But shoulder problems set in while pitching with the Jaxx and prior to that in Spring Training, which eventually led to season-ending surgery in early July. Connolly last pitched on June 28 and prior to that had missed almost two months with inflammation in his throwing arm, and dead arm symptoms. He received cortisone shots to combat the pain early on before being shut down mid-way through the season.
Since then, he's been rehabbing in Mesa with the hope of being able to go at it 100 percent come Spring Training of next year.
"I'm doing really well. I'll start throwing again very soon. Everything is going according to plan," said Connolly, a 12-game winner at Daytona in 2004 whom the Cubs stole from the Detroit Tigers' farm system for LHP Felix Sanchez.
"I'm just going in every day, doing a lot of lifting and running. Three days a week, I do upper body and shoulder stuff. Other than that, it's a wait and see process until I start throwing again. There'll be more fun involved then."
It's not the first time Connolly has been bitten with the injury bug in the same part of his body. At Oneonta High School, he underwent surgery to reconstruct the shoulder so he knows the drills all too well by now.
"Being around some of the other guys who've had shoulder surgery for the first time, I think they might not know as much as to what to expect," Connolly said. "I've already been through this once, and this time around it actually feels pretty minor compared to what I've gone through before. There'll be days when you feel good and some when you'll wake up really sore. You take it one day at a time."
It's the "one day at a time" approach that's helped Connolly achieve the success he's earned in recent years. In 2003, Connolly was the Tigers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The following year, his first with the Cubs, he led the Daytona staff in wins and ERA on the Class-A level. He had very little to change in his approach when he stepped above A-ball for the first time earlier this year.
"The last two years, I've had some proven success," said Connolly, who appeared in nine games with a 4.44 ERA this season. "I wasn't trying to change too much."
With Connolly still on the shelf, he'll be spending most if not all of his off-season in Arizona with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday trips to New York, Connolly's native, and Virginia, where his wife hails from.
"I'll be ready for Spring Training," he boasts. "When we start playing games there, I'll be ready. Hopefully, I'll be ready to break camp right out of spring and go wherever they send me."