2/28/2013 3:00 P.M. ET
After brain surgery, Vasquez eager to return to mound
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Anthony Vasquez hasn't started throwing yet this spring. That will come soon enough. For now, it's amazing enough that the 26-year-old pitcher is working out and preparing for the start of the Mariners' Minor League camp next week.
When Vasquez last was at the Mariners complex in November, he'd begun feeling headaches and experiencing vision problems that led him to ask an athletic trainer for help during one of his workouts as he recovered from a shoulder problem that hampered him most of last season.
As soon as Vasquez was taken to a doctor, tests revealed that a blood vessel had ruptured in his brain and had been leaking for several days. He was whisked to the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where a 5 1/2-hour surgery removed a potentially fatal tangle of arteries and veins in the brain called an arteriovenous malformation.
Dr. Robert Spetzler, considered one of the world's top experts in treating brain AVMs, works at the Phoenix hospital and performed the surgery. Vasquez met with Spetzler last week, a reunion that was welcomed by both parties.
"I just grabbed him and gave him a big hug and said, 'Thanks for helping out,'" Vasquez said with a grin.
"The type of brain condition Anthony had is very rare," said Spetzler. "For him to return to a high-level professional sport so soon after surgery is really quite remarkable. He's a terrific individual and I'm thrilled with how well he's recovered."
Ironically, the bigger issue now for Vasquez is recovering fully from the shoulder impingement that hampered his 2012 season. He hasn't thrown a pitch since leaving Peoria in November after his dad, Angels scout Rudy Vasquez, drove him home to San Antonio after he was released from the hospital.
"I haven't started up yet," Vasquez said. "I could, but I was throwing in the fall when I was rehabbing out here and throwing a decent amount. Then when I had this head issue, I stopped throwing and went home. They want to give me a couple weeks just to kind of strengthen it up and get moving before I start throwing again."
Vasquez started seven games for the Mariners at the end of 2011, called up to help after midseason trades of Doug Fister and Erik Bedard left the rotation shorthanded. The left-hander won his Major League debut in Cleveland, but struggled the rest of the way and finished 1-6 with an 8.90 ERA.
He got off to a strong start last season in Tacoma before the shoulder began hurting. He was eventually shut down on June 4 with a 5-4 record and 6.53 ERA and sent to Peoria to rehab.
He's back doing shoulder exercises this spring, working to get right before beginning a throwing program next week. He began doing some conditioning only a month after the brain surgery and said his offseason really wasn't that different than most, aside from the reason for his forced shutdown.
Now he just wants to get back to where he can throw without a problem.
"That'll be nice," he said. "The biggest thing is just getting healthy. It's never fun when you're not 100 percent, especially when your job requires you to be good. Being healthy really helps that."
Vasquez said the life-threatening brain issue made him re-evaluate things a little, but he still feels he's the same guy as before -- even if he was the subject of television interviews with several Phoenix stations this week.
"I feel I've always had that perspective. Faith is first and family," he said. "Most people would say there are more important things than their profession. There are definitely things more important than throwing a ball on the mound. But while I'm doing this, like most people, if this is what I'm pursuing, I'm going to keep doing it at 100 percent and be the best I can be at it."
Which is a process he'll resume now when Minor League camp opens with pitchers and catchers reporting Sunday and taking the field for the first time Tuesday. The 18th-round Draft pick out of USC has had success at every level of the Minors, but would someday love another shot to show people he's a better pitcher than what was seen with the Mariners in 2011.
But whatever happens now, he just wants to get back to baseball.
"It's all free once my arm gets healthy," he said of his fresh start. "I'm just looking forward to that day when I can give myself another chance to compete."