SAN FRANCISCO – It takes most pitchers 12 months to be competitive after Tommy John surgery, but quite a bit longer before they get back their full arm speed, extension and feel for their stuff.
So it wasn’t an ideal choice when the Giants sent Eric Surkamp to the mound for Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader. He was one day away from the one-year anniversary of his elbow ligament reconstruction procedure.
And although he’s been throwing off a mound for nearly three months, he acknowledged he’s not all the way back.
That much was evident as the Reds tagged him for seven runs on nine hits -- including two home runs -- in 2 2/3 innings.
[RECAP: Reds 9, Giants 3]
“I feel like I’m close,” Surkamp said. “It just doesn’t feel … They way I’ve described it to people, you’ve done so many shoulder exercises that your arm doesn’t have that whip back in it again. I feel a little herky-jerky throwing pitches and I’m not as fluid as before. I don’t have that whip back in my offspeed pitches just yet.”
Surkamp won an ERA title in the Double-A Eastern league by mixing his plus curveball with a cutter. His curve didn’t have its familiar hump and his cutter didn’t cut. He ascended the mound during the usual hour when the Giants take batting practice. And after a tidy first inning, that’s what he threw.
“I was just leaving balls over the middle of the plate, really,” Surkamp said. “The first inning, I was on the corners. The second and third, I was leaving them up and they were hitting them.”
Surkamp was the bonus 26th man on the roster, so he’s expected to return to Fresno at the close of business Tuesday. Once regarded as one of the club’s better pitching prospect, the 26-year-old will continue to log innings and find his form. If he can finish strong, he could be seen as an option for the rotation next year.
It’s wide open at the moment. That’s why Surkamp got the opportunity on Tuesday. The Giants didn’t feel they had a better choice. That’s a reflection on their own organizational failures, not on Surkamp.
For now, even in defeat, there was validation in getting back on a major league mound.
“It was awesome to be back out there,” said the Cincinnati native and alumnus of Moeller High School, the same halls that produced Ken Griffey Jr. “Surprisingly, I wasn’t really that nervous. The last year has been a long year for me so I was excited to get back out there. … I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Two quick notes as Game 2 begins: Joaquin Arias (appendectomy) will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Fresno at Salt Lake on Wednesday, and right-hander Chris Heston, who was designated for assignment 10 days ago, cleared waivers and was released. He's a free agent.