Two years ago, Grizzles right-hander Alex White saw the velocity of his fastball drop from a wicked 95 mph to 87.
He knew something wasn’t right in his throwing elbow, so he got it checked out and found out he had torn his ulnar-collateral ligament.
The solution: Tommy John surgery.
Unlike most pitchers, White didn’t hear a pop in his elbow when he injured it. The pain gradually increased while the speed of his pitches dropped with each inning pitched.
Now after two years of recovery, including last season in relief with Triple-A Oklahoma City, White said he’s almost ready to return to the show.
“I really do feel great,” said the 26-year-old product from the University of North Carolina. “My arm feels good and is recovering well. It’s something that comes with time. I’ve been very patient and now’s the time for it to start coming back, and we really need it to.”
White, who was acquired by the parent-club Astros in the spring before he injured his arm, was picked in the first round (15th overall) by the Cleveland Indians in 2009. Heading into the 2011 season, he was rated a top-50 prospect in the majors.
He did all right in two big-league seasons between Cleveland and Colorado, accruing a 5-13 record with a 6.03 ERA and 1.69 WHIP.
After two seasons in the minors, he’s almost back to where he was before the ligament replacement surgery.
In Fresno’s 7-3 win over El Paso on Wednesday, White entered the game late in a tandem start with Brett Oberholtzer, who was making his second rehab assignment with the Grizzlies.
White gave up four hits for three runs, all earned, but was able to get his fastball as high as 92 mph. He also got out of a mini jam in the top of the ninth to end the game and earn his first save of the season.
“He’s improved so much since the beginning of spring training,” Grizzlies pitching coach Ace Adams said. “I think his stuff is close to being where he wants it to be. I’m real happy with his progress so far.”
“He’s really starting to feel his pitches,” Adams added. “It’s just a matter of time before I think he is where he wants to be.”
White would like to get back into the starting rotation for the Grizzlies. He’s made five appearances and three starts for an 0-2 record on the bump and 5.82 ERA in 212/3 innings.
“The arm, you kind of have to teach it to throw hard again — I was a little slow to that and that thought process coming off the surgery,” he said.
“I feel better now than I did at spring training,” he added. “I really need the outings and I need the innings. I need to be out there every fifth or sixth day. … I’ve got to start pushing it really hard.”