It started nearly three full years ago at Double-A. After winning 10 games and posting a 1.98 ERA at Class-A Daytona in his professional debut season in 2003, Blasko went down with a shoulder injury in mid-2004. He eventually underwent shoulder surgery and would miss the entire 2005 season.
Throughout spring camp and the early part of last season, things were looking up for Blasko. He had seen select action in various Spring Training games and was reportedly close to joining a Cubs minor league affiliate before a setback kept him in Arizona through the remainder of the season.
As he entered Spring Camp 2007 in Arizona last week, Blasko again found himself on the up and up – hopefully for good this time.
Q: What have the past few months been like leading up to this spring?
A: I was actually able to start pitching last year back here in Arizona, but then I had another setback. I was actually able to leave here last year at the end of the season so things were good. I spent the whole off-season working out and now I'm back here in Spring Training. Things are pretty good right now, but I'm not holding my breath. Especially with the surgery, I've learned from the past that it's a rollercoaster.
Q: Can you walk us through the injury timeline, starting in 2004?
A: In ‘04, my arm was just kind of aching. I kept going to see the doctor and we thought it was some tendonitis because I could still pitch; just not the way I was in Daytona. I missed a start and took some anti-inflammatory pills. I would pitch again and would feel all right, but not great; just enough to get me through five or six innings. It would still bother me and I got it checked out again. I had an MRI and that's when they found a couple of things wrong. I was operated on by Dr. (James) Andrews in Alabama. I got back here to Arizona to do rehab and did that the whole '05 season.
Coming into Spring Training last year, things were fine. But then I had some mishaps with my shoulder and started to not feel well. They had to shut me down for about two weeks. I then got back into my throwing program, did some more rehab and actually finished some exhibition games here. I was on the verge of leaving, but my shoulder really wasn't feeling well. My first game back, which was 20 months from the surgery, I was back to my normal self – 92 to 95 (mph) my first game back.
Progressively afterward, my shoulder didn't feel well. I had to stay here and do more rehab. I got on another throwing program and at the end of last season, things were fine and I was to the point where I was going to throw some innings in the (Arizona) Rookie League, but things were going so well that they told me not to even worry about it. They told me to go home and rest; that they'd seen enough.
The way I felt leaving at the end of last season, I'd never felt that way in the past four years. My arm felt that good. I went home, took a month and a half off to just get away from baseball and enjoy my life a little bit. I'd been doing enough rehab for the past two years.
Q: How hard was all of that on you mentally?
A: It was very tough. It's not just the physical part of it and not being able to do some things at first, but as a human being, you're always going to have negative thoughts no matter what. Everyone does. You try really hard to stay positive, but it's kind of hard to. I'm just going off my own experiences, but I assume a lot of guys go through the same thing, especially with major surgeries like I had. You try to put your mind to the grind and keep working day after day. You try to see that light at the end of the tunnel and know that eventually it's all going to pay off no matter how long it's going to take.
Eventually, things got to the point where I started feeling well. But those first five months of rehab were a little demoralizing because you start having to do all these things such as getting your range of motion back. It hurts so bad that you start asking yourself, "Am I ever going to throw again? My arm hurts so bad right now." It's all a part of the rehab process, but eventually you get back to throwing and you get positive about that. The whole process builds a lot of character.
Q: Did you look to anyone for inspiration?
A: There was nobody in particular that I really asked for advice. I did talk to a few guys here or there that went through the whole process that I was going through. They told me what to expect and that it would be a whole rollercoaster experience. You have a couple of weeks where you're high and a couple where you're low.
When I had my surgery performed by Dr. Andrews, one of the things in one of his office rooms was a picture of Roger Clemens and it said something about a similar surgery he performed on Roger 14 or 15 years ago. Look at him now. He was still in the big leagues and he's 40-plus years old. I kind of look at that and keep a positive outlook on this whole situation.
Q: You said earlier that your velocity was back in the low to mid 90s last spring. Is that where you're at this spring?
A: I'm not sure. Right now, we're not really breaking out the radar gun so I don't know. We're throwing bullpens and long-toss right now, so I won't know about the velocity for a few weeks to come.
Q: Are you still throwing the same pitches you were before?
A: Yeah – fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. It's kind of hard to say which one is my bread and butter because I haven't really faced full-fledged competition in two and a half years, so I haven't really been able to put some of those pitches in an actual game except for those few Spring Training games. Back when I was healthy, my slider was my No. 1 pitch to go to when I wanted a strikeout or anything else.
Q: What is a normal workday like for you in camp?
A: Usually every other day you'll throw a bullpen and then light toss. On a normal day, you go in at 7 o'clock in the morning just to get your arm loose and stretched. Then you stretch with the team and throw your long-toss and bullpens as needed. After that, you do your running with the strength and conditioning coaches. All the guys who threw bullpens will usually run together. After that, there's a little bit of a break time. Then it's a half-hour of weights usually.
We'll have a plan for the day where our field coordinator will go over what we'll do for that day, and then you'll meet with your workout team whether it's Double-A, Triple-A or Single-A. Usually after that, all the guys will stretch together and then basically work on whatever the fundamental for the day is – be it a pickoff play, a bunt play, and so on. After that it's usually batting practice and shoulder exercises, then maybe a little ice and you call it a day. One good thing is we usually get done between 1 and 2 o'clock, so you have some hours the rest of the day to really enjoy doing something.
Q: During the rehab process, what were some things you enjoyed doing to get your mind off baseball?
A: Just watching TV. You find certain things to do. I was living by myself when I was out here doing rehab, and I can tell you I probably visited the mall so many times that I could tell you where every store is.
Q: Have the Cubs talked to you about what role they see you in once you return?
A: It's kind of up in the air. They haven't really said much. I'm not too concerned about it because I just want to play. I've been here for over two years and rehab is really not that fun, especially when you're not playing and you see that all of your buddies are and that they're getting called up to the big leagues while you're in Arizona rehabbing.
I've told other people when they've asked where I'm going to start that I don't care; I just want to play. I could start at Single-A and not to be arrogant or cocky, but if I'm healthy, I know I could pitch the same way I did in Daytona a few years ago. If that's the case, my pitching would do the talking for me and I'd be able to move up whenever the time comes.