It's no secret that Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) has become commonplace among pitchers. The unnatural motion of throwing a baseball takes a toll on any pitcher's arm over time, with the most common breakdown occurring at the shoulder or the elbow. Although shoulder surgeries among baseball players generally are complex and highly variable in terms of a successful return to play, surgeries at the elbow tend to be more straightforward and often yield a good result. In particular, Tommy John surgery has become almost routine in terms of the subsequent rehab program and timeline, with most pitchers able to return to competition within 12 to 18 months, sometimes sooner.
A pitcher's effectiveness immediately upon his return to the mound post-Tommy John surgery can be less predictable, though, as some initially struggle with command. Nonetheless, most pitchers are projected to return to the mound around the one-year anniversary of their surgery date. The occasional position player who undergoes the procedure can often return in less time, given that the throwing demands on the arm are less. Although the timeline remains fluid to allow for individual fluctuations throughout the rehab process, the overall success of Tommy John surgery is fairly remarkable, especially considering the first subject -- Tommy John himself -- underwent the groundbreaking procedure just more than 30 years ago.
Given the prevalence of Tommy John surgery, we decided to take a look at who is on the recovery radar this season and when those players are expected to return. MLBdepthcharts.com compiled an in-depth list of major and minor league players who have recently undergone Tommy John surgery. Using their list as the foundation, what follows is a mini-update on where those players stand heading into the 2012 season.
Players on major league rosters
Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds (Aug. 12, 2011; on left non-throwing elbow following hyperextension injury from a collision in late July): He is playing in spring training games and is expected to be ready by Opening Day.
David Aardsma, P, New York Yankees (July 22, 2011): He also missed all of 2011 after having surgery to address a labral tear in hip, so return to form may take longer as a result, but he hopes to be available in the second half of the season.
Joba Chamberlain, P, New York Yankees (June 10, 2011): He has started to throw bullpens; hopes to return midseason (just before All-Star break).
Rich Hill, P, Boston Red Sox (June 9, 2011): He's not scheduled to throw in a game this spring but may begin doing so in May.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, P, Boston Red Sox (June 2, 2011): He's throwing bullpen sessions, but manager Bobby Valentine has already said that Matsuzaka will not pitch in a game this spring. He could be ready to return around the All-Star break.
Mason Tobin, P, Texas Rangers (June 1, 2011): Tobin is one of the outliers who has had to undergo a second procedure (he missed all of 2010 after Tommy John surgery), which bodes worse for his future; expect his recovery to proceed cautiously.
Adam Wainwright, P, St. Louis Cardinals (Feb. 28, 2011): He hopes to be ready as early as Opening Day, but his schedule depends how he progresses during spring training. His first spring game is scheduled for Friday.
Jamie Moyer, P, Colorado Rockies (Dec. 1, 2010): He's throwing bullpens and hopes to earn a spot in the rotation. However, he will be 50 in November.
Hector Ambriz, P, Cleveland Indians (Sept. 30, 2010): He's now in the minor leagues.
Manny Corpas, P, Colorado Rockies (Sept. 7, 2010): He had signed with Cubs but was then outrighted off the roster.
Ben Sheets, P, Oakland Athletics (Aug. 9, 2010): He also underwent flexor tendon repair and pronator repair. He has an extended length of recovery, given the complexity of procedure. It's unclear whether he will be able to return to pitching.
Players on minor league rosters
Kyle Gibson, P, Minnesota Twins (Sept. 7, 2011): Expected to "pitch this summer," according to GM Terry Ryan. Based on the date of his surgery, Gibson's return this season not a lock.
Jose Casilla, P, free agent after being released by San Francisco Giants (July 2011): He should be recovered and able to return to pitching by July 2012.
Carlos Monasterios, P, Los Angeles Dodgers (July 2011): Should be able to return by July 2012.
John Lamb, P, Kansas City Royals (June 2011): He could return in the second half of the season.
Drew Naylor, P, Philadelphia Phillies (June 2011): He hopes to return in the second half of 2012.
Cam Bedrosian, P, Los Angeles Angels (May 2011): He could return in the second half of 2012.
Stephen Marek, P, Toronto Blue Jays (May 2011): He should be able to contribute by May or June.
Boof Bonser, P, San Francisco Giants (April 2011): He's expected to return around May or June.
Matt Gorgen, P, Arizona Diamondbacks (March 2011): He missed all of the 2011 season but should be able to participate for the bulk of 2012.
Stephania Bell is a physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine.