It's an understatement to say Caleb Cotham has had it rough in the past year and a half. After two knee surgeries following the draft in 2009, Cotham felt some tightness in his shoulder and went under the knife for a third time with a torn labrum. This amount of time rehabbing and being away from the game would make anyone upset, but Cotham is taking it in stride and fighting his way back.
After an appearance with the Gulf Coast team this season, in which he allowed 2 runs, one earned on two hits and one walk, Cotham was sent to Staten Island to continue his comeback. Excited to get pitching again, he opened up about getting back in the game.
"It's obviously really good," Cotham said. "It's been a year and a half. With the whole rehab deal being what it is, it's different being with a team. It's more fun; it's easier to get motivated. It's a bit of a grind, it's monotonous but I'm really glad to be back."
Rehabbing a shoulder surgery is no minor task and Cotham took to the work, acknowledging the sheer amount he had to put in everyday to get to where he is.
"Basically my whole mindset was to get better at some feature everyday. Early on it was range of motion, basic rehab for my shoulder, just kind of a day-to-day deal. If I looked at the big picture it was a little overwhelming, but trying to accomplish something every day was my focus."
It's a long road to recovery; one that takes it steps gradually and slowly. A pitcher has to almost learn his craft again. Cotham explains the process of getting a feel for pitching again in great detail.
"I was fortunate to get my range of motion back pretty early and the fastball was just trusting my arm strength is going to come back. Fortunately it did. Then progressively you get into offspeed stuff, then into games, etc.
"It's kind of like you're re-learning to pitch," he continued. "You can't move your arm the same way you did. You don't want to overcompensate in any way but you want to have the same arm action you always had. My problem was, I'm a short-arm guy that got into a long-arm action and the guys who watch have to put you back in place."
One might think that's all it takes to get back, just getting your strength in check, your arm to where it needs to be, but the 23 year-old says the mental rehab is just as tough as the physical and can be a big hurdle to overcome.
"The mental part of pitching was something I had to work at and I'm still working at it. It's almost like you have to teach yourself the little things that came natural beforehand. You have to pay attention to certain things you once took for granted.
"The first couple times out there I was just getting by," he continued. "And the last couple have been more locked in. It's a grind, tough to stay motivated, tough to get mentally right but I'm working at it."
The hard part is over for the Tennessee native, but now the stakes are higher as he takes his pitching into live games, against accomplished hitters who can take advantage of a reeling rehabber. But Cotham is ready and Staten Island pitching coach Danny Borrell already sees his progress.
"Especially coming off rehab, his arm action is loose and clean and that's the biggest thing," Borrell said. "Pretty much everything has been effective. He's able to locate his fastball, starting to create a little better angle. His slider and change are the same I saw last year. He's been great with all three pitches and that's surprising considering the surgery."
Cotham has made five appearances with Staten Island, notching a 0.00 ERA in 8.1 innings with 13 strikeouts, two walks and seven hits. But he is wary about his numbers so far, saying the key is all about his recovery.
"My first two outings I was a little shaky. And these last two I've been able to just let it go and trust in it. They've helped me with some things here: a stride length here, some shortening of my arm action. It's just trusting in it when I let it go, and feeling like I have in the past."
Coach Borrell is keeping his eye on Cotham, making sure he gets his work in while staying diligent about the young pitcher's recovery and not letting him get ahead of himself.
"As recent as he is, there are always going to be some concerns but that's why we're taking it a day at a time," Borrell said. "This year it's just getting back in the swing of things and getting him some innings to pitch while keeping him healthy."
Cotham's plan echoes Borrell's and there is a hesitancy to get after it too much. He's trying to stay consistent with his outings, while taking it slowly and steady.
"I know it's cliché but my plan is to just take it one day at a time and do what they put me out there to do as best I can," Cotham said. "I don't really have any goals. I just want to go out there and compete."
Cotham Getting Back Into the Swing of Things
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