"I just started throwing [two weeks ago] and it's from ten yards," Hensley revealed. "It's not very far [along in the process]. I'm starting there and then [this week] I'll back it up another 15 feet so it's going to be pretty slow going but so far so good. I do feel night and day different than the previous time."
Hensley had his first Tommy John surgery back in April of 2015 and missed that entire season. The surgery required taking a piece of the hamstring in his left leg and replacing the ligament in his elbow, but sometimes the tissue around the bone doesn't always allow the healing process to complete and that is what happened in Hensley's case.
"I kind of noticed towards the ends of my bullpens [in the rehab process] that I was starting to get really tight in my bicep area -- not really my forearm but my bicep area -- so I didn't think too much of it," he said. "I had never been through an arm surgery before so I didn't know what I was looking for so I kept pressing on.
"When I got to my third rehab game I was warming up and I was like 'it's not getting loose'. I went out there anyway because once again I thought it was par for the course. By the time I had gotten out there my forearm had completely swollen up. I think I threw to two hitters and I was in some pretty decent amount of pain. I couldn't even flex my hand down because it hurt so bad.
"I threw nine pitches I think and one of them was a strike. I couldn't throw it anywhere near the plate, I was in just a lot of pain. I pulled myself out and explained what was going on, got an MRI, and went to see Dr. Andrews again. We had found out that my graft never took. It wasn't like my new ligament tore but I guess it never healed to my bone how it was supposed to so it was going to come off no matter what I did."
Throw every adjective out there and Hensley was feeling it; frustrated, upset, angry, etc.
"I was confused on what I should do," he admitted. "It was really overwhelming. I had just busted my butt for over a year [coming back from Tommy John surgery] and it didn't work out. I talked it over with my family and decided I wanted to have another one and get it done right, and put everything I have into it again."
Dr. James Andrews once again performed the Tommy John surgery on April 26th but this time around he and the Yankees were going to be extra careful in the rehab process. Usually MRIs and x-rays are only ordered when pain is involved and Hensley had not really experienced any until it was too late. The typical Tommy John protocol is if the range of motion is back it's time to start throwing again at four months.
In Hensley's case after this most recent second Tommy John surgery, his particular rehab protocol called for reevaluation after six months, not the normal four, and for full image testing to be done prior to resuming the throwing program. This time they were more meticulous and careful with what they did so they waited a full six months. They took every single precaution they could. They didn't expect anything to go wrong the first time so they weren't on the lookout for anything but this time they were. Hensley passed every test a couple of weeks ago before starting his throwing program this time.
"I actually went to see him before I started throwing and I got an x-ray, and it looks like my bones and everything are in the right spot. The stress test I did, everything checks out. I feel pretty good about it right now."
The baby steps protocol they're following has slotted in smaller throwing distances initially too. The normal throwing program has pitchers begin throwing from 60 feet before moving on to 90 and eventually 120 feet, and Hensley will be throwing from even shorter distances initially. He just completed two weeks at 30 feet and will have two more weeks at 45 feet before moving on to the normal throwing program distances.
The current timetable with no setbacks has him up on regular mound sometime in January and pitching in live games once again sometime in April, most likely in Extended Spring Training.
"This time I had a stem cell injection in my elbow after they closed me up to kind of promote faster healing and put some more blood in there so it heals better," he said. "Knock on wood but I've noticed a huge difference this time around. The healing process has sped up. Even with my first throw I felt no apprehension at all and it felt really loose. It's night and day different from how I felt the first time.
"Everything is going really well. As hard as I worked last time I put that much extra into it this time. It's still a long process but if you told me six and half months ago that this is where I'd be I would take it. I'll be honest, it's been frustrating not having my elbow cooperating but if I get this rectified, which I feel very good about and the people who have worked on it feel very good about, I've got no doubt that I'll be just fine.
"It feels like everything is locked in. I've got better feeling in my hand and I feel stronger. I don't know how to explain it, I just know. It just feels like everything is stable and locked in. I have something to compare it to this time as opposed to last time when I had never had an arm surgery before and kind of unchartered waters for me."
Considering the multiple surgeries he's had over the years since his first round selection back in 2012, Hensley, who is back home in Oklahoma and rehabbing with Angels' right-hander Andrew Heaney, feels like he's is a surprisingly good place mentally.
"I look back at everything I've dealt with, as tough as it is to say, I don't think I'd be the person, the man that I am without having to go through all of this stuff. I know it's disappointing for everyone and disappointing for me but I've had to grow up a lot and it's served me well, and I think it's going to serve me well.
"I'm 100 percent confident I'm going to be fine. I'll be back and as good as ever. I'm dangling that carrot out in front of me everyday to get better and get as back as fast as I can, and as healthy as I possibly can," he concluded.