Lambert prepares to go back to relieving

Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Casey Lambert is getting ready for a long off-season in Arizona after undergoing Tommy John Surgery two weeks ago.

A sixth-round Cubs draft pick from Virginia in 2007, Lambert was 7-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 96 innings between Class AA Tennessee and Class AAA Iowa in a 2009 season that was a bit of an unusual one for the left-hander.

A career reliever, he began the year in the starting rotation at Tennessee and fared nicely, picking up four wins and posting a 3.36 ERA in the first two months.

He spent two weeks on the disabled list and returned to make 11 relief appearances before earning a promotion to Triple-A, where his season ended on Aug. 25.

Beginning with the DL stint in late June, Lambert felt chronic discomfort in his left elbow. While he would return to the mound, the discomfort eventually led to him being shut down – and to Tommy John Surgery on September 22 in Chicago.

Monday was his first day of physical therapy.

"(Since the surgery) it's felt great and I haven't had any pain whatsoever," Lambert said from Mesa, Ariz.. "I've been in a brace and there's been no aching.

Being that Lambert didn't undergo surgery until late September, he could miss all of the 2010 season.

"I'm hoping some time this week, I'll sit down with the trainer, and I'm sure they'll have some kind of outline for the rehab program," Lambert said.

"(The trainer will) kind of let me know more so when certain target dates are for when I'll be able to pick up a baseball, throw bullpens and pitch competitively."

Lambert had experienced some elbow discomfort off and on since his days in college, but nothing that was ever considered overly serious until recently.

He said there was no way of knowing with any certainty that the extra workload he received from starting games might have expedited any elbow problems.

"It might have, but it's hard to say 100 percent," he said. "I've had issues before. It might have kind of made it stand out just having to throw for longer innings of time every time I went out there, but there's no guarantee that that's what did it."

Before the elbow problems, Lambert was making a strong case for himself as a starter. He made 13 starts at Tennessee and was 5-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 66-2/3 innings.

But his strikeouts to walks totals (43 strikeouts to 25 walks) were less than impressive, and Lambert points to that for why he feels 2009 was an off year.

"I always want to do as well as possible and not give up any runs every time out," Lambert said. "When I looked at my numbers, I wasn't too happy with it. My strikeouts were down, my walks were up. I just felt like it was kind of an off year for me.

"But I was doing something completely different than anything I've done since high school and that was seven years ago."

Lambert has always been known for his breaking pitch; his power curveball is considered one of the best in the Cubs' minor league system. He said he felt that being a starter caused his curve to lose some of its sharpness.

"Out of the bullpen, I was able to throw it as hard as I could to make it be an out pitch," Lambert said. "This year, I wasn't necessarily going for the strikeouts because I was trying to find a way to get through five, six or seven innings.

"I think it had lost a little bit of velocity and was more kind of a second pitch. I noticed I worked more with location than stuff as a starter."

Subsequently, Lambert worked on introducing a slider to his repertoire.

"I'd always (thrown) a fastball and changeup along with a curveball," he said. "I started working on a slider just because my curve was kind of loopier and I felt I needed something sharp to get a strikeout here and there.

"When I went back to the bullpen, I did feel my curveball start to get back to where it used to be, so I forgot about the slider."

Once he returns healthy, whether it's in 2010 or 2011, Lambert envisions his future will take him back to the bullpen on a more permanent basis.

"I hope so, to tell you the truth," he said.

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