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After long road of rehab, Phelps is back in bigs

Reliever tossed scoreless inning with a walk and a strikeout in return
@baseballexis
June 17, 2019

TORONTO -- After spending an arduous 21 months on the sidelines, David Phelps is back in the big leagues. Making his return after multiple surgical procedures within the last couple of years, the right-handed reliever was added to the roster ahead of Toronto's 10-5 loss to the Angels on Monday

TORONTO -- After spending an arduous 21 months on the sidelines, David Phelps is back in the big leagues.

Making his return after multiple surgical procedures within the last couple of years, the right-handed reliever was added to the roster ahead of Toronto's 10-5 loss to the Angels on Monday at Rogers Centre.

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet, fully,” Phelps said. “Over the last month or so, when I’ve been thinking about it or whatever, I get a little bit emotional. It’s been a good while since I’ve been on an active roster. The last game I pitched was August 30, 2017, had surgery in September, followed it up with Tommy John [surgery] last spring.”

Though plenty of pitchers have undergone and made triumphant comebacks from Tommy John surgery -- a procedure to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in the throwing elbow -- that idea didn’t make it any easier for Phelps as he made his way through the rehabilitation process.

“Tommy John’s interesting,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s kind of become normalized in our game, a lot of guys have it, a lot of guys come back from it. But it’s such an individual rehab in itself that definitely there are a lot of trying times. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

With an eye on making the Opening Day roster with Toronto this season, Phelps experienced some general soreness during Spring Training that set him back. And whether things were on track or they weren’t, the reliever couldn’t help but have some doubts along the way.

“There certainly were,” he said. “Coming into spring, the goal was to be ready for Opening Day, that was right on the 12-month mark. Everyone says 12 to 14 months, some people say 12 to 16 months is the rehab; everyone obviously wants to be on the shorter end of it.

“But there were a couple moments where I thought man, this does not really feel that good. The last couple times that I really fired it up before my injury it didn’t feel good, so that was the last thought on my mind. … The mental aspect of it was the last hurdle.”

Now, Phelps is ready to go.

“He feels really good,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He didn’t want to come here until he was fully [ready to] go and he feels that way now. So that’s why it took a little longer, because he wanted to make sure he could go back to back and all that.”

Phelps joined the Blue Jays organization during the offseason, after spending all of last year rehabbing with the Seattle Mariners. He is grateful to both clubs for everything they allowed him to do, and for their patience as he worked his way back.

“The biggest thing for me in Seattle last year was sitting there watching the games made me realize how much I do love the game; how much I missed it,” Phelps said. “And that it’s something I’m incredibly passionate about and I’m really excited to be back.

“There were some pretty dark times there, but it’s always fun when you start to see that light at the end of the tunnel, not to be too cliché about it. I thank this organization incredibly for taking a chance on me in the offseason, still in the middle of my rehab. But I’m excited to get back out there and get back to doing what I love.”

Phelps wasn't completely sure what his repertoire would have in store, in terms of velocity and his level of comfort with it, but he was looking forward to getting out on the mound before the game.

“[I’ve had a] pretty unique career in the sense that for the first four years of my big league career I pitched at 88 to 92 [mph] and then the last two years before I got injured I pitched more 93 to 96, so I’ve proven to myself that I can get guys out both ways,” Phelps said. “Obviously a little bit more effective the harder you throw, but I’m just excited to be back out there and see what I’ve got to offer.”

Phelps pitched a scoreless seventh in the loss, facing four batters with one walk and one strike out. His velocity sat between 88 and 92 mph in the appearance, mimicking the early seasons of his career.

Two corresponding moves were made to make room for the Blue Jays to add Phelps to the roster, with the club optioning right-hander Justin Shafer to Triple-A and moving 19-year-old hurler Elvis Luciano from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day IL.

“Shafer’s done a good job whenever he comes up,” Montoyo said. “That’s what I told him, ‘Just don’t forget there are other teams out there. You’re pitching not only for us, but for other teams, so keep doing your job,’ and he’s got options to come back.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.