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03/04/11 8:07 PM ET
Peavy navigating uncharted waters
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Jake Peavy continued to defy all the odds of shoulder injuries on Friday afternoon by making his first start of the spring, coming just eight months after undergoing what amounts to experimental surgery to reattach a key muscle to the rear of his right shoulder. Should his recovery continue to follow a quick and recuperative path, the 29-year-old right-hander might have set the standard for many similar shoulder injuries to come. Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery? Call it Jake Peavy shoulder reconstruction surgery. "I hope nobody else has to have it," Peavy said after throwing two scoreless, hitless innings for the White Sox against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Invariably somebody will. The innovative Dr. Frank Jobe filled a similar need and performed the first elbow reconstructive surgery in 1974 on Tommy John, when the left-hander shredded the ligament in his elbow as a member of the Dodgers. It took 18 months for John to rehab, but after he did so, he went on to win 164 more games over 14 seasons to finish a 26-year big league career with 288 victories. Since then, hundreds of athletes have undergone the surgery that bears John's name and transplants a ligament in the elbow, making it almost commonplace. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals pitcher and a No. 1 Draft pick in 2009, and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals right-hander, are perhaps the most prominent pitchers to most recently have had it. Peavy knew he was walking a tightrope without a net, but he probably paved the way for others to successfully undergo the same shoulder surgery in years to come."I feel like this is kind of an experiment and I don't mind it," Peavy said. "I wish that I could have had Tommy John or some sort of other surgery. I worked out with Strasburg a little during the winter being that we were both in San Diego. We were on two different programs. He knew what he was going to be doing in two months. We had to sit down and come up with a program of our own." Strasburg had surgery on Sept. 3 and was told it will take him 12 to 18 months to return. He's in camp with the Nationals in Florida and as of now, the process is going slowly. Peavy's surgery reattached the latissimus dorsi muscle to the rear of his shoulder through a sequence of stitches tied to the bone by four metal anchors or tacks. The danger is that those tacks could slip at any time and crack the bone. With everything remaining stable, Peavy was told it would take him a least a year before he could again pitch. He's obviously way ahead of schedule. The shoulder is a tricky bit of business for pitchers, Chris Young, Erik Bedard and Brandon Webb discovered this past season. All three had various types of surgeries. Bedard, still with the Mariners, and Webb, then with the D-backs, never did make it back last year. Webb, now in Rangers camp, hasn't pitched in a regular-season game in nearly two years and has been shut down once already this spring. Young, who was fortunate enough to make an efficient comeback with the Padres in September, is now with the Mets. Peavy thinks he may have hurt his shoulder compensating for a tendon injury in his right foot he sustained in 2009 with the Padres, who traded him to the White Sox that season at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline. "[Shoulders are] tricky," said Padres manager Bud Black, a big league pitcher in his own right who won 121 games for three teams. "So much is based on how a guy throws the ball. With the shoulder there are 18 different muscles and ligaments. You're talking about a joint that has a lot going on." Peavy had his surgery, performed by Dr. Anthony Romeo, on July 14 at Chicago's Rush Presbyterian Hospital, and among all of his injured colleagues is sailing in much more choppy, uncharted waters. After being diagnosed with the rare tear, Romeo went looking for precedence. Kerry Wood and Tom Gordon had sustained minor tears in the same muscle, but no one had suffered as devastating an injury in that area as Peavy. Romeo devised and has since upgraded the surgery. "I'm not ashamed of what happened," Peavy said. "I'm not going to risk anything in the future. A lot of people go, 'How's your shoulder, how's your shoulder?' My shoulder is fine. I've got a great rotator cuff, I've got a great labrum. I just did something very freaky, compensating for some other parts that weren't as strong as they needed to be. But right now I feel as healthy as I've ever been." To be sure, Peavy is aware he's certainly not out of the recovery woods. He has been throwing since November, is slated to make his next spring start on Wednesday against the World Series-defending Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, and will continue to pitch every five days after that. If all goes well, he will anchor the rear of the rotation and make his first start of the regular season on April 6 against the Royals in Kansas City. There are myriad things that can go wrong between now then, but right now Peavy says he's remaining positive and hoping for the best. "There were times, considering the injury, when some doubt about the future crept into my head," Peavy said. "But I pride myself on being mentally tough and strong. I was told about a year. Expect about a year. This was no minor tear. We set a very conservative schedule, thinking there might be some setbacks. If anything abnormal happens, we're more likely to back off rather than push things. "But I hope with what happened today, we put a lot of questions to rest."
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Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.