Peavy perseveres one year after lat injury
Righty battles back after career appeared to be in jeopardy
CHICAGO -- Paper stands as the recommended gift to be presented on a one-year anniversary.
So some time on Wednesday, maybe the White Sox will present Jake Peavy with a framed copy of Tuesday's box score or a ticket from the game. Peavy was on the mound against the Royals approximately 24 hours before this special anniversary, which probably won't be celebrated by the right-handed hurler with flowers or a sentimental greeting card. But it's certainly a day Peavy won't ever forget.
It was July 6, 2010, during the second inning of a home game against the Angels, when Peavy threw a two-out pitch to Mike Napoli and life changed for him forever. This fiery competitor grabbed at his elbow, pulling it close, but the pain was in his back, where the tendon that anchors the latissimus dorsi muscle to the rear of the shoulder had detached.
Peavy had left the mound and was coming out of the game before manager Ozzie Guillen and head athletic trainer Herm Schneider could get to him.
"[White Sox general manager] Kenny [Williams] asked what I thought," Peavy said. "I told him, 'There's no couple of weeks here. Something bad is wrong with me.' It was a bad feeling."
The man who was acquired to go against other No. 1 hurlers when the playoffs came around, the man who was making $52 million from 2010-12 as the White Sox ace, the man who pushed his way back from an ankle injury at the end of 2009 to show his value and threw off his mechanics in the process, was done for the season. Some believed this particular injury, the severity of which never had been knowingly suffered by a professional pitcher, could cut short Peavy's career well before it's time.
But that did not take into account Peavy's will and fortitude. Not only did he come back faster than anyone possibly imagined, but in the process, he just might have carved out a legacy away from the field.
The initial pain
Torii Hunter had been caught stealing in the same at-bat when Peavy made that fateful pitch to Napoli but still witnessed what happened.
"He threw it and knew he was done," Hunter said. "You hate that. The guy's such a competitor. Great arm, and a battler. I like the way he talks to himself on the mound.
"I saw him grimace and say something kinda crazy. I could see he was in some serious pain -- and upset. To come back the way he has, it tells you everything you need to know about the guy."
Peavy had been sore earlier in the season, causing him to miss a June start in Pittsburgh. He was pushed back to a Saturday afternoon in Washington, where he threw a 1-0 shutout on June 19. Three MRIs were taken, Peavy said, and there was "never any talk about the lat." He didn't want a little fluid in his shoulder to slow him down just when he was starting to turn around his season.
"Structurally, I thought I was pretty good and sound," Peavy said. "I wasn't obviously. When I felt something in my arm come loose, with the pain I felt, I knew something bad had happened."
Shortly after the pitch had been released, Peavy knew "something attached underneath in my arm wasn't there anymore." He could feel the lat muscle down in his back.
An experimental surgery was performed on July 14, simply because the doctors had never before seen a lat injury so severe. Peavy wondered if he had thrown his last pitch.
"For him to walk off like that, you knew it was serious," said White Sox starter John Danks, a friend of Peavy. "We know how much he wants to be out there."
"It's a testament to our doctors, to our trainers, and most of all, to Jake's work ethic and his desire to be back out there on the mound," Williams said. "That's the reason why we got him."
No Minor affair
Peavy put in tireless effort throughout the offseason, through holidays and normal downtime, as part of a program laid out by the Sox medical staff. He not only made it back by Spring Training, but looked like the best of a talented group of White Sox starters getting ready for the 2011 season.
Nothing good comes easy, though, a point that Peavy had reinforced countless times leading up to his anniversary. Peavy was shut down by rotator cuff tendinitis during Spring Training, dealt with scar tissue breaking up in April and was sent to the disabled list with a groin strain in June.
Along the way, there were Minor League rehab starts to get Peavy ready to help the White Sox. Two trips to the mound for Double-A Birmingham and four for Triple-A Charlotte, as Peavy joked about being named to the International League All-Star team.
The starts weren't what Peavy wanted, but he knew they were a necessary part of reaching his final destination. And he didn't treat the Minor Leaguers as if he was a visiting dignitary who couldn't or shouldn't be approached.
"One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet," said Birmingham catcher Josh Phegley. "He mingled with us. We felt like we were going to go out there and battle with him rather than [be spectators]."
"A true professional and great person," said Birmingham manager Bobby Magallanes. "I don't know what other words you could use to describe him. He took care of the guys, really respected everybody. We'd be a fool if we didn't go up and pick his [brain]."
When Peavy was a Minor Leaguer some 10 years ago in the Padres system, he remembers big leaguers who came down on rehab assignments and the hunger he had to be those guys. Some of them presented helpful advice. Others big-leagued the younger players, and Peavy was determined to be a mentor.
He didn't take these starts lightly, because well, Peavy doesn't take anything lightly.
"I certainly wanted to be the guy who was down there as just one of the boys, and played as hard as they played," Peavy said. "It's still about winning. I told them we would go after things the same way in Charlotte as here, and find a way to win."
Travel was not easy for Peavy. He would be in Charlotte one day, fly home to Chicago to throw a bullpen session and then go back to Charlotte or Birmingham for another rehab start. Ultimately, it brought him to the mound in Anaheim on May 11, where he had a no-decision over six innings pitched in his Major League return.
"Just all part of the process," Peavy said. "But I would be lying if I said it didn't wear on me a little bit."
A name to the surgery
Lat injuries such as Peavy's don't happen often enough for his name to be attached to the procedure such as Tommy John.
"Now that we brought light to the situation, when guys feel stuff I was feeling, they can catch it early," Peavy said. "And not have the whole surgery."
"I've talked to Jake about it," said the Angels' Russell Branyan, who played with Peavy in San Diego in 2006-07. "That [injured] ligament in the elbow is a lot more common than the lat. You may only see that two or three times a year, if that. It's amazing how the human body heals. They reattach that thing, and he's back pitching. Pretty amazing. But Jake is one of a kind."
Knowing the competitor that is Peavy, this anniversary won't be an immediately happy one. He suffered a loss to Kansas City on Tuesday, giving up five runs on six hits over six innings.
Better days are ahead for Peavy, who was told he would feel stronger one year removed from the surgery and then even better at 18 months, when he can rest a little at the start of the offseason and strengthen everything. As Guillen pointed out, Peavy could have taken it slow coming back.
Nobody knew much about the injury and he was still getting paid, so arriving in Chicago around this time still would have exceeded expectations. But Peavy simply loves to compete, and as this one-year mark rolls around, he has a greater appreciation for every step of that competition.
"You don't take anything for granted," Peavy said. "Seven or eight years, healthy and no issue. It's just easy to have a good attitude when things are going well. When you hear news I've had to hear, you get a whole new reality, and realize how fortunate you are.
"My father and my family, since early in my life, they've stressed things that are done, you have to look ahead in life. When this happened, I promised nobody is going to work any harder to try to come back from this if it's possible. I told Kenny I'll be ready as soon as I can and try to be a major contributor."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. Lyle Spencer and Daniel Pauling contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.