At his peak, Manny Delcarmen became a World Series-caliber setup man with a fastball that averaged better than 95 miles per hour. He is only 32 years old, but he last pitched in the major leagues in 2010, which is also the last time before this spring he felt completely healthy.
“Going through injuries is never fun, knowing that I still got it but these injuries held me back,” Delcarmen said. “I feel like a little kid in the minors again, trying to get back to the big leagues.”
If Delcarmen makes it back, it could be this season with the Nationals. They signed him to a minor league contract this winter. It contains an out clause for June 1, meaning the Nationals can keep him at Class AAA for at least two months. Should the Nationals’ bullpen suffer attrition, Delcarmen might be the reliever they summon.
Aside from one brutal appearance, when he walked three batters in less than an inning, Delcarmen has been stellar this spring. He has eight strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. His fastball has been zipping at 93 mph, and Delcarmen said he even hit 95 in one outing.
“Injuries the last couple years have been holding me back,” Delcarmen said. “But I’m 100 percent now.”
The trouble began in 2010. He entered the year a key piece of the Red Sox bullpen. In 2007, he helped Boston to the world title. But his ineffectiveness led to a trade to Colorado in 2010. His ineffectiveness, it turned out, had an explanation.
At the end of 2010, he finally admitted to team officials his elbow didn’t feel right. Three doctors examined MRI results and told him he needed a second Tommy John surgery. Dr. James Andrews had performed his first, and Delcarmen first wanted his option.
“He’s like, ‘Who told you you need surgery, man?’ ” Delcarmen said.
Andrews told him he did not. Andrews gave him Delcarmen a Platelet-Rich Plasma injection, which dissipated the inflammation in his elbow. But Andrews also detected a problem with his ligament. The fibers had been stretched, but unlike usual, they had not returned to their usual state. Andrews told him he would need to stop throwing, and that his velocity would return eventually, but not for 18 months.
Delcarmen rehabbed for three months and signed with Seattle. His fastball traveled 88-90 mph. “But you could see the velocity slowly coming back,” Delcarmen said. “It was a process.”
He joined the Yankees in 2012 and the Orioles in 2013, spending all of both years at Class AAA. But his velocity kept improving and his ERA kept dropping, from 5.59 in 2011 to 4.42 in 2012 to 2.83 with Class AAA Norfolk last season. He will likely start another year in the minors, but before the year is over, Delcarmen may just make it back.