Eric Surkamp continues rehab from Tommy John surgery
Eric Surkamp is hoping a few more rehab starts with San Jose and Fresno will prepare him to step onto a big-league mound for the first time since 2011. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN FRANCISCO – Left-handed starter Eric Surkamp, recovering from Tommy John surgery, threw a 40-pitch bullpen session Monday in front of pitching coach Dave Righetti, bullpen coach Mark Gardner and special assistant Will Clark.
Surkamp told CSN Bay Area that he ‘felt good’ after throwing his complete arsenal of fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups as he attempts to work his way back to a big-league mound for the first time since Sept. 28, 2011.
While his Single-A San Jose Giants teammates enjoy the All-Star break, Surkamp is hard at work trying to build up strength in his surgically repaired left elbow. He’s pitched in three games for San Jose, allowing four runs on five hits and two walks in 7.1 innings.
“I have a couple more left with [San Jose] before I go meet up with Fresno hopefully,” Surkamp said.
The plan for the Giants’ sixth-round draft pick in 2008 involves a fourth Single-A rehab start Thursday in Stockton, where he expects to throw around 60 pitches.
While Surkamp said he is feeling better and better with each trip to the mound, he’s not ready to predict when he could be available to the Giants from San Francisco, not San Jose.
If the Giants eventually decide that Tim Lincecum’s struggles as a starter mean another stint in the bullpen is necessary, Surkamp could take the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s spot in the rotation. There’s also the possibility that Chad Gaudin regresses and general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy want to go in another direction while Ryan Vogelsong recovers from a fractured right hand.
Those decisions will have to wait until Surkamp makes it to Fresno and is able to work deeper into games.
“There’s little ups and downs, but I’m starting to feel better,” Surkamp said. “I’m finding my mechanics. The more you’re out there, the more you’re going to be able to repeat your delivery. You haven’t really thrown in a year and a half, so it’s kind of learning everything all over again a little bit.”
If Surkamp is back to being a student of the game, he’s got the benefit of great teachers like Righetti and Gardner. Surkamp revealed to CSN Bay Area what type of advice he’s getting from the two former starters.
“Just little adjustments. Trying to get my lower body and upper body in synch again. Pitching has so much to do with timing and that’s something that takes time to develop again, just getting your whole body back in synch and your arm whipping in a fluid motion.”
Bochy said that he hadn’t yet talked to Righetti and Gardner about what they saw from Surkamp Monday, but has been happy with what he’s heard so far.
“Our reports are he’s throwing the ball well in his rehab. I know he feels good about where he’s at.”
It has taken a lot of patience, hard work and friendly advice for Surkamp to get to where he’s at now.
“It was definitely a mental grind when I was down in Arizona [rehabbing],” Surkamp said. “As soon as you’re out of there, the competitiveness in yourself comes back once you get in a game. Being at the San Jose level, there’s still good players there; it’s just they don’t realize how close they really are. They got good guys down there and it’s fun to just be around them and kind of compete with those guys and get back on the team.”
Surkamp said that he struggled at times dealing with post-surgery stagnancy.
“It was just frustrating going home everyday just sitting on the couch and watching everybody else be out there playing, checking online, checking the box scores of all your buddies.”
Some of those buddies are current and former Giants who have undergone the same procedure. That includes Brian Wilson, currently unemployed and recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, and Ryan Vogelsong, who was 24 and a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates when he went under Dr. James Andrews’ knife.
“Wilson texted me, that was last year right after I had the surgery, and just said keep your head up,” Surkamp said. “And then Vogelsong in spring training, I talked to him and he told me what to expect, tips on what to do, what not to do in rehab. Scott Proctor, who was with us in spring training, he was in the locker right next to me and told me things that helped him out and things that didn’t work on him.”
That advice has served Surkamp well as he's reached the latter part of the recovery process, but he’s well aware of the remaining road ahead.
“I have a lot of work to do myself to get back up here. It’s not just going to be ‘OK here you are, back to your full pitch count, you’re ready to go.’ I need to prove again that I can get back up here. That’s what’s on my mind is pitching well.”