Lewis' Long Road Back

When Mud Hens starter Colby Lewis learned he needed surgery to repair a long nagging rotator cuff injury, it really came as no surprise. The injury was finally confirmed on April 20, 2004, when Lewis, then a pitcher in the Texas Rangers' rotation, was placed on the 15 day disabled list. Lewis was 1-1 after just three starts before being forced to miss the remainder of that season with rotator cuff surgery imminent.

"I kind of knew at that point that something definitely was not right with my arm" says Lewis. "It really began to bother me as far back as 2001 when I was in Single-A with Charlotte. I had an MRI done that showed a slight tear in my shoulder even back then".

Like many hurlers who suffer a rotator cuff injury, Lewis admits the road back was at times trying and difficult mentally.

Missing most of the 2004 season, and all of 2005, the rehab program he undertook was very demanding, but required, if there was any chance of returning to his pre-injury form. After many frustrating long days of tedious repetitious exercise to repair the scar tissue, Lewis contends that he never once gave up his dream of making back to the mound.

"Having to sit out for so long was very tough", said Lewis. "Your not part of the day-to-day on the team which is really disappointing and weighs heavy on your mind as the season moves on. Anyone that has gone through it, knows you just gotta' believe in yourself, the doctors and therapy that you're going to make it back"

Lewis, a 6' 4", 230 lb right hander, is a native of Bakersfield California and is in his eighth season of professional baseball. He began his pro career back in 1999, first as a reliever, and later a starter, playing with Pulaski in the Appalachian Rookie League where he posted a 7-3 record and carried a respectable 1.95 ERA.

He spent the next season and a half playing Single-A ball with Charlotte in the Florida State League before getting promoted to Double-A Tulsa where he led the team in wins [10] and strikeouts [162] and appeared in the Texas League All-Star game.

Building a resume of proven success in the minors, Lewis earned a spot into the Texas Ranger bullpen in the spring of 2002 and saw action immediately in the Rangers' season opener that season against the Oakland Athletics.

Over the next two seasons, Lewis would split his time between the Rangers and their Triple-A farm team in Oklahoma.

In 2004, he began the season again in a Rangers uniform and went 1-1 before the shoulder trouble began to magnify in April, putting Lewis' pitching career suddenly on hold with surgery as his only option.

The Rangers went on to place Lewis on waivers in October of 2005, where he was signed by the Detroit Tigers and immediately assigned to Toledo.

"I am extremely happy to be part of the Tigers organization and real happy to be here in Toledo" admits Lewis. "To be part of this team that won it all last year is a great opportunity for me. There is a great sense of camaraderie in this clubhouse that I definitely like being a part of."

Even with the Tigers boasting a full pitching staff to kick off the 2006 season, Lewis is not particular in what role he would serve, should the opportunity to join the big club arise.

"Whatever they need me to do I'm cool with it to be honest", claims Lewis. "I've always been a team guy and do what's required of me to win ball games."

Knowing Major League Baseball is only an hour down the road in Detroit, for the time being, what's in Lewis' priority queue is getting his arm back to the strength and condition before the nearly career ending injury occurred.

He states that he still has not recovered the same velocity he had pre-injury. Many experts advised Lewis that it could take three to four year to regain his original speed and movement on a ball. Lewis maintained a steady 97-98 MPH fast ball before suffering the rotator cuff injury that has reduced his speed to somewhere around 93-94 MPH.

"Most rehab professionals will tell you that it takes time for full recovery", says Lewis "Patience is key. I need to just keep working at it"

Looking back on his career and the injury, Lewis is certain that in his mind no particular pitch or situation contributed to the shoulder injury. In fact, Lewis still carries a limited repertoire in his pitching arsenal, relying mainly on his fastball as his best weapon.

"For me, it's all about ball placement and speed" contends Lewis. "Even though my pitch velocity is a little under what I want it to be, placement of the pitch is probably as important when I face a batter, especially on something inside where it can be very effective."

Now an integral member on the Mud Hens starting rotation, Lewis has two starts under his belt in 2006, posting a .90 ERA. In ten innings pitched, Lewis has allowed four walks, striking out nine opposing batters, and given up two runs.

His short term objective is simple, to one, stay healthy and two, perform well enough to not only lead the Mud Hens to repeat as Governor Cup Champions, but ultimately return to the majors, and take the mound wearing a Tigers uniform in the not to distant future.

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