When you've been playing baseball your whole life it's almost unfathomable to think of a spring where you're not gripping the seams. Like many modern pitchers Charlie Furbush was just another victim of a torn ulnar collateral ligament also known as Tommy John Surgery.
"It's tough. It's never a good thing to go down because of surgery," said Furbush on having to be on the sidelines for the season. Furbush, like many pitchers, has gone practically spent his whole life pitching and now had to almost relearn his craft.
It was a tough time for Furbush. "When you take a year out of baseball you get out of the loop," he said while recounting the previous year. "Once [you] get back into it you have to stay on your game and it's good to have guys like Joe [Coleman] and guys who have been in the game for so long," raved Furbush on how helpful Pitching coach Joe Coleman has been.
Some pitchers coming back from surgery say it's like riding a bike. Others, like Red Sox prospect Richie Lentz, feel like they are starting from scratch. Furbush had his own take "first I had to break the rust off," he said, though once he was out there it started coming back. "It's kind of like [riding a bike], at first when you start throwing again after the surgery but once you start getting back into it becomes second nature."
With Furbush's type of surgery you have to wait at least a year before you can start evaluating the process. He went under the knife last April and since then he's recovered as well as you could hope. Pitching Coach Joe Coleman thinks "He's recovering very well, he hasn't had any problems" and Furbush added "my arm feels stronger than it's been ever since [the injury]."
Now that he's back on the field he's making up for lost time.
He started the season well enough to earn a spot on the Florida State League All-Star team. Furbush hit a rough patch right before the break which skewed his numbers to the tune of a 4.64 ERA and 54 1/3 innings with 34 strikeouts might not seem worthy of the honor. However it did and he went on to earn the victory.
Since his All-Star appearance in June Furbush has been one of the best pitchers in the league. He's sporting a 2.98 ERA and nearly averaging a strikeout per inning in his 54 and 1/3 innings of work. "Once my arm felt fine I had more confidence on the mound and I was able to attack hitters more like I use to and that's a big thing for me," said Furbush on his reasoning for the increase.
Coleman sees it as part of his progression as a prospect. "He's developing more than anything. It's just a situation where his stuff is getting better [and] location is getting better," Coleman evaluated on the prospect. He also interjected one flaw in his outs by way of the K; "the pitch count."
Strikeouts are great to evaluate the pitchers ability to miss bats and are also more fun for fanfare in the stadium. However a player in Furbush's position, it may behoove them to pitch to contact. "The more people he strikes out the less chance he gets deeper into games where we need him," remarked Coleman. Furbush has been on a strict pitch count all season and has been given an innings limit.
Getting the opposition out as efficiently as possible is the main operative for Furbush. "Getting outs and getting outs quicker, that's pretty much it," said Coleman on what Furbush needed to improve on. The advice hasn't fallen on deaf ears.
"It's always good to get quick outs," said Furbush, continuing "with the pitch count, I have to be as efficient as I can because I don't want to go too deep into counts." Since deep counts significantly hinder his odds to go deep enough into games, which can lead to taxing bullpen laden innings. Judging from Furbush's assessment he is improving; "I've been progressing better and better with how the year's gone on." His left arm seems completely healed and hopefully he will not have more issues in the future.
Furbush delivers the ball with a low three quarter arm slot which is nearly impossible for left handed batters to pick up (batting a mere .210 for the season against him). The lower slot can put an excess of torque on the elbow but there were no thoughts on changing the release point. Furbush stated "I haven't changed anything" about his throwing motion and insisted that the original problem was merely normal wear and tear a pitcher goes through.
In fact it is instructed not to change anything, especially during rehab. "That was one thing going through rehab that I don't want to throw any different than you always have. You tend to run into more problems [when you change]," stated Furbush that change would not rehab his arm properly and could incur future trips to the DL.
With his arm strength back to form it is up to Furbush's delivery. Coleman has been helping Furbush "get back to the point where he can repeat his delivery," the Pitching Coach said. It's his secret to his efficiency "when he does [repeat] he is successful," and it can cause his unraveling "when he doesn't he throws more pitches than he needs to," stated Coleman.
Manager Andy Barkett stresses that everyone at this level has to gain consistency in their game. That theory has refined Furbush's focus. "It's a lot of little things that I need to fine tune. I need to command all my pitches," stated Furbush on what he needs to improve to take the next step in his progress.
The little things like commanding his off speed pitches on both sides of the plate or managing the runners that reach base better are all part of the what Furbush is working on. After a lost season he is more than happy to work on the little things. He's just happy to get back on the mound.