Pirates relief pitcher Meek strives to regain his 2010 form
BRADENTON, Fla. — Evan Meek's heart was pounding when he walked into Dr. James Andrews' office last June.
It was not an everyday, ho-hum visit to a doctor. Andrews makes his living performing Tommy John surgery, the procedure that replaces ligaments, rebuilds elbows and (usually) restarts careers.
Meek knew something was wrong with his shoulder. It was sore, and his performance out of the Pirates' bullpen had been erratic. He was getting about one strikeout per inning, but was allowing nearly two baserunners per frame. Meek's fastball lost about 4 mph, dropping to the low 90s.
Pitching through the problems wasn't working.
"It's tough when you get injured during the season because you keep trying to make it back to pitch," Meek said. "It's kind of like a scab; it you keep picking at it, it's not going to heal. If you leave it alone, it will heal itself."
But sometimes the healing process requires a scalpel as well as time, which is why Meek fidgeted anxiously as he sat in Andrews' waiting room.
"A lot of guys go to him to have surgery," Meek said. "I feel fortunate that he didn't recommend that. He said I could heal through rehab. It took a little bit longer than I would've liked, but the important thing now is I'm feeling good and it's behind me."
Rest and physical therapy knocked the tendinitis out of Meek's shoulder. A newfound love of long-distance cycling in the offseason trimmed several pounds from Meek's body — he weighed in Sunday at 208 pounds, 17 pounds lighter than where he ended last season.
Meek reported to spring training camp in top shape, ready to reclaim a role in the back end of the bullpen.
"From all indications of what I've seen from him throwing long toss, (batting practice) and his sides, he's healthy," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "We've just got to build up his arm strength and get him back to where he was, mechanically. That's not a problem. It's about getting him the reps out there so he can feel more comfortable about himself and get his timing back."
Meek made his spring training debut Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays. The right-hander lasted just two-thirds of an inning and allowed three earned runs, three hits and two walks.
The inning looks ugly on paper, but there were some positives. Only one ball was hit with authority; two of the singles were dribblers. A fielding error in the outfield and a mistake by Jeff Clement, who failed to cover first base on a grounder, added to Meek's woes.
Meek isn't sure what led to his health problems last year. He doesn't believe it came from overuse, although he racked up 70 appearances in 2010.
"At the end of (2010), I felt strong. I felt great," Meek said. "I fell behind in spring training last year and probably tried to do too much, too early. Just one of those things."
The challenges he faced last year made Meek more experienced and more patient this spring.
"He has a much better understanding of what he needs to do to have the finish, the velocity and those things," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The mechanics need to be in line. It's just like setting up dominoes. You set them up correctly, touch one and all of them fall. If they're disconnected, not all of them fall."