Big Year Coming Up For Maher

Right-hander Joey Maher has long been considered one of the higher ceiling pitchers at the lower minor league levels. He had seen steady progress through his first two professional seasons and seemed poised to break out in 2014 but his year pretty much ended really before it ever began. Now he knows next season is a big year coming up for him.

The former 38th round pick back in 2012 shaved off nearly two and half runs from his ERA between his debut season [5.64] and sophomore campaign [3.10], and went after it hard last offseason, trying to make an even bigger jump in his development but he got hurt before ever having the chance.

He experienced some elbow pain in his very first Spring Training appearance this year. He initially tried to rest and rehab the injury but ultimately found out he had both a bone spur and a stress reaction in his right elbow, and was immediately shut down.

"I thought it was tendoninits initially," he said. "I thought I could maintain it and maybe tone it down but it didn't go away and it got worse. So when I told the trainers we stopped throwing to see what would happen.

"I got an MRI, shut it down for two weeks, and when he picked up a baseball again it was the same pain in the same spot. At that point I knew I needed something drastic."

He hadn't gotten very far in his initial throwing program. In fact, he experienced pain throwing off of flat ground at just the 60-foot distance and barely stretched it out to 90 feet before he and the Yankees realized the pain wasn't going to go away. He required surgery to remove the bone spur.

"It sucked. It was like I couldn't sleep at night pretty much. You feel kind of helpless because I really did work my ass off in the offseason. I had very high expectations for myself. I thought it was going to be a good year for me.

"You create all of these expectations in your head and sh*t happens. You just have to overcome. I'm just trying to keep my head in the right spot, keep moving forward, and [keep] being patient."

He missed essentially the first four and half months of the season after having surgery in early April. It was during his rehab program that he and the Yankees, in an effort to get back on the mound in games during the 2014 season, decided to switch to the bullpen in the name of returning sooner.

"That's why I became a reliever this year -- if I had stayed a starter I would have had no chance of coming back [this year] at all so we decided that I would rehab and come back as a reliever, that way I'd have a chance to get out of Tampa."

After spending the first three years of his professional career [including the majority of his 2014 campaign rehabbing his way back from surgery] in Tampa, getting out of the rookie levels was important to him. Unfortunately for Maher, however, the timing of his return meant he was destined to stay put for one more year.

He made three regular season appearances out of the bullpen in the Gulf Coast League and then a few more during the playoff run, and for him it was an important step. He got to finish the season on a high note and build some confidence back knowing that his stuff had returned.

"It's all there," he said of his stuff. "I feel relieved even having just the few innings that I pitched because I ended strong. I was throwing harder than I usually do.

"Usually it takes me a few innings to hit my stride as far as my stuff, but my last outing I came in to close in the GCL Championship against the Red Sox and my velocity was there."

Primarily one who sat 88-92 mph with his fastball as a starting pitcher, he was sitting more in the 92-93 mph range as a reliever. It remains to be seen if that will continue to be his role moving forward, especially in light of the fact that he will be on a relatively small innings limit in 2015 given the time he missed this season.

"I've become open-minded to the idea of going either way, starting or relieving. It just doesn't matter. Whenever you get into games [in any role] you just have to shine no matter what position. You see guys in the big leagues that weren't starters their whole career or were just relievers their whole career."

He recognizes that moving to the bullpen could have some real positives, most notably his ability to move up the minor league ladder a little quicker. But he also likes starting too. Either way though, he is just happy to put his injury behind him.

"Health-wise I feel really good," he admitted. "I'm working out down here [in Tampa with the training staff] and it's good to have them around. I had been working out by myself up north [in the offseason] for the past two years on a program but it's a whole different thing to have them here to help with everything."

He is working out in Tampa this offseason to help better prep himself for the 2015 season because he knows just how important a season it's going to be for him.

"This is a really big year for me I think. I just did miss a whole year pretty much and I was in the GCL my previous two seasons.

"I really feel like I've been making progress and I just want to prove myself by staying healthy all year and have a good season. Those are my goals; reach my innings limit and have good numbers.

"I'm trying to think long-term right now. My goals right now are to get strong and healthy. Matt Hyde, the area scout who signed me, told me when he was scouting me and when I first signed to think of this as a marathon and not a sprint. This past year I kind of hit a wall obviously with that surgery but you've just to keep on going," he concluded.

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