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The Tommy John Files: LHP Zach Duke

Posted by Brandon Warne , 23 May 2018 · 370 views

minnesota twins zach duke
This is an excerpt of an article that appears in full on Zone Coverage. Please click here to read the full story, and please consider subscribing to the site here.

Tommy John celebrated his 75th birthday on Tuesday, but the surgery that bears his name is well over 40 years old. In fact, enter a room of pitchers and you’ll find that the sampling of those who’ve had Tommy John surgery is akin to going to a fraternity and trying to find a dude who has ever had a hangover.

Orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe performed the first procedure — also known as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction — on the Los Angeles Dodgers lefty back in 1974. Ever since, it has not only become more ubiquitous, but also more proven in terms of players returning their previous form after extensive rehab.

With a room full of pitchers who’ve had the procedure and a seemingly different story of recovery from each one, I thought why not give each pitcher a chance to explain what their triumphs and tribulations were like as they battled to come back from the surgery.

Every pitcher is asked the same questions; every pitcher will almost certainly give different answers.

These are the Tommy John Files:

Player – Left-handed reliever Zach Duke

The surgery — when/where/who performed it?

“Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery down in Pensacola, Fla.“

The injury — when/where did it happen?

“So for me, I was diagnosed with a partial (UCL) tear back in 2007. I put in some maintenance exercises and things which held everything in place for a while. Finally, throughout the course of the 2016 season, the ligament completely tore. What happened for me, when I knew I had to have surgery, was that I threw a pitch and felt a different pain. What ended up happening was that the flexor tendon had popped off the bone. So my hand kind of seized up on the mound, and I knew there was something bad going on. So, the MRI a few days later obviously said the ligament was completely gone now. There was some stuff in there before, but it’s completely done and now the flexor tendon needs to be repaired quickly.”

Was the pain instantaneous, or over time?

“It was — because of the flexor tendon coming off — I mean I couldn’t turn a doorknob or squeeze a ketchup bottle without just….pain. When it was just the ligament, there were flare-ups here and there. Some stiffness would creep in. I’d have to manage the pain there. It was just finding a way through managing the range of motion and the pain tolerance. It was kind of always there, though.”


Were there peaks and valleys? What were they like?

“So the approach I kind of took was that I wanted there to be a pretty steady feeling of soreness. I didn’t want it to get too intense to where I had to back off, and maybe stop, or take a break and push the timeline back a bit. I tried to keep it at a constant feel of building. It’s a testament to the program that the Cardinals staff had for me, and Dr. Andrews was in constant contact with us as well. I got back to the big-league mound in nine-and-a-half months, which I guess was the fastest in the last decade or whatever. But for me, I just tried to keep that steady feel.”