Breen Ahead Of Schedule

A lot was expected of Chris Breen after he led the New York Penn League in OPS last season and it seemed he was well on his way towards repeating that early in Spring Training this year. However, a nagging shoulder only got worse as the season progressed and it culminated in surgery in late July that ended his season prematurely. He was never himself this year but he's feeling like it now.

He hit just .224 with a mere six home runs this year in 59 games for the Charleston RiverDogs after hitting .281 with six home runs and a New York Penn League leading .881 OPS last season. A lot of that [if not all of it] dip in production can be blamed on what turned out to be season-ending surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury originally sustained back in Spring Training that only worsened over the course of the season.

"It happened in Spring Training when I started noticing things in my shoulder," Breen said. "I was playing first base in a game towards the end of Spring Training. There was a throw up the line coming from third base that I didn't have time to catch and swipe tag and avoid contact. The guy was right on me.

"It kind of reminded me when I played football and I felt my shoulder push out a little bit. I didn't come out of the game or anything but it hurt. It was one of those things where I didn't think too much of it. Over the next couple of days it was sore and it didn't really get better at the start of the season. It wasn't right but I thought it was one of those things that I thought would pass."

He played through the then minor pain and began the season in low-A Charleston, a destination that seemed likely for him after his great season a level lower last season. It didn't take long, however, for the pain to begin increasing, especially as he played more and more.

"The first week we were away in Savannah I dove for a ball and the next morning I got out of bed and I couldn't push out of bed," he said. "I couldn't lift my shoulder three inches above my waist. It was a very messy process trying to figure it out and see the doctor. The doctor basically told me there was nothing wrong with my shoulder, that it was just bursitis.

"I got a cortisone shot about a week or so after sitting out. After a few weeks I came back and the shoulder started feeling better. I was playing pretty good and about a month or so after coming back and right after the few days off for the Sally League All Star break I wasn't feeling right again."

As injuries tend to do, his only got worse as time went on.

"In the series in Greenville shortly after the beak I had three straight games where I dove on it, twice in the outfield and one hard dive sliding into a base. Basically after that it wasn't right. It was hanging and basically the same thing I felt all season long before [the cortisone shot].

"I could swing but I didn't have the bat speed I was use to having. I couldn't really pull the ball except for on the ground. I just couldn't get any extension or elevation on the ball with my swing on anything to left of right-center.

"The weekend after the July 4th game we were playing at home. We were playing against Kannapolis I believe and I went back to catch a line-drive over my head and made a pretty nice catch. I dove and just hit the bottom of the wall with my shoulder and my head. That was the last game I played."

His initial MRI earlier in the season revealed a very small tear to the laburm in his left shoulder. The tear was so small though that surgery wasn't required. What happened though was as he kept playing the tear continued to get bigger.

"It was painful pretty much all season playing with my shoulder like that but I finally told them 'I can't do this anymore. I've been playing with pain all season but I can't do this anymore.' They gave me another cortisone shot and I sat out for a week but it didn't do anything. I went in to get another MRI and it showed [this time] that what they said was a real small tear in the first MRI had more than doubled in size. I got surgery on July 30th for the labrum in my left shoulder."

He was actually placed on the disabled list on July 12th and missed the remainder of the season, a season in which he truly never felt like himself at the plate or in the field.

"It was just something that I dealt with all season," he admitted. "It was one of those things where I wasn't really sure how severe it was. I couldn't tell if it was something I was trying to downplay mentally or if it wasn't that bad so it took a while to realize what it was. There really wasn't much you could do about it either because it was my choice to try to play.

"It was tough to deal with that at the beginning because I came into camp in great shape. In the beginning of camp I was doing really well, hitting well and playing good defense, basically picking up right where I left off last season right up until that point when I had that collision at first [base] at the end of spring and started feeling stuff wasn't right.

"I thought it was something that would eventually go away. Playing with it during the season and never being full right even after I got the cortisone shot I kind of dug myself in a hole numbers-wise just with playing at about 50 percent, trying to get out there just to stay out there.

"I was trying to figure out ways to adjust my swing to play through the pain. I was just trying to do what I could to help the team offensively. My game is usually more about power but I was just trying to hit behind runners, move guys, be more situational and give myself the best chance to make contact because I felt like my bat speed was so zapped and I didn't have a whole lot in the tank [power-wise]. It was very frustrating."

He was never himself this past season in Charleston but the good news is he's inching his way back to being himself again. Now over nine weeks out from the surgery, he has about three more weeks of rehab to go before he should be able to resume full upper-body lifting and most baseball activities.

"I feel really good now," he said. "The shoulder is feeling strong. I'm not to the point where I can swing a bat yet but I'm almost back to the point where I start lifting [again]. I'm in the third phase, they call it the strengthening phase. Basically I'm at the point where I get my shoulder back to full strength.

"I feel really good. I do everything normally with my left shoulder that I'm supposed to do. I'm not back in the gym lifting heavy weights yet; no upper body lifting yet. But the shoulder feels good and feels very stable. It's basically back to normal almost."

He goes back to see Dr. Ahmad in about three weeks and from there he should be back preparing himself for the 2016 season, a season in which he hopes to carry with him the momentum he had built up a year ago in Staten Island.

"I'm ahead of the progression. Physically I'm moving right along. I'm good. I don't see why I shouldn't be full go by Spring Training. Put it like this, I'm going to do everything in my power to be out there as a normal no restrictions guy by the start of camp.

"Right now my shoulder feels good, feels strong, and we're on schedule, actually ahead of it really as far as the rehab goes. That's pretty much all I could ask for.

"I'm very excited because I've never had a serious injury before or really missed any time in my career. I'm excited with each small progression window that I hit, that I can start something new and get back to basically being a normal person.

"I can't wait until I can start lifting, hitting, and throwing, and basically pick up where I left off at the beginning of Spring [Training] this year and at the end of last year. I'm getting real close and I'm getting really excited about it," he concluded.

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