April 5, 2011 at 9:30 AM
At one point seemingly cruising to the big leagues, injuries have derailed Zach Daeges’ path to the majors the past two seasons. The former 2006 sixth-round draft pick out of Creighton, who has a .311 career batting average and had been named an All-Star in the New York-Penn League, California League, and Eastern League in consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2008, was limited to just nine games played in 2009 because of a severe ankle injury, and will begin 2011 in Fort Myers rehabbing a shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of 2010. I recently sat down with Daeges to talk about his injuries, the rehab process, and his goals going forward.
Jonathan Singer: How has the rehab been going?
Zach Daeges: It’s been going alright I guess. At times it has definitely been tough, as I am almost 12 months from when I got hurt. There have been a couple of setbacks with the throwing, but it’s starting to get better. So far, I have taken batting practice along with throwing at 90 feet now, so hopefully I can get back before too long.
JS: What was the exact injury to your shoulder?
ZD: I had a posterior capsular shift in my shoulder, which basically means the back of my shoulder was really loose. What they had to do was tighten up my shoulder. Basically, the toughest thing right now is regaining my range of motion because it’s so tight.
JS: Was the surgery performed a scope, or did they have to cut a major incision into your shoulder?
ZD: They used a scope to do it but there was some stuff they had to clean up in the labrum, but the main thing was my posterior capsule needed to be repaired. I guess from what I was told, it is a pretty thin tissue that is pretty fragile. The rehab process has been a little slow because you have to get the capsular used to that throwing motion again and at the same time not aggravate it too much.
JS: So far, what rehab program has the organization put you through?
ZD: I’ve been doing physical therapy. We have a staff physical therapist that I have been working with since the first day, doing a lot of stretching stuff and shoulder exercises. That has been taking place every day for the past 12 months. They have a pretty good program set up for everything, so all I need to do is follow their instructions.
JS: Did you train in Fort Myers over the winter?
ZD: I was here during the Fall Instructional League probably for about 6 weeks until the middle to end of October before they let me go home, where I continued some therapy.
JS: It looks as if you have been taking some very good batting practice during spring training. How close would you say you are to returning to game action?
ZD: As far as hitting goes, I feel pretty much normal. The only thing that’s taking a little bit of time is just getting my endurance back with the swings; I’ll get tired quicker. My shoulder doesn’t feel quite as strong as it needs to be, but I feel like I’m pretty close to being able to DH just to get some at-bats. As far as throwing, I’ve got a little bit of time as I’ve got to get a little long toss in and get used to being in game situations, so that might take at least three to four weeks.
JS: I assume this means you will be back in extended spring training for the foreseeable future.
ZD: At this point, I would say that’s the most likely plan. The only way I would be playing is as a DH, but I have no idea what their plans are for me right now. It’s just a day-to-day thing right now as I don’t know how I will feel the next day (after throwing). If I feel good, I’ll do more. If I’m a little sore, then we’ll take it slower. So it’s hard to say at this point.
JS: How difficult have the last two years been for you?
ZD: It has been tough. I think the hardest thing for me was in 2009 dealing with the ankle injury. I worked pretty hard trying to get back healthy, and then coming back and hurting my shoulder, it was very tough mentally. It definitely took a lot out of me as a player. I was like, “man, I have to go through this again,” so I’m hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel and get back out there and see what happens.
JS: At this point, is everything healed?
ZD: I feel like it’s healed. Basically, it is just a matter of dealing with the soreness and being able to do it day in and day out. It’s just getting used to throwing every day. But the ankle feels great (chuckling), so that’s good.
JS: Knowing how tough it is to go through rehab of a major injury, was there any consideration after this latest injury to retire?
ZD: When you go through it for two years, it definitely crosses your mind a little bit. At that point, you kind of start to doubt yourself a little bit, since I have not played in two years. And then you see people pass you by, and I’m getting older now, so what’s going to happen when I get back? It definitely crept into my mind a little bit, but I also went through a phase where I thought my shoulder was not going to get better and at that point I was like, “man, I think I might be done.” I feel like I am finally starting to turn the corner and starting to feel a lot better while getting that itch to get back out there. You never know what can happen now.
JS: What has kept you coming back even after the two injury plagued seasons?
ZD: I guess knowing that before I got hurt, I felt like I was pretty close to being ready to have a shot at the big leagues. So it’s that motivation to get back there and just to have the opportunity to play. You realize how much you miss it when you can’t play every day. For me, right now just being out here and being able to take batting practice and run around and feel part of the team—its crazy how much you appreciate that after you get it taken away.
JS: Coming into spring training, did the rehab program change from what was given to you earlier in your recovery?
ZD: I haven’t really had a set plan this spring. Actually when I came in, I was having some problems with my shoulder where I was pretty close to the point of, “do I want to keep doing this?” When I came in here, they said, “we’ll get you started on a throwing program to see how it feels,” and it’s gotten a lot better since then. They kind of told me they were going to take it slow that I’m not going to have anything too set in stone, as it will be based on how I feel.
JS: Obviously, your development has been stalled the past couple of years due to injuries, but what type of developmental goals have you set for yourself?
ZD: I guess the main goal is to stay healthy. It’s just going to be getting back to doing what I was doing before. I think I had a pretty good approach at the plate before I got hurt, but it’s just a matter of getting my repetitions and seeing pitches again. I haven’t seen live pitching in two years, so it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but if I just keep working on things I did before I think I will be alright.
JS: I saw you and Bubba Bell talking to Dwight Evans prior to us sitting down. How has Dwight helped you in terms of your game?
ZD: He’s definitely really been helpful, as he’s always around camp every day. If I ever need any hitting advice or anything, he’s a great guy to ask because he was a great hitter. For any reason, if I am not happy with my batting practice, I’ll ask him a question and he’ll definitely help me out so it’s great having all these players around like him and Yastrzemski.
JS: Throughout your time in the organization, you have moved around the field, with stops at first and third before settling in the outfield. How do you feel you have made that transition to the outfield?
ZD: I think it has been fine. In college, I played a decent amount of outfield, moving between there and third base. It’s definitely been an adjustment to get comfortable out there. Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time working on drills and working on stuff, so I feel the comfort level is there.
JS: What teammate has impressed you the most in your time with the organization?
ZD: Wow, that’s a tough one. I guess I would say Daniel Bard just because I roomed with him in 2007 while we were in Lancaster and the struggles he had there. Everyone realizes how talented he is, but he was struggling there in ’07 with his command. He just wasn’t the same as he is now back then. It’s just impressive how he came back the next year and was lights out and he was in the big leagues a year and half from that.
JS: Away from the field, what does Zach Daeges do when he is not playing baseball?
ZD: My main hobby is playing my guitar. Whenever I get my free time, I like to mess around on the guitar a little bit especially when I’m struggling with the rehab it makes me feel a little better.
JS: Acoustic or electric?
ZD: I play both but I would say electric is what I prefer.