Justin Garza felt a weird feeling in his elbow during a game back in college in May of 2015. By the third inning he knew something was seriously wrong with his arm. The California State alum immediately left the game and had tests done on his arm. The tests soon confirmed his worst fears.
“It wasn’t really a shock, but it was still some bad news because I didn’t know what my future was gonna look like,” Garza said. “A whole bunch of question marks [went] through my head.”
He had suffered a torn UCL in his right elbow and the only option to repair it was the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Just the mention of that particular surgery is a pitcher’s worst nightmare given the lengthy recovery process and chance that the same injury could crop up again. Nonetheless, Garza didn’t let his fears stop him from having the surgery and immediately signed on to have his elbow repaired.
He knew his injury would surely knock down his draft value. The Cleveland Indians had actually drafted Garza three years earlier in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft when he was at Bonita High School in California. The Indians once again decided to take a flier on the young righty and drafted him in the eighth round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. This time he signed with the organization and immediately got to work on his recovery process.
The Indians are notably one of the best organizations when it comes to dealing with pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery. They are very careful and meticulous about the recovery process and make sure to take every precaution possible to help a pitcher not only make a full recovery, but also get back to form and make sure that the chances of the injury happening again is minimal. That was the case with right-handers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. Both pitchers had to have Tommy John surgeries early in their careers and the Indians helped them through the recovery process and now both pitchers are key parts of their major league rotation.
For Garza, the toughest part of the surgery came after it. Just having to sit down and not be able to pick up a baseball and participate in baseball activities was a challenge for the young righty. He wanted to get out on the field and throw the ball but had to be patient.
“It was tough to be playing for a playoff berth, going to the college World Series and now you’re just laying in bed and watching all your teammates do it,” Garza admitted.
Despite being forced to sit on the sideline, Garza kept his head on straight and knew that patience was the key. He had to trust the process and make sure he took every step possible to make the full recovery he desired.
“Just knowing that the best thing for me was to rest and get all the rest I can kind of motivated me just to do that really,” he lamented.
Garza wasn’t able to pick up a baseball and throw until five months after the surgery. He started with soft toss throwing the ball just thirty feet to begin to build up his arm strength. It wasn’t much, but he was finally back on the field doing baseball activities and making the strides to get back to full strength. He soon worked his way all the way to throwing from 120 feet before moving onto flat ground and throwing the ball. He started throwing the ball at short distances at flat ground and moved all the way out to 180 feet before he finally could enter a bullpen and begin to actually throw pitches. Once he stepped into the bullpen, it felt like he was stepping onto the mound for the first time in his life.
“It felt really foreign,” Garza reflected. “It almost felt that I had to teach myself how to throw again. Just throwing on flat ground then throwing on a mound is totally different.”
At that point it had been eight or nine months since the surgery. It was a long process for sure, but he was inching closer and closer to getting back to form. Garza continued to go through the process as he soon began throwing all of his pitches. He missed most of the 2016 season as he continued to work his way back before making six short appearances with rookie level Arizona late in the season.
Now healthy, Garza is finally close to 100% healthy and ready to begin his minor league career. Despite going into his third year in the organization, it is still as if this season is his pro debut and he is chomping at the bit to get into an actual minor league game.
“All off-season that’s all I’ve been thinking about and even during the dog days of my rehab the light at the end of the tunnel was always being able to pitch for a team in the organization,” Garza beamed.
He’s gone through every step and is ready to toe the rubber. What the results will be are anybody’s guess, but Garza has paid his dues and given everything he’s had to his recovery process. It’s only right that he goes out onto the mound and begins to dominate and show everyone what he’s truly capable of and re-establishes the prospect standing he had before he got hurt.