The right-hander entered '06 with a career record of 12-12 and a 4.02 ERA in 48 professional appearances. A starter for most of his career, the 26-year-old Cherry has appeared in all 15 games this season in relief and has a perfect zero ERA in the month of May (10 IP).
Inside The Ivy: You spent the whole off-season and more getting prepared to pitch again in '06. What can you tell us about the recovery process?
Rocky Cherry: Last year, when I underwent the surgery and went through the rehab, my first goal was to try and make it back by Spring Training. That would have been at about 11 months total, which is pretty fast recovery. But I knew that Ryan Dempster had made it back in about nine months and Scott Williamson had made it back in 10, so it was a feasible expectation. I busted my butt and worked hard.
The guys – Justin Sharpe and the entire rehab program – did a good job of taking care of me and giving me a good program to stick by. It worked out well, and I got back to where I was, if not better. That's why I think I've had such a successful season so far. Not only is my arm pain free for the first time in probably 3 ½ to 4 years, I was able to focus on my body, my arm, and my shoulder more than ever in the past. That has correlated into me being able to go out there and perform injury free consistently.
Inside The Ivy: Did you know that you were going into the bullpen when you came back, or did you anticipate going back into the rotation?
Rocky Cherry: Coming into Spring Training, they told me they did not know what they were going to do with me, and that they were going to play it by ear and see how my arm felt. But they did say they wanted me to go into the bullpen regardless of where I was assigned. They wanted me to throw a couple of innings and then take a couple of days off like a monitored rehab atmosphere. Initially, I was told that I was going to be at (High A) Daytona, where it was nice and warm. But I went out in Spring Training, threw the ball well and my velocity looked good, which in their eyes was a big indicator of how healthy I was.
I put them in a tough situation. So while it wasn't a surprise for me to be put in the bullpen, it was a surprise that I went to Double-A. I really didn't expect to be where I'm at, but I'm certainly happy to be here. It's turned out great so far. If I'd gone to Daytona and done well, people would have said, "Oh, well he's got to do well here, and here, etc." Double-A is a level where if you do well, they may show you some respect and think that maybe you can do it in the big leagues. It's a big stepping stone here.
Inside The Ivy: And this is the first time you've ever consistently pitched in relief, isn't it?
Rocky Cherry: Yes. One year (2004), I did it a little because I was getting roughed up a little starting. But this is the first year I've ever really been a true bullpen guy.
Inside The Ivy: Is the plan to keep you in the bullpen, or do you eventually plan on starting again?
Rocky Cherry: I haven't really talked to anyone about that. I'm just going to pitch like I know I can and force them to make a tough decision on me – whether it's to move me up, trade me, or protect me (from the Rule Five Draft). If they think it's better for me to start again, I'm more than happy with that. If they want me to stay in the bullpen, I'd be happy to do that, too. I just want to throw and keep throwing well!
Inside The Ivy: One of the things we wanted to ask you about is the team camaraderie. The Jaxx are 25-17 and only a game out of first. How much does the team's success play into your own?
Rocky Cherry: I know that it's easy to pitch well when your team is playing well. If you look at our stats, our team pitching is tops in the league. When everything is going good, everyone plays better around you and you get a confidence about yourself that allows you to perform really well. The team has really helped me out, because I feel more confident with everyone else playing well.
There's no doubt that guys like (Thomas) Atlee and (Clay) Rapada have tremendous stuff and that it's a correlation into why they have good numbers. But when you're playing well as a unit, it seems like you catch the breaks and that everything is going your way. When you play like that, it feels like you can get out of a jam or have the confidence in getting people out, even when you don't have your best stuff. I think that's the difference between a good team and a bad team. Sometimes, bad teams actually feel like they're not going to catch any breaks and it's just a mental game.
Inside The Ivy: Since you've had the surgery, do you feel any difference in velocity?
Rocky Cherry: Before the surgery, I was pretty much around 89-91 mph. That was pretty consistent for me. Right now, I've been around 91-94 mph and that's been tremendous.
Inside The Ivy: How about your other pitches? Are you throwing them all comfortably, in your opinion?
Rocky Cherry: The biggest difference is the command of my fastball. I've been throwing it a little harder, but I've also been able to command it on both sides of the plate. When you can command your fastball, you can almost pitch solely with that in a synch. My slider is another pitch that's been good for me. I had been struggling with it a little, because it was the last pitch I was able to throw on my rehab. During the first part of the month, I'd really been struggling simply because I could not find the grip that I used to throw it with in the past. It's finally starting to come around to the point where I'm feeling pretty consistent with it. Those are my two main pitches out of the bullpen right now.
Inside The Ivy: Congratulations on a great start this year. It almost looked like you were poised for a good run last year before the elbow injury. Welcome back!
Rocky Cherry: Thanks. Great to hear you're back as well.