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Rays Beat: Rehab process puts a pitcher’s will to the test

Published:   |   Updated: April 20, 2014 at 08:59 AM

Brandon Gomes missed 88 games last season while on the disabled list with a right lat strain.

“It felt like a full year,” Gomes said.

How many times did David Price tweet last year that he was bored when he missed 47 days with a left triceps strain?

“It’s a tough place to be in,” Price said.

No player wants to go on the disabled list, even if they know that is where they need to be to allow an injury to heal.

Matt Moore was deciding between rehabbing the partially torn UCL in his right elbow, an option that might allow him to return this season, or having Tommy John surgery, which would sideline him for at least 12 months.

He decided on the surgery, then vowed he would continue to be a good teammate and provide as much support as possible because with or without him, Moore believes the Rays are capable of reaching great heights this season.

Moore, Alex Cobb (left oblique strain) and Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) will not make this upcoming three-city, 10-day road trip. Price said he’s going to miss not having the three around, miss not having their personalities in the clubhouse every day.

It will be like going to school without your three best buddies, who are home sick.

“I’d call in sick, too,” Price said. “I’d come down with a cough.”

The disabled list is limbo. Your season is on hold if you are Cobb. Your career is on hold if you are Moore.

You are still a part of the team, except you are not. Someone has your roster spot. Someone is taking your turn in the rotation.

“It’s really hard, man,” Gomes said. “It’s a mental battle, because we’re all such competitors that every day that you’re not able to go out there and help the team becomes a real grind. I will say it helps. It makes you appreciate when you are feeling good and able to play every day.”

You come to Tropicana Field early to work with the trainers so as not to take up a table in the training room once those on the active roster begin to drift in. They measure their success in wins and losses. You measure your success by what you can now do in the weight room or how far you can throw a baseball and for how many times.

“The days are really long,” Gomes said. “It’s hard to watch the games on TV when you’re on the road. It’s definitely not an enjoyable time, that’s for sure.”

At least when you are on the big-league roster you get to hang around the big-league team.

Jake McGee suffered a complete tear of his UCL midway through the 2008 season. At that point he was the top starter at Double-A Montgomery. But he packed up his apartment, said goodbye to his teammates and drove to St. Petersburg, where he spent the rest of the summer rehabbing at the Naimoli Complex.

And he watched Rays prospects make it to the big club knowing he might have had a shot had he stayed healthy. But, his surgery was not optional. He was examined by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who told McGee he needed Tommy John surgery if he ever wanted to throw a baseball again.

“If you don’t put any doubts in your mind that you’re not going to be fine when you get back, I’ll be better, it’s not going to happen again, I’ll be strong, brand new ligament, you’re going to feel comfortable,” McGee said. “You come back after putting in all that time, the time and the rehab pays off at the end.”

Price threw seven shutout innings during his first start after coming off the disabled list. Cobb might have been a better pitcher last season after missing 50 games with a concussion than he was before he was struck on the side of his head by a line drive.

Hellickson said his elbow feels much better after having bone chips removed in late January. Moore knows the success rate of pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery. He expects to be a better pitcher when he returns.

Price said you have to be mentally strong not to let the slow rehab process drive you nuts.

“But you know the trainers have a plan in place, and it’s a very good plan,” Price said. “They want us to come back to stay back. They don’t rush guys back here. They care about our careers, not just the now. And we all appreciate it. Except when we’re going through it. Then it stinks.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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