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Parker fighting back after third elbow surgery

A's right-hander hasn't pitched in MLB since '13 ALDS
MLB.com @JaneMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- Jarrod Parker's new normal is very much ordinary. The A's pitcher is pitching again, off a dirt mound, next to a handful of teammates doing the same thing, simply keeping in motion with the rhythmic routines of spring.

But anyone who witnessed Parker's gruesome elbow injury during a rehab start with Triple-A Nashville last May, a scary scene that silenced First Tennessee Park, understands the enormity of this.

MESA, Ariz. -- Jarrod Parker's new normal is very much ordinary. The A's pitcher is pitching again, off a dirt mound, next to a handful of teammates doing the same thing, simply keeping in motion with the rhythmic routines of spring.

But anyone who witnessed Parker's gruesome elbow injury during a rehab start with Triple-A Nashville last May, a scary scene that silenced First Tennessee Park, understands the enormity of this.

"I had to look away, and that was on a video on a phone," A's manager Bob Melvin recalled on Monday. "I can't imagine what the feeling was if you were there first-hand. It was bad."

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Footage shows Parker clutching his right elbow on his 87th pitch of the night and collapsing near the mound, writhing in pain. In that moment, the anticipation of rejoining Oakland's rotation by month's end was shattered by the prospect of a third elbow procedure and second in 14 months.

Already on a short list of double Tommy John recipients, Parker soon underwent surgery to repair an elbow fracture, pushing the then-26-year-old back to the starting blocks of yet another lengthy rehab process.

Parker, once a key member of Oakland's rotation, hasn't thrown in a big league game since Oct. 7, 2013, when he was the winning pitcher in an American League Division Series Game 3 victory against Detroit. Josh Donaldson was still the A's starting third baseman, Yoenis Cespedes the left fielder. Grant Balfour notched the save.

"I can't imagine being away from the game for two years," A's pitcher Jesse Hahn said. "Just awful what Jarrod went through last year. We all saw it the day it happened, but we tried not to look at it. I never want to see it again. I know a lot of us were hesitant to even text him or call him, because we didn't know how he was feeling, but the night it happened I shot him a text to tell him how sorry I was, that it was going to get better and to just stay positive."

Continuing a pitching career after a second Tommy John surgery is hard enough. Only Chris Capuano, now in camp with the Brewers, has made more than 10 big league starts following two of them. Others haven't pitched as much or as long. Factor in Parker's elbow fracture, and the odds of a prolonged career aren't great, especially as a starter.

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Though he's done his own research on the subject, Parker doesn't dwell on these things. Rather, he's used his free time to learn the guitar, with lessons courtesy of former A's pitcher Evan Scribner.

"I was so close, three pitches away from being done that day," Parker said of the May incident. "I just had to stop asking why at that point. Instead, it was, now what do I do?

"Trust me, it was bad, but I had already been through enough to where I just kept moving on. You try not to let it break you down physically or mentally."

So Parker has chosen to operate under the belief that "whatever happens, happens." That's why he showed no reservations when unleashing 26 fastballs during his fourth spring bullpen Monday -- his first during official workouts. He'll continue throwing off the mound every third day, and his progression will dictate not only when he makes his Cactus League debut, but if he can continue life as a starter.

"Obviously, it's as exciting as hell," Parker said after his bullpen. "Then I got over the excitement and it was just pitching and throwing again."

"Rehab is a lonely, lonely experience, especially when you're having to do it multiple times, and to be part of a group and part of everything from the first day forward I know makes him feel a lot better," Melvin said. "Each and every time, you have to get past that demoralizing stage where you're thinking about where your future is going to go, and when you have it happen three times like that, you have to be very mentally tough to get through it."

D-backs pitcher Daniel Hudson, who moved from the rotation to the bullpen after his second elbow ligament reconstruction, knows this first-hand and relayed his experiences to Parker.

"I tried to stay in touch with him and just let him know what I went through," Hudson said. "Just reminded him it wasn't the end of the world. I wanted to give him a boost because he's such a great guy and he's got so much talent."

In turn, Parker became a source of inspiration for the conga line of injured teammates that paraded through the trainer's room last season -- including Hahn, who missed the second half with a forearm strain.

"It made me feel like my situation was a lot better," Hahn said. "He's the only person I've ever seen go through that much, but his attitude really never changed. He's a very positive person, and to be able to do what he's done is very special."

"There's a lot of stuff you can learn when the game is taken away from you for a little bit," Parker said. "When it's continuously pulled away, you have to motivate yourself to love it again. I'm not doing it for anybody else but myself at this point.

"I guess I'm like the oldest 27-year-old in the league maybe, elbow-wise for sure."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Oakland Athletics, Jarrod Parker