"I didn't know what to expect from it," said Below. "I talked to other guys that have had it (Tommy John) done and they said to just work hard."
In recent history there have been plenty of successful pitchers that have come back from Tommy John, even better than what they were before and there was no reason that he could not be one of those players.
"I told myself that I was going to do whatever it took to get ready for Spring Training," he said. "When I talked to other guys they said just work hard because it could come back to haunt you."
"They said that if you didn't take rehab seriously there could be loss in range of motion."
Below stayed true to his word and worked hard to be ready for Spring Training. In fact he threw so well that the Tigers started him off in Double-A Erie.
"When I first started playing catch I made sure not to hold anything back," he said. "Even when it was sore I made sure that I was throwing as hard as I could."
"It led to me throwing the ball well in Spring Training and I was looking forward to this season."
Entering the season on a strict pitch count, Below struggled to throw enough innings to qualify for wins early on. The velocity was there sitting around 92-93 MPH even touching 95 at times. He even showed a breaking ball that had very good depth and bite, it just lacked consistency.
We saw some moments of brilliance right from the beginning. In his very first start of the year against the Trenton Thunder he worked four innings, striking out seven (Five of those strikeouts coming in the first two innings).
As impressive as this was he still took the loss allowing three runs in those four innings. If you analyzed just the wins, losses, and ERA then you miss the progress that Below has made this season.
"I knew there would be ups and downs coming off of the surgery," he said. " I was just hoping that there would be more ups than downs."
As the season went on you could see that Below began to struggle with command and at times became frustrated.
"In the middle I struggled and I needed to get my confidence back," said Below.
Fortunately he had Erie pitching coach Ray Burris there to help him.
"Duane has the stuff to be successful," said Burris. "Now it is a matter of getting him to trust his stuff and clear his head."
"He just needs to focus on the batter and not worry about pitch counts and all the other stuff that he doesn't have control of."
"Ray has been great," Below said. "He knows my mechanics and with turning the page when things aren't going my way."
The trials and tribulations that Below has gone through this season have made him stronger mentally.
"Duane has shown a lot of guts and determination this year," said manager Phil Nevin. "It's difficult when you are on a pitch count. I would have liked to get him more wins this season."
Below's progression continued as the season went on and in his last four starts he began to show consistency.
"I felt good with my last few starts," he said. "I just wish all of them could have been like them."
"As a pitcher you want to go out and give your team the best opportunity to win and I feel that I have started to get to that point again."
Over his last four starts, Below posted a 4.23 ERA. He saved his best for last though in his very last start of the season. Against the Akron Aeros the lefty went 6 1/3 innings allowing just one run on two hits, while striking out four.
Overall Below finished the year with a 7-12 record and a 4.93 ERA. He struck out 103 while walking 37 in 126 innings.
"I want to carry this over into the spring next year and just continue to build," said Below. "I'm not going to instructionals, or at least I haven't been told yet."
"I think they want me to rest and be ready for next year because the reigns will be off."
When the reigns are off next year we should see the Duane Below that threw in his last four starts and that is a promising sight for the Tigers.