Nick Anderson had to clear a number of hurdles to become a major league baseball player, but this is the first time an injury has been one of them.
The former Brainerd High School graduate and current Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher is close to returning to the mound after suffering a partial tear of his elbow ligament. Anderson was put on the 60-day disabled list.
“I feel pretty good,” Anderson said. “I’m just throwing bullpens. I have a live BP (batting practice) coming up and I’m just chugging away day to day, to be honest. Nothing is certain so I just go day to day and see what the next day brings, but I’ve been pretty good so far.”
The first projections of Anderson’s return were after the All-Star break, but current predictions have the right-hander back in August.
The initial reports were that Anderson had been dealing with the issue since March 17, 2021, but the injury may have occurred earlier.
“The decision to go on the DL was not difficult at all,” Anderson said. “I have a partially torn UCL so I wasn’t going to be able to provide the team any help. I was kind of relieved. I had just been feeling weird. Something was off. Something just wasn’t right. I wasn’t having any pain. Our brains are crazy powerful so when we feel something that doesn’t feel right or that we’re not used to feeling our body absolutely just adapts. Our brain tells us what to do to adapt to still try to perform the task that we need to do.
“I think something happened and I started altering the way I was throwing and it just kind of was a downward spiral from there. Cloning into spring, I was just trying to find my mechanics and I was feeling like I didn’t even know how to throw a baseball anymore.”
Anderson believes the “downward spiral” started when he went on the injured list late last season on Aug. 23 before entering the postseason.
“This was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Anderson said. “It kind of was. To know that there was a reason behind the way that I was feeling. Subconsciously I was making some changes because my body felt something that was not right. Internally something was going on so it made a change.
“I look at everything in life as everything happens for a reason. I’m making the most out of this situation and hopefully, come back stronger.”
Anderson did not undergo surgery but was reported to be trying a platelet-rich plasma injection or stem cell treatment to tackle the elbow issues.
“I got an injection in my elbow shortly after and then let that rest for like a week before I started doing anything,” Anderson said. “I took a week completely off -- no working out or nothing. Then it was just a slow build-up for a week. I wasn’t doing anything as much as for a workout or getting the blood flowing because the blood flow would have pushed the injection out of the area. They wanted to keep the blood flow down to normal as much as they could.
“After a couple of weeks, we started to get into a bunch of forearm and bicep exercises and all the rotator cuff and all those types of strengthening exercises.”
In a June 11 report, Anderson was said to be pitching “nice and easy”, but was “quite a ways away” according to manager Kevin Cash. Then on June 26, Anderson threw off the bullpen mound at Tropicana Field. The bullpen sessions started out well Anderson said until he had one where his arm didn't feel the best, but he said it’s been a good progression since.
There is no exact return date, but Anderson was encouraged to up his intensity during his bullpen sessions.
“If everything keeps going well, then absolutely I’ll be back by August,” Anderson said. “It’s just one of those things, where ultimately until you get to that point you don’t really know. Literally, in just one day, I could be playing catch and it just won’t feel good. Then you’re either taking a week off or getting surgery. I just have my fingers crossed and am putting in the work and trying to do everything I can to stay healthy and hopefully be back in August.”
During a breakout season last year, in which Anderson helped the Rays to the World Series, the Brainerd High School graduate finished 2-1 with six saves and a 0.55 ERA in 16.1 innings pitched. He allowed just five hits, two runs, one earned, and three walks. He struck out 26.
While the 30 year old did struggle during the postseason, he was in line to become the Tampa Bay closer before the elbow issues arose.
“It is pretty weird not playing,” Anderson said. “We just had the All-Star break and everyone is taking a break right now, but I’m still going to the field and rehabbing. That is kind of weird. It hasn’t been too weird, though, just because we’re still going to the field every day and working out and doing stuff that we need to do. You don’t feel like you have a bunch of time off. It’s not like you’re sitting around the house the whole time, but it did kind of hit me during this break. There are no games on and the team is not doing anything and this is usually a time where you decompress for three or four days and then go back to work for two or three months.”
Tampa Bay is sitting second in the American League East with a 53-37 record. They are 1.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first. They own the fourth-best record in the American League.
When Anderson does return to the mound he hopes it’s a good return and he said he’ll be as nervous as he always is when he steps on the mound.
“Those butterflies never really go away,” Anderson said. “It’s a pretty continuous thing. Just like that competitive nature. It always gets the juices flowing. I’ve talked to a lot of guys who have been playing for a while. I’ve asked them if that anxiousness goes away and they all still get that feeling.
“I didn’t really think about it like this, but I asked a guy that question and he said he didn’t think it would be good if you didn’t get that feeling. If you didn't get the butterflies it would almost be like you didn’t care. Getting those butterflies, you’re still competitive and you still care about the results and what you can do to help the team.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.