Faedo relied on fellow prospects' friendship during TJ recovery

March 15th, 2022
Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Righty Alex Faedo tries to keep a positive personality. He has tried to look at his Tommy John surgery and the last 14 months of recovery as a blessing. But even the Tigers' No. 15 prospect had his tough times last year.

His teammates and good friends, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, broke camp with the Tigers. Matt Manning stayed an extra month for Minor League camp and went to Triple-A Toledo. Joey Wentz eventually completed his rehab from Tommy John surgery and went to Double-A Erie.

They were teammates -- and in some cases, housemates -- as part of a prospect-loaded super rotation in Erie in 2019. As Faedo sat in a near-empty clubhouse in Tigertown last year and completed a daily rehab schedule, he had to fight the feeling he was left behind.

“It was like a month or so after everyone broke that season, then you’re starting to get lonely. Like, all my boys are gone,” Faedo said Tuesday afternoon. “But they did a great job keeping up with me.”

They all remained close, even if they weren’t together. That helped Faedo through the longest year of his career. And as Faedo finished his 30-pitch session throwing to hitters on the back fields at Tigertown on Tuesday morning, it was fitting that they were all around for it.

Skubal pitched in the same session; the two alternated 15-pitch “innings” to simulate the up and down breaks of a game. Wentz and Mize, who threw their live sessions a day earlier, were nearby. They knew what it meant to Faedo.

“I think a lot of my buddies out there, they were finished with their day, and instead of coming in here and getting lunch, they were out there watching,” Faedo said. “That support goes a long way, so I want to keep trying to do my best to help them and help the team.”

It’s an example of how, even though the pitching prospects that headlined the Tigers’ rebuild have separated some, they remain close. But if Faedo keeps up his progress, they could be together again in Detroit at some point this year.

“I think you can see some promise on what the organization likes about him,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s got a long road to develop and continue to see if he can help us this year, but I was impressed today.”

Or, as Hinch said later, “He was a first-round pick for a reason.”

Though Faedo threw two sessions against hitters prior to reporting for Spring Training, Tuesday’s session meant more. He said he had nerves like he was throwing an actual game, but he kept it together and threw his full arsenal.

Faedo’s slider, the wipeout pitch that helped him win College World Series MVP honors and the Tigers’ first-round nod five years ago, is still there. His fastball had some bite to it. He gave up some hard contact, and his delivery could benefit from repetition, but he was close to his old self.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Faedo said. “I thought it all went really well. It was a little different throwing the pants on again, but it was really exciting. I got, like, real game nerves, and it was rewarding at the same time.”

Faedo hasn’t pitched in a game since Spring Training in 2020, a few days before the COVID-19 pandemic halted camps. He hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since Erie in 2019. Tuesday marked his first pitching action since he was with Mize, Skubal and Manning at the Tigers’ alternate training site in Toledo in the summer of ‘20.

Manning and Faedo were both shut down that September with forearm tightness. While Manning recovered, Faedo couldn’t shake the discomfort. He was eventually diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for Faedo, whose career trajectory was trending toward the Majors following a rough first pro season in 2018.

He tried not to feel bypassed while he watched Mize and Skubal settle into the Tigers rotation, followed last summer by Manning. Fortunately, those guys didn’t let him feel that way.

“Whenever guys were done with their games or guys were off, I know it seems kind of cheesy, but we did play a lot of Call of Duty and stuff together,” Faedo said. “You’re away from the game, and we’re kind of competing.”

Even better, Faedo had Wentz, who underwent the same surgery 10 months prior. Skubal, too, is a Tommy John comeback story, but his surgery was in 2016 while he was in college. Wentz, Faedo said, could recite to him what was ahead, down to the last detail.

“He knew my schedule better than me,” Faedo said. “He’s like, ‘Alright, you’ve got 15 [throws] today. Can you text me? Good luck, let me know how it goes.’ That meant a ton to me.”

Once the season ended, Faedo had more support. While Manning has a home in Lakeland, Mize and his wife moved to nearby St. Petersburg.

“I think we did a really good job as a group of dudes that all live around the local area, picking each other up, throwing with each other, lifting with each other [and] just doing maintenance things together,” Faedo said. “If one guy’s throwing a [bullpen session] and I’m not, then maybe I’d go down to St. Pete with Casey and we’d work out together. We all figured it out and we’d help each other out.”

If that wasn’t enough, the group had more company last fall. Jake Rogers, Faedo’s catcher in Erie, joined the Tigers’ list of Tommy John patients last September. His rehab process is different from a pitcher, but he joined Faedo in Lakeland for parts of the offseason.

“He's one of my best friends,” Faedo said. “He's not a Harry Potter guy, so we watched all the Harry Potter movies. And he's stubborn as hell, so it's hard to force him to do anything. I got him into Potter World.”

If Faedo can continue his progress, he could force the Tigers to pitch him somewhere to begin the season -- maybe back in Erie, maybe Triple-A Toledo, or maybe Low-A Lakeland (for the weather).

“He’s likely to make his season on time just like everybody else is,” Hinch said. “Whether he’s built up enough to be a starter or he’s going to be a three- or four-inning guy out of the gate, we’ll find out.”

Faedo isn’t trying to look that far ahead, just as he isn’t thinking about what it would mean to make his Major League debut this year. After all he has done to get to this point, he doesn’t want to look that far into the future.

“I think you don’t take things for granted,” Faedo said. “Because you never know. Like, you’re here in ’20 and you throw in spring and you feel good. And the next thing you know, you don’t throw again in ’22. So enjoy it all and then make the most out of everything you do.”