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MESA, Ariz. — Were you surprised to see Codi Heuer throwing a bullpen the day Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to spring training?
Perhaps it seemed quick considering Heuer still isn’t even a year removed undergoing Tommy John surgery in early-March 2022. According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Maddie Lee, the surgery involved full ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction plus putting an internal brace into the elbow after the ligament had “torn off the bone.”
The effects of that injury can be seen in how his fastball velocity dropped over the course of the 2021 season. Per Statcast, during his first appearance on April 1 of that year, Heuer’s fastball averaged 98.6 mph. That fell to 93.5 mph during his final appearance on Sept. 29 of that season.
Heuer didn’t feel the UCL tear in the moment, so he doesn’t know when exactly the injury occurred. But obviously, it took a more involved surgery to correct the issue. So with that being said, was Wednesday maybe an earlier-than-expected time for him to be throwing a bullpen?
Turns out, the timeline hasn’t changed much from the original estimated recovery time.
Heuer told CHGO on Thursday that he’s still looking at a 15-16 month recovery, which would put a return sometime between mid-June and early July. His bullpen session was just a continuation of his throwing program, which he said involved getting off the mound starting about a month ago.
“Been getting off like three times a week,” Heuer said. “It’s not full intent. Probably going about 75-80 percent, but it feels great. Body feels good, I’m moving well down the mound, ball is coming out well. I’m trying to ease into it a little bit.”
Heuer has been of course been following the plan the team laid out for him, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. A 15- to 16-month recovery period is a long time. If he does return to pitch as early as mid-June, that would still be more than 20 months without him pitching in a Major League Baseball game.
“It’s kind of frustrating, because I want to ease into it,” Heuer said. “I got to tell myself that I’m just getting my throws in and getting back in the groove of things. But at the same time, I’m kind of a perfectionist, and I like to make sure I’m doing good work. I like to get everything moving now, but it’s a long haul. So, I got to remember that.”
As far as how the rest of the timeline looks, Heuer is likely to begin the season on the 60-day injured list. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer mentioned during his press conference Wednesday that the Cubs would be discussing that with Heuer, and he confirmed that the conversion had been had and that starting on the 60-day IL is the expectation, saying “it really doesn’t change the timeline.”
So, when the players on the big league roster leave Mesa to head back to Chicago for Opening Day on March 30, Heuer will stick around for extended spring training. There, he’s hoping to take another big step in his recovery — going up against live hitters.
“Hopefully, if everything goes smooth, but you never know with things like that,” Heuer said. “I think I’ll be facing live hitters probably towards extended. So, when everybody leaves, I’ll probably start nailing down some live hitters. We’ll see.”
All of that is still in the future. Right now, Heuer is focused on fully recovering from the surgery that’s now taken almost a year of development away from him.
He said he’s been trying to nail down his nutrition while putting on good weight and getting stronger. Heuer’s debut season in 2020 saw him post a 1.52 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP over 21 appearances with the White Sox, and he wants to make sure he can pitch to that level again.
“Pitching-wise, I’m just trying to get back to how I was feeling, especially in 2020,” Heuer said. “In 2021, I was kind of dealing with some arm stuff, obviously, and I didn’t quite feel like myself, so I’m just trying to get back to the feeling like myself.”
If all goes to according to plan, the Cubs will see Heuer make his season debut over the summer. Heuer, who was traded across town with Nick Madrigal for Craig Kimbrel at the 2021 trade deadline, has the potential to be an important piece of the Cubs’ bullpen moving forward.
Though they will certainly have to monitor his workload when he does return to the team, Heuer is just excited to be a contributor for the Cubs at some point this season.
“As long as I can help that team win, I’ll plug any hole in that bullpen we have,” Heuer said. “We’ll see how it goes before I get there. I mean, we got a lot of weapons down there. It’ll be fun to see how we use them. We’ll see how it shakes out this spring and early in the season, but we got a lot of options. So, it’ll be pretty fun to see.
“Obviously, I’d love to contribute as much as I can. I’m looking forward to it.”
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