's what he wanted. Everything is about growling and grunting––I had to take the gum out of his mouth because I thought he was going to kill the gum (laughs).

But if you watched it today, it was night and day. This guy actually is a pitcher now. He knows how to breathe on the mound. He knows how to work through issues if he has a misfire. This guy was close to being someone that was a misfire kind of guy. Everybody has different words for it––I call it constantly misfiring. You want to talk about ‘yips' or ‘the thing' or whatever. He was a guy that was misfiring. Not constantly, but misfiring. So he was on that teeter-tot ledge of ‘which way are you going to go on me?' And he decided to go this way, and it worked out perfectly for him.

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