Casey Lambert Ready to Return

Casey Lambert will complete his return from Tommy John surgery Tuesday when he gets the start for the Arizona League Cubs in the team's season opener at Fitch Park. The left-hander last pitched on August 25 of last year at Triple-A Iowa.

A sixth-round Cubs draft pick from Virginia in 2007, Lambert finished his college career with an ACC record 43 saves. He spent his first two seasons in the Cubs' system as a reliever before giving starting a try last year.

Lambert split last season between Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, going 7-6 with a 4.40 ERA in 31 appearances (14 starts) spanning 96 innings. caught up with Lambert on the eve of his first appearance of 2010 and got an update on how he feels after the surgery and where he goes from here.

Q: How is your arm feeling after the surgery?

A: My arm feels very good. I would say it feels pretty close to what it's felt like my whole life before the problems late last season. It's easy to expect it to feel 100 percent because in your mind, you expect it to be "fixed." But I still realize it's a work in progress to getting back to full strength. Obviously it isn't fully recovered yet, not even being a year out of surgery, but I'm very pleased with where I am.

Q: Did you feel something pop when it happened? How did it all come about?

A: No, my ligament didn't actually blow out on one specific pitch. It was more of a deterioration of the ligament over time. It was basically like a frayed rubber band about to snap, along with some bone spurs.

Q: Did you know about any of this before the doctors had diagnosed it?

A: I could tell something wasn't right with the way my arm had felt a few weeks leading up to the visit, and whenever a pitcher's elbow hurts, you fear the worst. But I didn't have any concrete information on what exactly was going on inside there, no.

Q: Has the surgery and the missed playing time given you any new perspective on the game?

A: It's definitely made me realize that you need to cherish every day you have with your teammates. I thought spending the whole offseason rehabbing would be hard, but that was the easy part. It's tough to watch everyone break camp at the end of spring training, and now I just check box scores every night. I can't wait to be back out there playing competitively again.

Q: How long is the stint in Arizona supposed to last? Do you see the Cubs kind of taking it safe and keeping a close watch on you in the Arizona League, or could you maybe get a chance to pitch at Peoria, Daytona, etc. by the end of this year?

A: It's looking like I will be here in Arizona for close to another month. I start throwing breaking balls in a week and that's pretty much the last hurdle to jump before moving on to somewhere like Peoria or Daytona. Ultimately, I am extremely hopeful to make it back to Tennessee by the end of the year and have a chance to play for a championship, something that I have yet to do with the Cubs.

Q: What are some of the other hurdles you've had to clear? Can you just kind of give a rundown of your "checklist" of things you've had to do in the last few months leading up to your first start of the season?

A: The first big hurdle was to get out of the brace, which took about six weeks. Then it was to start playing light catch, which I believe was around the 20-week mark. Then it was to be able to throw off a mound, which was somewhere around 10 weeks after that. Then (it was) to throw live B.P. against hitters a few weeks after that. My first game was about a month ago and next will be breaking balls starting next week.

Q: Have you got any reports on your velocity since the surgery?

A: The organization's philosophy has changed this year on radar guns. We only use them about one week out of each month, so I haven't been clocked in a few weeks. The last time I was clocked, I topped out at 88 mph in one inning of work.

Q: Since last season, you've gotten married and now you are starting a family. Has that given you some new perspective as well?

A: It makes it easier to separate on-the-field life from off-the-field life. I know that when I come home from the field, no matter how my day was, I have a beautiful family waiting for me.

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