Oberg working toward 2021 comeback

January 5th, 2021

DENVER -- The miserable 2020 took a chunk out of us all. Rockies right-handed relief pitcher literally can see what it took out of him.

On Sept. 23, nationally respected vascular surgeon Darren B. Schneider at the University of Pennsylvania removed the top rib on Oberg’s right side. The thoracic outlet surgery was designed to alleviate blood clotting that has struck Oberg three times -- the latest in August 2020, when he was trying to come back from the same problem that ended his 2019 season early. He also lost the end of the 2016 campaign to the condition.

“It is in the cabinet at the house right now,” said Oberg, who lives in Sewell, N.J. “I talked to the doctor, and he saved it for me. My next-door neighbor is a pathologist, so he took that to work, cleaned it up for me and threw it in formaldehyde, and that’s where it is currently.

“It’s probably about three inches in length, so I can probably end up making it into a paperweight.”

That troublesome bone -- removed to relieve the crowding of nerves, arteries and veins in the neck and arm -- can hold down the pages of a troublesome health history. Long before the calendar turned, Oberg began work on his 2021 comeback story.

“Once I really started getting into the rehab process -- when I came out of surgery and the swelling started to go down in my neck -- that's when I felt like I can start to take the next steps and start to put those things behind me. This was a month or two ago.

“I have to chalk [2020] up as a wash, not really put a whole lot of stock in it. What do I have to do right now to get myself where I need to get to come February, come Spring Training?”

Oberg said he has leaned on free-agent righty Chris Archer, who had the surgery a few months before Oberg, and teammate , who not only had the surgery in 2014 but knows a thing or two about comebacks.

Oberg, who turns 31 on March 13, did not make a regular-season appearance in 2020. He was at his best before the blood clots reoccurred in 2019.

Over the 2018 and ’19 seasons, Oberg's ERA+, according to Baseball-Reference, was 211 -- second best in the Majors to the Padres’ Kirby Yates. ERA-plus adjusts a pitcher’s ERA based on ballparks and opponents.

During Summer Camp in Denver after the pandemic delayed the season, Oberg experienced a lower-back strain, so the Rockies delayed his regular season. But the clots returned Aug. 1 during a live batting practice session at Coors Field. Oberg’s injury was the most serious of the myriad of problems that led to the Rockies having the Majors’ second-worst bullpen per ERA, 6.77.

Oberg, the team’s primary setup man, entered 2020 as the first option in case then-closer Wade Davis struggled or was injured. Both happened. Davis blew a save in the home opener, went to the injured list around the same time Oberg’s clots flared, struggled upon his return and eventually was released.

Righty made just four appearances before a forearm injury ended his season. and struggled for consistency.

“I personally felt helpless because I'm not there on a daily basis,” Oberg said. “I wasn't in the clubhouse. I didn't really know how guys are feeling or what they're thinking. It’s hard to do some of those things through text. I tried to stay on top of everything the best I could.”

But Oberg is confident those who struggled will rebound, and he expects relievers such as Bard, , and to build on solid 2020 performances. And while Oberg is confident, he’s not pressuring himself to meet past standards until his health is assured.

Oberg and Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger are controlling the pace of his throwing program, and Oberg said he will meet with manager Bud Black, general manager Jeff Bridich and Dugger to discuss the pace of his innings early in the season. August could be the month to watch. All three of his blood clot issues occurred in that month.

“I know what I’m capable of doing, and I’m just going to continue to trust myself that I can execute my pitches and help the team win,” he said. “Whatever happens after that is icing on the cake.”