Lewis ready to compete in return from pair of injuries
Righty sets sights on making Rangers' rotation after elbow, hip-replacement surgeries
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers will hold an intrasquad game Tuesday afternoon on the Nolan Ryan Field at their Spring Training complex. Normally these are desultory affairs designed for little more than to allow pitchers to throw their first inning of the spring before moving into the Cactus League.
For Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis, it is much more significant. It will be his first time on the mound in any kind of game conditions since undergoing right hip replacement surgery on Aug. 22. Every small step is a victory when trying to come back from a procedure that usually takes place after a player's career is over.
Lewis does not believe he is done, even though he hasn't pitched in the big leagues since July 18, 2012. He is in camp on a Minor League deal competing for a spot in a rotation that has an unexpected opening after Derek Holland suffered a freak knee injury in January tripping over his dog. If Lewis is as good -- or better -- than he was during 2010-11 when the Rangers went to two World Series, he could find himself once again pitching every five days in the Major Leagues.
"I feel like there's opportunity to be had," Lewis said. "There's a little bit of, if I'm healthy, what I've done here that hopefully plays into it. I know I can do this and give it what I've got and give it what the body's got left and keep going forward.
"The Rangers have been gracious to give me another opportunity this year to try to make the club. That's all I can do is go out there and perform with what I've got. If it's good enough, I'll make the club. If it's not, we'll see what's out there."
The hip replacement is one of two major operations Lewis has undergone since last pitching for the Rangers. He also had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow on July 27, 2012. That surgery took place after Lewis had gone 32-29 with a 3.93 ERA in 80 starts for the Rangers after they signed him out of Japan in 2010. He was also 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight postseason starts.
So far, everything has gone well. The new hip allows Lewis to drive off the mound again and has taken pressure off the arm. There is no pain and his delivery is free and easy, something he really hasn't experienced in eight years, even through two excellent seasons in Japan in 2008-09 and as a member of the Rangers' World Series rotation in 2010-11.
"I feel like I have drive off the back side," Lewis said. "It's kind of different feeling that I can work on feeling pressure on my back side and my leg. My mechanics, I feel like, are a lot better now. Being so short and it takes less pressure off my elbow. I think I was continuing to have elbow problems because I was throwing across my body because the hip was hurting so badly. I don't have those issues right now.
"I feel like four or five years ago when I got here. I feel like I've got all that flexibility I had back then I started feeling it in 2006. It felt like a hip flexor, constantly tight. Even in Japan, I'd pitch and the next day a couple of guys would make fun of me because I'd walk with a limp."
Major surgery is nothing new for Lewis. He had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in high school, long before the Rangers made him the 38th overall pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. Lewis missed all of 2005 because of a torn rotator cuff that required surgery, and he spent the next two years with the Tigers and Athletics pitching mostly in Triple-A. He needed two years in Japan to really find himself again.
"They gave me a 70 percent chance that I would ever pitch again with my shoulder," Lewis said. "I [had] Tommy John [surgery] at 16. It's just another something that I have to overcome. It's the way my career has been -- never been super healthy. I'd put three or four years together and get hurt again.
"To have the surgeries that I've had -- big surgeries -- I've been blessed. I have a beautiful family, a beautiful home. God has blessed me in so many different ways besides coming out here and worrying about coming back to play baseball."
Other pitchers have come back from torn rotator cuffs, flexor tendons and ulnar collateral ligaments. The hip replacement is something new.
"You never want to have a hip replacement in the middle of your career," Lewis said. "I knew that I'd probably have to have it eventually, some day. After seeing one of the doctors, he said I was probably born with a little bit of hip dysplasia, and playing sports just sped the process up. This is active replacement, I guess. It's not the whole rod down the leg, but it is a good size two-pound chunk of metal there.
"This is unchartered territory. It could last me five years, it could last me three years. Who knows? I feel like as long as I stay in good shape, it's going to take less pressure and keep everything tight in there and keep things from banging in there.
"I'm sure it will be year-to-year. I did it for the love of the game and wanting to continue to play. Like my wife said, 'I'm not ready for baseball to be over.' Neither am I. It is what it is. You've been dealt with the cards you've been dealt and have to play what you've got."
The next big step comes Tuesday.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.