Jan. 21, 2013
Pitching has always come naturally to Devin Stanton.
Yet over the winter, as Stanton threw off the mound, something he’d done hundreds of thousands of times before, something felt different. It felt unnatural — something not necessarily good in a pursuit like pitching where familiarity, repetition and comfort mean everything.
Here there was something missing. But in this case, it was okay.
“I’ve been throwing through pain for three to four years and this is the first time since I was 17 years old that I’m throwing pain-free. It was weird,” said the junior left-hander from Lilburn, Ga. “It’s weird going out there and not having to worry about how bad it’s going to hurt or if it’s going to hurt at all. Throwing and not feeling anything, it’s different but it’s fun. It’s so much more enjoyable to throw a baseball again.”
That joy and comfort didn’t come easily. In fact, it came at a very high price.
Stanton pitched in the season-opener last year, but then saw his season end, as he’d need to undergo Tommy John Surgery. He’d have the operation to reconstruct his left elbow on March 20.
Stanton was told by Dr. James Andrews, one of the world’s premiere orthopedic surgeons, that it was time to have the procedure on the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his left elbow.
“It was an on-going injury. It spread from my junior year in high school when I had the first micro tear of my UCL,” Stanton said. “I just kept rehabbing. I would throw through it. Then, finally, I got my third MRI and finally, Dr. Andrews said, ‘Alright, it’s time to operate on it.'”
Following the surgery, he spent the next four months doing shoulder exercises, just getting range of motion back then he began long-toss, to improve his arm strength. He got on the mound again in November.
He’s loving the fact that he’s pain-free and is eager to see if, like many pitchers, the repaired arm is stronger than before surgery.
“That’s what we’re hoping for, I know he is,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “You talk to any pitcher, they want to throw the ball hard and I’m sure Devin is no different in those lines.”
“I’m sure the velocity and all that will come,” Stanton said. “But I’m not really worried about that right now.”
Very little worries Stanton, who will be the most experienced lefty when he does return to the team to resume his role as a lefty out of the bullpen. He’s eager to get back to helping the team and putting a lot of things that he learned by observing his teammates to good use.
“When you’re going through a season and you’re not playing, you’re not having to worry about your own performance or your own preparation in the game, it’s a lot easier to just observe,” he said. “Last season that’s what I got to do. I really got to pay attention to my teammates and all their routines. I was able to kind of work with them and see how they work in their routines.
“Basically my goal last year was to try to influence the clubhouse as much as I could,” he continued. “I guess, if anything, it brought me closer to a lot of guys. I was there just spending a lot more time with the guys and just focus on them and their routines and learn about what they do. I wasn’t really focused on myself. That was nice.”
It’s not as nice as pitching, however. He’s eager to show that, new elbow and all, he’s still the same pitcher. In fact, he might be even better than he was before, with his mechanics as pure as when he first threw.
“That’s one of the fun parts about kind of going back to the drawing board,” he said. “When I got back to the mound, starting from zero, trying to forget, I felt like I had a lot of bad pitching habits because I was trying to compensate for the pain. It’s just been kind of fun to try to go back to square one and build myself back up and try to perfect mechanics and what I want them to look like.”
He also expects to be mentally stronger.
“The rehab process definitely teaches you a lot about patience and just the diligence of just keeping at it day in and day out,” Stanton said. “The rehab process is 12 months long. It’s definitely not a sprint. It’s a marathon. So you’ve got to take it one day at a time.”
That patience will be tested, as he won’t be ready to pitch when the ACC Champs take the field for the first spring practice this Friday. Nor will he be ready for the season-opener Feb. 15th, when Akron visits Russ Chandler Stadium. In fact, his exact return date isn’t known.
But he will be back. He has his sights set on March, just in time for the ACC portion of the schedule.
Hall shares that optimism and will certainly welcome Stanton, the pitcher, back — although he was impressed by what he saw from Stanton, the person and teammate.
“Even though he couldn’t play Devin still contributed a lot as a great team player. He’s just a good person,” said the Jackets’ coach. “He’s the kind of guy if you have kids you want them to hang around Devin because he’s going to do a lot of things off the field that not only helps with our team but makes everybody else better around him. He’s got a chance to give us a big lift, if and when we get him back. We’re anticipating sometime in March.”