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VOL. 129 | NO. 96 | Friday, May 16, 2014

 

Motte Looks to Regain Form in Redbirds Rehab Assignment

By Don Wade

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When St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jason Motte learned he had to have the elbow ligament replacement procedure commonly known as Tommy John Surgery, he didn’t ask, “Why me?”

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and Memphis resident Jason Motte wasn’t happy to miss last season after Tommy John surgery, but it did allow him time to concentrate on the work of his foundation.

(Allison Rhoades/Memphis Redbirds)

Maybe none of them do now that the elbow surgery has become more common for big-league pitchers than knee surgery is for NFL running backs. Young Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is the latest pitcher likely headed for the operating table. Then, too, Cardinals teammate Adam Wainwright had the surgery and is backing and pitching well enough to be on course for an All-Star selection.

As to why Tommy John surgery is such a frequent happening among big-league pitchers (at any given time about a third of the pitchers on MLB rosters have had at least one), Motte had an answer for that.

“They’re throwing a baseball overhand at 95 to 100 miles per hour every single time they get the ball,” he said. “Technically, that ligament in there should just about go every time a major-leaguer throws. The amount of pressure and tension, it’s not actually supposed to (withstand that). It’s amazing that it holds up like it does.”

Motte, a 31-year-old right-hander, said this on Tuesday, May 13, after throwing a scoreless inning at AutoZone Park for the Memphis Redbirds as part of a rehabilitation assignment; he was scheduled to throw again here on Thursday, May 15, and then been be re-evaluated as the Cardinals try to determine when their former closer is ready to go after major-league hitters.

Motte, with wife Caitlin and 17-month-old daughter Margaret Morgan, lives in the Memphis area during the off-season. Having to sit out most of last season because of the elbow surgery, they spent more time working on their Jason Motte Foundation, which has the tagline “Let’s strike out cancer.”

“It all happens for a reason, you don’t know why,” Motte said of his injury. “Me and my wife, we were able to do more stuff here. More stuff in St. Louis with cancer-related topics, going to visit people. … I got to do a lot of things I normally wouldn’t get to do if I was playing.

“I’m not glad I got hurt,” he continued, “but I wouldn’t change any of that stuff I got to do last year. I have a lot of people out there pulling for me, people I met last year. It means a lot.”

Motte got the last out of the 2011 World Series as the Cardinals beat Texas. He owns a 2.87 earned run average with 54 saves in 282 major-league games.

The good times have been very good.

These days, however, he’s looking at smaller sample sizes, going day by day. He threw that one inning here Tuesday, 14 pitches (10 for strikes) and topped at 94 mph on the radar gun. That’s down from where he used to be, sitting at 96-98 pre-injury, but he said he did reach 96 mph in one of his appearances at Double-A Springfield.

“I threw the first pitch and let it go and turned around and the radar gun said 87,” Motte said of Tuesday’s outing, adding with a grin, “I better start locating better. They said the gun was a little bit off, so whew. I’m not that good of a pitcher to pitch at 87. I need a little more than that.”

Pre-injury, everything was coming pretty easy for Motte. Well, easy considering he was a converted catcher who first played for the Redbirds a decade ago when he was summoned from Class A Palm Beach because of September call-ups and the Double-A team being in the playoffs.

“I wasn’t really there. Technically I was there,” Motte said, laughing about his first stint with the Redbirds.

Motte was pleased with being able to throw his cutter for strikes and to both sides of the plate, but pitching since the surgery definitely feels a little strange and is a work in progress.

“It’s a different feel,” he said. “I do feel good when I’m up there on mound and my focus is the exact same and that’s make my pitches and get guys out. I feel like if I’m trying to go in, I can go in, and if I’m trying to go away, I can go away. Not that I was ever pinpoint. I don’t feel like I was ever a guy where I could ‘paint, paint, paint’ (the corners).

“I felt pretty good, but I could go up there (to majors) and be all over the place. So who knows? I’ve taken everything one day at a time. Do what I can do to get better that day.”

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