Casey Sadler’s Journey Back From Tommy John Surgery

Casey Sadler made his return to games this week after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Photo Credit: Tim Williams
Casey Sadler’s Journey Back From Tommy John Surgery
Sean McCool

BRADENTON, Fla. – The 2015 season was supposed to be a big season for Casey Sadler, as he was teetering on the edge of a Major League roster spot and actually began the year with a spot start for the Pirates. Sadler threw well on that April 12th start against the Brewers, pitching five innings and only allowing two runs to pick up his first big league win.  He was optioned back to Indianapolis after the start and was pitching well through mid-May (2.12 ERA, .185 BAA, 7 starts, 46.2 IP). Then, things just seemed to go downhill with his control beginning to fail him over the next month — until that final start on June 21st in Charlotte, where Sadler allowed ten runs in 4.1 innings.

Unfortunately for Sadler, it wasn’t just one quick pop after a pitch that put him out; rather, it was a gradual problem that began as a trip to the Triple-A disabled list with the diagnosis of a “forearm strain.”

“It just gradually got worse,” Sadler said. “My elbow just started hurting.”

Sadler spoke to me near the corner of the Pirates’ Spring Training clubhouse, only a few feet away from fellow recovering Tommy John pitcher Angel Sanchez.

“I’m not one of those guys who threw one pitch and it popped,” Sadler said referring to Sanchez. “There is part of me that kind of wishes it went that way, because it would’ve been easier to make a decision on the surgery. It just started as forearm tightness and then got worse. It worked its way out of the forearm and into the elbow. It got to a point where I couldn’t throw anymore.”

He didn’t respond to rest and, about a month later, had a platelet rich plasma injection. Things never improved and he ended up having Tommy John surgery after the season. Sadler said that the biggest hurdle in his recovery — both physically and mentally — was the time right after surgery where he essentially couldn’t move his arm.

“The first six to eight weeks of being in a cast and then a brace, because you can’t really do anything,” he responded when I asked what the most difficult part of the recovery process was. “Just being in that mode mentally was really weird. At that point, you know you’re done for a while.”

Fortunately for Sadler, he and his wife live in the Bradenton area, which made things extremely easy to rehab at Pirate City with minor league rehab coordinator A.J. Patrick. Patrick has been getting praise left and right this spring with three (or four if you consider Nick Kingham) players making their returns from Tommy John.

“A.J. is really good at what he does and made it really easy to get through it,” Sadler said. “Everyone would tell you the same thing. He definitely knows what he is doing.”

Pirates Head Athletic Trainer Todd Tomczyk also noted that these guys “receive the opportunity to step back and get a 30-thousand foot view of their overall nutrition and overall frame.”

“Brandon [Cumpton], Casey, and Angel Sanchez have all taken advantage of that, and it’s paid dividends,” said Tomczyk.

In Casey Sadler’s case, he is pretty much right on time in his recovery from the perspective that the Pirates like to go from surgery to competition in about 14-16 months. Even though he became a free agent after last season, he (and Sanchez) re-signed a minor league contract with the Pirates as to finish the rehab process with the team and hopefully compete for a Major League job in the future. For now, Sadler will pitch out of the bullpen as a way to protect him health-wise.

“There whole thing is that they want to get me through an entire year and monitor my innings,” Sadler said. “They know I can do both [pitching out of the rotation and bullpen]. If at some point I’m feeling good and pitching well, and there is an opportunity to pitch as a starter, then I would definitely be open to that. Right now, I just want to focus on having a full, healthy year in whatever role that is, and pitch the best I can.”

And that full, healthy year began last Sunday, as Sadler took the mound in a competitive outing for the first time in one and a half years. He struck out one and allowed one hit in his inning of work. He has since pitched another inning on Friday in a Pirates’ B game in Sarasota against the Orioles.

“It has been a long road, but it felt pretty good,” Sadler said. “It was nice to get back out there. I’m just trying to go back out there and continue with where I left off when I was healthy. It’s nice to get back out in a competitive situation, and put all that work that you spent all those months you spent working on into action.”

Sadler said that his pitches feel normal, and his velocity and stuff still feels the same. What excited him was the fact that it felt like the ball was “coming out cleaner than it used to,” and he hopes that will translate into similar results.

He most likely will not be ready for Opening Day, but it won’t be long after with the way that things are lining up. For now, he just wants to continue to get innings under his belt and progress in his program.

I wouldn’t expect to see Sadler in a Pirates’ uniform until possibly September unless something goes majorly wrong at the big league level. The Pirates will have plenty of options in the bullpen though the summer months, and it will take Sadler a while to just get back into the flow of things. What is nice about his situation is that the Pirates know him well, and he has already contributed in Pittsburgh. Once the roster expands, there could a possibility they bring him up.

For Casey and his family, baseball is important right now, but an extension of his Spring Training may come at the right time, as he and his wife are expecting a baby girl this April.

I’ll tell you what… it should be one heck of a month for the Sadler’s — as he welcomes his first child and makes his return to professional baseball.

Sean McCool

Sean joined Pirates Prospects before the 2015 season began, covering the Altoona Curve. During the day, he is a marketing professional for Penn Highlands Community College in Johnstown, PA. Sean also dabbles with the guitar, emcees weddings, and plays disc golf.

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