While it was not the end to his first professional season he was looking for, reliever Tucker Healy will look back on 2013 as a memorable one. A pulled back muscle in early August derailed an impressive run from Oakland's 23-round selection in the 2012 draft.
The 6'1'' right-hander dominated hitters across two levels, posting a composite 1.31 ERA and posting a 74:10 K:BB ratio in 48 innings at Stockton and Beloit. He allowed just seven earned runs on 33 hits all season.
"Getting ahead of hitters and throwing strikes is the key to pitching," said Healy, a product of New York's Ithaca College. "You put them in a hole right away, instead of putting yourself in a hole. I wanted to put myself in a better situation to be successful."
At the time of his injury, Healy was on a spectacular month-long run at the back end of the Ports' bullpen, having thrown 12.1 consecutive scoreless innings in nine outings. He had struck out 22 batters and walked just two during a span dating back to July 4th.
But a strained Teres Major muscle in the back of his right shoulder put Healy on the shelf for what would turn out to be the rest of the season.
"I felt really good and everything was really clicking going into the last month of the season," Healy said. "I had a hiccup while I was doing arm care exercises. That's how it all started. I guess it may teach me something, in terms of staying healthy being really important. It stinks sitting on the sidelines and not being able to contribute."
The Stockton reliever took some time off before easing his way back into a throwing program. His rehab culminated in a pain-free bullpen session the final week of the season, which meant he wasn't able to return to action.
"I'm back at full strength now," he said. "I'm OK, but there just wasn't enough time to come back and pitch. They wanted to take it slow to make sure everything was alright, and not rush me back. They wanted me to shut it down and rest until spring training and be ready to go then."
Healy will return home to New York for the off-season for more rest and won't take part in the A's Instructional League. But that doesn't mean he won't be working on fine-tuning his game.
"I want to come into spring training in the best shape possible," he said. "I want to fine-tune all of my pitches. There's already room for improvement with fastball command and movement. I'll be happy wherever I go next year, but [getting to Midland] is one of my goals."
Healy relied on mostly a three-pitch mix of fastballs, change-ups and sliders to retire hitters at an astounding pace this summer. In fact, precise command of his fastball and change-up were often enough to get outs in Low-A. That changed in a rare off night with Stockton on July 4th.
"Going into [the California League] I didn't really change much," he said. "I had one outing where I allowed two home runs in Stockton and started to throw more sliders after that. I mixed in more sliders in Stockton than I did in Beloit."