Banuelos Still On Track

TAMPA, FL - Despite pitching quite well in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, some have said it was a disappointing year for Manny Banuelos, including even a part of himself. But considering he finished the year healthy and pitched the whole season, even making his last outing at Instructs on Wednesday, he can't help but believe he's still on track to make a big league splash someday.

He posted a combined 4.11 ERA over three minor league levels, allowed less hits than innings pitched, and struck out better than eight batters per nine innings pitched, which wasn't bad at all considering he had last pitched in a game two years prior back in May of 2012.

"It was tough," Banuelos admitted. "I thought it was going to be a little bit easier than that but other than that I'm happy because I finished [it] healthy. That's what I was worried about.

"Before I started pitching [this year] earlier in Spring Training I was worried about how my elbow would be after the injury and surgery, but thank God everything feels good. I'm happy because I'll go home, rest, and I'm pretty sure I'll come back strong for next year."

Trying to find the silver lining in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery and essentially having a two-year layoff from pitching in official games, Banuelos was both discouraged with his fluctuating stuff in 2014 and yet still very much encouraged at the same time.

"It takes a long time," he said he knows now. "Sometimes my fastball was there [this year] and sometimes it wasn't, and sometimes it took a long time to get the feel for my curveball. Before my surgery, before I got hurt, I had a lot of confidence in my curveball. It was pretty good but I think it's coming back.

"Earlier in the year when I was in high-A Tampa it felt pretty strong. My velocity was 95-96 mph sometimes so it was normal just like before. But after 25-30 innings, when I got to Trenton, my arm started feeling weak -- some tiredness, some weakness -- so the velocity came down.

"But the last [game] in Triple-A I asked about my velocity and they said it was back up to 95 mph. Some games I wouldn't feel the power but the velocity was there and I can control my fastball when I feel like that, [when] I don't try to throw hard and the velocity is still there."

He made 26 appearances this season [25 starts], however, and it had been three full seasons since had last accomplished that feat, making a career-high 27 starts way back in 2011. Not only did he finish the season healthy, he continued pitching at Instructional League this fall and toed the rubber for the final time in 2014 on Wednesday in a simulated game.

"It was a sim game. It's not the same when you have the players back behind you and you're facing hitters with the umpire back there. [On Wednesday] I didn't feel the adrenaline to make [better] pitches. I just tried to work on my command. It wasn't that good but I felt some life with my fastball so that's good."

They say the first year back from Tommy John surgery is the roughest. With Banuelos now shut down for the remainder of 2014 and getting a feeling for pitching once again, he can't help but believe 2015 will be his breakout season.

"I feel like that," he said with a determined look. "I didn't know how I would respond this year. A lot of my friends who had Tommy John in the past told me it would be tough the first year [back]. Everyone told me that.

"When I was pitching well earlier in the year I thought I was that exception because everything felt good but later on I started feeling bad and they shut me down for a couple of weeks to give me some rest.

"It was a tough year but I've been pitching all year and I feel healthy. I don't feel any soreness or tightness, nothing like that, so I feel like it's all coming back. I'm sure I'll be ready for next year, completely ready."

While he would have liked to have done better statistically and certainly would have relished the opportunity of accomplishing his goal of reaching the big leagues this year, Banuelos, who won't be pitching in any offseason leagues, takes solace in the fact that he is still very much on track to eventually make a splash in the big leagues in the not so distant future.

"That was the most important thing, finish [the season] healthy. Now I get to go home, rest, and know my arm is still there and still strong. I'm going to work hard to get here [next year] strong.

"The best thing right now is rest and get ready for next year, come here fresh and strong for Spring Training. I don't want to come back next year tired or weak.

"I'm happy but my goal was to finish the year in the big leagues. But when I look at it the other way, I'm healthy. I still have the chance to come back next year and try to make the team, and if [I don't] then try to get the call-up later.

"I'm happy because I rehabbed my arm for two years. It was sad and tough because I didn't know if I could come back or not but I did it. I'll still just 23 years old and that's a good age. I'm still on track," he concluded.

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