Coenen ready to make comeback

Matt Coenen missed all of 2006 with shoulder trouble. Here's his conversation with The Braves Show's Bill Shanks.

SHANKS: Tell me about the injury to your shoulder.
COENEN: I had a shoulder injury that is called a Bankart Lesion. They had to shave the bone down up top and then rotator cuff in the back. It wasn't something that happened over like one pitch. It broke down over a three or four year period. Finally in 05, the last year I pitched, it was just too much. Bankart Lesion is basically separating your shoulder toward your body. What the surgeon told me was it was probably something that happened growing up at a younger age. It wasn't even a baseball incident. It was probably something that happened at a young enough age that my shoulder popped out, went back, and then pitching progressed the injury. But the initial injury was more than likely not from baseball.

SHANKS: Do you remember anything that happened that might have caused it?
COENEN: When I was sixteen I had a mountain bike accident where I fell on my left shoulder and that was probably it. But I never thought too much of it when it happened. My shoulder was sore for maybe a week or so. I was young, so I think it just healed.

SHANKS: So when did you have the surgery?
COENEN: September of 2005. My last season was in 2005. My arm was feeling fine, and then it just started to break down. Once it started hurting in 05 it really started hurting.

SHANKS: How often is this procedure done to pitchers?
COENEN: Well the labrum injury is fairly common with pitchers now, but the actual place where I was injured was a little unique. That‘s the only difference. It‘s just a little different.

SHANKS: So did you have a pretty normal recovery like someone that just had their labrum done?
COENEN: My shoulder was very sore after the surgery for a good six to eight months. Once I hit the year mark it's been a lot better lately. It actually feels pretty normal now.

SHANKS: Did they tell you it would take more than a year?
COENEN: When you have shoulder surgery, where you're at the two year mark is usually where you're going to be. And that's strength-wise, flexibility, and if you still have pain in your shoulder that's probably still going to be there. So the two-year mark is the big number with shoulder surgery. I rehabbed here all of 2006 and then got back in late February.

SHANKS: So what are you throwing right now?
COENEN: I threw an inter squad game about a week ago and I‘ve thrown live BP's. So I'm fully released and this is like a normal spring training right now.

SHANKS: And how do you feel?
COENEN: I feel pretty good. I had a good offseason when I went home. I worked out hard. I‘m in good shape. Every once in a while off the mound there‘s still a little pain here or there, but it‘s nothing out of the ordinary for shoulder surgery, especially with the labrum.

SHANKS: Is it hard to tell the difference between the pain you're suppose to have and what might be something new?
COENEN: Not now. I have the feeling down. But when I was coming back last year in 06 it was very similar when you broke through the scar tissue you get that popping sensation.

SHANKS: Everyone I‘ve ever spoken with that has missed significant time with an arm injury always talks about the mental side being so tough to come back from.
COENEN: Yeah when I threw the inter squad game about a week ago I realized how much I had missed. Physically I thought I was fine, but mentally I wasn‘t there at all. So hopefully this spring training I‘ll get it back and get in the groove.

SHANKS: And the rehab process is grueling on someone too, isn‘t it?
COENEN: It's a roller coaster ride. In the beginning it just feels bad, but once you get six plus months out of surgery you might have a good week and then you might have two bad weeks followed by another good week. So it's just a roller coaster ride the whole way.

SHANKS: I guess you learn how to be patient.
COENEN: Yes. It‘s going to take time. Jeff Blum, the physical therapist for the Braves, you just have to trust what he‘s telling you and trust the exercises you‘re doing. That helps a lot.

SHANKS: Do you feel like now you‘re going to be able to compete for a spot to break camp here and go to a team?
COENEN: Yes right now I think I'll be more than capable of breaking spring training and going to wherever they assign me to go.

SHANKS: And I would think that would have had to be a goal a year ago.
COENEN: Yeah that was definitely the goal.

SHANKS: You had gone back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen in AA, correct?
COENEN: My first stint in Double-A I was mainly a bullpen guy. But then in 05, the following year, I was a starter the whole season. And I was a starter in Myrtle Beach before that.

SHANKS: What is your preference?
COENEN: I think starting or middle relief is where I‘m most comfortable. I‘ll do whatever they want me to do. It just takes a little time to adjust.

SHANKS: Do you feel with what you‘re coming back from you may have to be in middle relief for a while?
COENEN: Honestly I think if they wanted me to start I could do it.

SHANKS: Now that you‘ve gotten your shoulder fixed, has it gone through your mind that, ‘hey it‘s fixed, so what can I do now?' Has that crossed your mind?
COENEN: You just have to go out there and pitch. If it hurts, it hurts. If it doesn't, great.

SHANKS: But you had to be pitching at times with this?
COENEN: I thought it was tendonitis to be honest with you. I‘d have a bad month, followed by a good month. So I just thought it was tendonitis, but in reality it was the labrum wearing down.

SHANKS: So knowing it was more than just the tendonitis…
COENEN: Definitely. It was definitely a huge relief mentally to know what it was.

SHANKS: And it had to make you think, 'okay now that it's fixed, how much better can I be as I move forward?'
COENEN: I think after the surgery what will help is just having a consistent arm slot. And I think that's where I'd struggle at times. When it would hurt my arm slot would change. You're body just does that naturally. You'll find an arm slot that doesn't hurt, even if it‘s not your natural arm slot. So now that I‘m back I‘ll hopefully be more consistent.

SHANKS: Did this bother you with Detroit?
COENEN: When I was with the Tigers it was more just dead arm. It really wouldn't hurt, but my velocity wasn't the same as it was when I was in college. I threw a little bit harder in college. I think I'll be able to throw what I was able to throw when I was healthy here. The first month and a half of the season in 05 I was 88-91 range and touching 92, 93 I believe. But that's as hard as I have ever thrown. I think I'll be able to get back to that.

SHANKS: Where do you think you'll play this season?
COENEN: They have me working out with the Richmond squad, so more than likely I'll head to Mississippi.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at

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