January 24, 2014 at 8:00 AM
BOSTON, Mass. — Tommy John surgery has become old hat to baseball fans these days. So common is the procedure that when a player like Rubby De La Rosa goes under the knife, fans treat it as routine, something akin to a one-year, one-time restorative vacation, after which the pitcher comes back rejuvenated and better than ever.
But as our own Jon Meoli has written, it is not that simple. Just ask De La Rosa himself. The Dominican right-hander underwent the procedure on August 9, 2011, but speaking recently at the New Stars for Young Stars fundraiser, he said that this offseason is the first since the surgery in which he feels completely healthy.
“I finally feel super, 100-percent good, mentally, physically,” he said. “It’s exciting for me. I’m excited for season to start.”
2013 saw De La Rosa face many obstacles: the simple task of pitching again with a rebuilt elbow, debuting for a new organization after being traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers, being held to restricted pitch and inning counts, and eventually, moving from starting to relief. These are not the only reasons the live-armed De La Rosa struggled with inconsistency in 2013—inconsistency that was evident as early as May, as documented by Matt Huegel—but they are factors that need to be taken into account. Still, De La Rosa expressed a desire to move on entering the new season.
“I’m not really worried about [my 2013 struggles],” he said. “I’m just worried about my body, what I can do to get better and feel good. I feel that right now. Last year it wasn’t easy for me to go to a new team, get traded. That was different.
“Last year I never got that feeling like I could throw the ball 100-percent. But now I can do it. I feel comfortable.”
De La Rosa has been working out this offseason in his native Dominican, working with Red Sox legend and Special Assistant to the GM Pedro Martinez. Back in May, he described working with Pedro.
“He’s been telling me how to pitch—how to use my pitches, and how to use two different pitch speeds,” De La Rosa said while with Triple-A Pawtucket. “That’s what he’s been teaching me, and to just keep working hard.”
De La Rosa also saw brief action this offseason as a reliever with the Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Baseball League (commonly referred to stateside as the Dominican Winter League). He made two appearances: In the first, he allowed an unearned run on an error, two singles, and a walk in 2/3 of an inning. He rebounded a week later, allowing one hit while facing the minimum in two scoreless innings but allowing a single and double to start his third inning before being pulled. Both of those runners scored, making his line, bereft of a single strikeout, look poor. But in the offseason, the goal is to get work, not to compile stats.
Perhaps noteworthy is that De La Rosa worked from the bullpen for los Tigres. Long projected by some as a future high-leverage reliever, rather than a starter, there remains some question as to how the Red Sox will deploy the 25-year-old this season. With the rotations in both Boston and Pawtucket seemingly full, the current SoxProspects.com projection has him throwing out of the bullpen. Still, one could see the Sox wanting to give De La Rosa one last go-round as a starter, to see if he can harness his arsenal—including a mid-90s fastball, devastating changeup, and fringy breaking ball. As for the player, he admitted a preference, but a willingness to do as the team wants.
“For the team, I’ll do whatever they want,” he said. “If they need me in the bullpen or as a starter, I’m fine with that. For my opinion, I’d like to be a starter, [but] if the team wants me in the bullpen, I’ll go to the bullpen and be happy.”
Photo credit: Rubby De La Rosa by Kelly O’Connor.
Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.