The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Dallas Buck in the third round of the 206 draft, well aware that his ulnar collateral ligament was 40% torn throughout his final season at Oregon State. The organization opted to strengthen the ligament through rehab, rather than repair it through Tommy John surgery.
That decision appeared wise three months into the 2007 season, as Buck carried a 3.41 ERA thought 16 starts, having fanned 88, walked 31, and gotten nearly two-and-a-half ground outs for every flyball out he induced. But during that 16th start, Buck finally tore the rest of that elbow ligament all the way through, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in late July.
According to Dr. Craig Morgan, the average pitcher is not ready to resume a normal throwing routine until 10-12 months after surgery. Now, approximately nine months after he went under the knife, Buck has already begun throwing off a mound and simulating game situations. So although Buck wasn't expected to join a Diamondbacks affiliate until early August, we may actually see him do so by mid-summer.
"Dallas is doing exceptionally well," Ed Gustafson, a Diamondbacks scout told The Oregonian. "His timetable has been accelerated. He is way ahead of schedule. Everyone is pleased with the speed of his recovery. He has been pain free and the ball is coming out of his hand like it was during his sophomore year at Oregon State."
In fact, many pitchers who have undergone Tommy John Surgery insist that the procedure has made them better pitchers overall. Not only does their velocity often improve, but they will generally incorporate less-stressful pitches in their repertoire, such as a changeup, which makes them more well-rounded pitchers overall. David Gassko expounds in The 2007 Hardball Times Baseball Annual:
[P]itchers may throw better than they have in years because even before the UCL pops, a pitcher's elbow might have been in bad shape for some time. All pitchers have some structural damage- it's the extent that determines just how much they're going to be hurt. Essentially, Tommy John surgery takes a pitcher back to square one - his elbow is as sound as it was before he ever picked up a baseball.
Before Buck partially tore his UCL in 2006, he was hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun with sink. Diring the past two seasons, he has barely topped 90 MPH with that fastball, but has still had quality results. The surgery may return him to his 2005 form, when he went 12-1 with a 2.09 ERA as a two-way star (football and baseball) for Oregon State.
"This is another testament to how tough he is as a kid," Gustafson confirmed. "He pitched with this for a long time, and now he has a great opportunity to be a huge success story."
That story may print sooner than we all expected.
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