By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
By his count, pitcher Matt Chico was last in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse 391 days ago. He returned yesterday.
Chico, who underwent elbow ligament replacement surgery last July, will join Class AA Harrisburg tomorrow. He was at Nationals Park yesterday before the game against the Boston Red Sox to play catch and will throw a bullpen session today.
"I took it one day at a time," Chico said of his recovery. "I didn't want to try to get ahead of myself."
He added: "I'm still kind of in that gray area. But so far, I've missed all the hurdles everyone has had with Tommy John" surgery.
Manager Manny Acta hinted that Chico, a left-hander, could be among those promoted when the roster expands in September, easing the burden on the young starting pitchers. In order to preserve their arms, Acta said, some starters could be sent to the bullpen.
"Once they hit the innings in September, I don't think it sends the right message if you send the guy home or send him down because he's not going to pitch," Acta said. "I don't think our organization wants to be known for that. If a guy deserves to be in the big leagues, he should be in the big leagues."
In a 7-9 rookie season in 2007, Chico was somewhat inconsistent because he needed to rely on his command, not his speed, to be effective after making the jump from Class AA. He struggled with elbow problems last year before undergoing the reconstructive procedure.
"I am kind of surprised how fast and how well he feels in rehab," Acta said.
Chico struggled in his first start since the operation, allowing two runs on three hits in two innings with Class A Hagerstown on June 9. He said yesterday that he needed to step off the mound to compose himself before that appearance. The adrenaline and nerves forced him to shake so bad, he said, he could not read the catcher's sign.
Since then, his inning allotment (five) and pitch count (80) have been increased. He said his velocity has improved from those initial appearances, reaching 90 mph, and he has regained some of his command. He pitched 11 innings with a 2.45 ERA in three starts with Hagerstown.
"As far as pitching-wise, I feel like I'm ready now," Chico said of his health. "But obviously I need to get innings up. It's going to depend on how I'm throwing and other guys opening a spot up."