Blackley Out, Not Down
As 2004 came to an end, M's left-handed pitching prospect Travis Blackley was just getting the news that he had some damage in his throwing shoulder. The discomfort he had been feeling for the past six weeks was more than a pulled muscle or a strained ligament.
There were two small tears in his labrum that would ultimately require surgery.
Blackley was leading the Pacific Coast League in earned run average prior to being called up to the big leagues in July. After a few solid starts, he began losing velocity and ultimately his confidence. The cause for the loss in confidence was lack of immediate success. The cause for the loss in velocity was a sore shoulder.
The initial diagnosis called for rest and rehab over the winter months in hopes that the injury would heal itself enough to avoid the invasive procedure that would cause the him to miss the entire 2005 season.
After weeks of rehab and a throwing program to rebuild the strength in his shoulder, Dr. Lewis Yocum advised Blackley that surgery was inevitable.
"I kind of knew it in the back of my mind," said Blackley just two days after going under the knife. "The whole time I thought that it was probably what I would have to end up doing. The only difference is that instead of missing half the year I'm out the whole season."
Blackley had the surgery on February 9 and is on a time table that could take him through December before being able to return to throwing. But the competitive and determined Australia native won't concede to the full 10 months. What a surprise.
"It could be more like seven months," Blackley added. "I'll be down there (Peoria) all year. He (Yocum) said 8-10 months but they always go a bit far."
The optimism pouring out of Blackley's words did not end there as he prepares for a long road back to where he wants to be. Though he is disappointed about missing the '05 campaign, his sense of comfort was clearly back and the swagger in his voice was missing no more. Don't feel sorry for the guy, he's as equipped to handle this as any player in the organization.
"I am relieved, in a way," said Blackley. "Not knowing what was wrong was the hardest part. At least now I know what's wrong."
The left throwing shoulder has not been the only thing on the mind of the M's No. 4 prospect, as he became a father for the first time this winter.
Tristan Adam Blackley, born January 6, will give Blackley and fiance Arynne plenty to do this summer.
With all that was weighing on his mind over the past five months, the M's 2003 Minor League Pitcher of the Year feels pretty good about his future with the M's and seemed very positive toward his immediate obstacles.
"There was a lot going on with my family being here for Christmas and with the baby and all," said Blackley whose brother Adam, a farmhand in the Boston Red Sox organization also made the trip to the midwest for the holidays.
With the crazy holidays and the shoulder weighing on his mind, Blackley did follow, somewhat, the club's offseason additions and is always for the an organization making believers out of its' players.
"As a pitcher, you always want to have the best team out there behind you," said Blackley. "It's nice to see that they will go spend some money, it's always good to see that."
Blackley's summer is going to be filled with daily workouts, doctor's visits and examinations. Not the joy of putting a cleanup hitter on the bench after swinging and missing at a his change up on a 3-2 count. The labrum injury is a serious health concern for pitchers.
He won't be pitching every fifth day. He won't be getting a call-up in June to take over the fifth spot in the Mariners' rotation.
But wagering against Blackley returning to form would be a big mistake. Huge.
To shed a bit of light on how competitive the southpaw really is, just ask him what he thinks of hitters using steroids and their effect on the game.
"I wish they were all on them, I don't care" he said. "That just makes me feel that much better when I get them all out."
If ever a pitcher was going to bet back on the mound early after labrum surgery, it's Blackley.
"I feel good about things," said Blackley. "I'll get back."
This time next year, you'll hear about the lefty preparing to battle for a spot in the Major League rotation.
You can bet on it.
Jason A Churchill can be reached via email at JasonAChurchill@InsidethePark.com
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