GLENDALE, Ariz. — After all the uncertainty he faced last year in regard to his ulnar collateral ligament, Chris Beck couldn’t have expected to be in this position.
He’s less than four months removed from surgery, yet the White Sox pitching prospect feels strong enough to think about mechanics and adjustments before his next throwing session.
On Friday, Beck, who had surgery Nov. 4, received positive feedback from some of the White Sox heaviest hitters during a live batting practice session.
Given all he experienced from June to November, worrying he might need Tommy John surgery and the ensuing rehab, Beck is fortunate to be where he is. If continues on the same path, Beck — who made his major league debut last season — should begin the season at Triple-A Charlotte.
“Today was great,” Beck said. “Felt good. Still feeling some things out.
“But to see that I was competing already, it says a lot.”
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He knows it's crazy that he’s here, what with the whirlwind of events he experienced.
Shortly before he suffered the injury that has led to a frustrating nine months, Beck was in a great place. The former second-round draft pick (2012) had thrown the ball better than ever, with a 3.30 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte. Then on May 28, the White Sox temporarily promoted and started Beck in the second game of a doubleheader at the Baltimore Orioles — the “pinnacle” of his career, he said.
But in his next start on June 3, Beck delivered a pitch and immediately knew something was wrong. He left the game after four scoreless innings.
“I just had like this jolt like a super muscle cramp run through my arm, and I knew it didn’t feel right,” Beck said.
Beck pitched for Charlotte again June 13 but left after only four innings. It was his last game of the season.
From there, Beck tried two different throwing programs and both failed.
He left Camelback Ranch where he’d been rehabbing and went home to rest on Aug. 25.
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Still experiencing pain in his forearm and numbness in his hand several months later, Beck called the White Sox. He traveled to Chicago on Nov. 3 and had an ulnar nerve transposition the next day.
“The good news was it wasn’t Tommy John,” Beck said. “It looked like it because there was fluid between the nerve and ligament. It had all the signs of me going under the knife and missing a year of baseball.”
Because it was a transposition and not Tommy John, Beck quickly regained range of motion and was back in action three weeks later.
He has worked overtime since to return to baseball shape. Beck arrived in Phoenix on Jan. 1 to work with the White Sox training staff. Not only did he start his throwing program at the same time he normally does, he had begun to play catch earlier than normal. He’s currently on a normal schedule for spring training.
“Chris was communicating with our medical coordinator and they lined out a plan, and he’s followed it to a T,” said Del Matthews, assistant director of player development. “He’s been great. He’s actually been ahead of schedule. That’s all good and exciting for him, and you just hope he doesn’t have any setbacks and he’s able to go out and compete and showcase his best stuff.”
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Jose Abreu, Brett Lawrie, Todd Frazier and Adam LaRoche got a look at what Beck had on Friday and came away impressed. Catcher Kevan Smith, who was behind the plate at Charlotte when Beck got hurt, received solid reviews from the hitters as they stood in to hit.
Smith relayed those thoughts to Beck in between innings.
“Granted, it’s early and a lot of those guys are tracking right now,” Smith said. “But to have that caliber of hitter to say, ‘Hey, this guy’s got some stuff, he’s got a little bit of life.’ That’s good for Chris and for me to hear so I can relay to him and just give him that confidence his arm is coming back and it’s coming back strong.”
Beck is pleased with the input from hitters so far. He didn’t feel as good about his previous live batting practice, which was the first time he had faced a hitter since June 13. Nerves, adrenaline and rustiness might have gotten in the way.
But the second-round improvement has Beck encouraged about his next time out.
“Just talking to some hitters about the right-on-right changeup and hearing feedback,” Beck said. “Now I get a couple of days off and I can get on a schedule and try to make some big strides forward.”