Though Tommy John surgery has become increasingly routine among major-league pitchers, it’s natural for players to fear career-altering side effects, none more worrying than the prospect of diminished velocity. And while elbow reconstruction is no longer a career death sentence, there’s still a certain level of trepidation attached to the dreaded words “Tommy John,” for better or worse.
Jordan Hicks may not have been ready to return in 2020—he opted out due to COVID concerns (his Type-1 diabetes puts him at heightened risk of symptoms)—but the right-hander, now 20 months removed from Tommy John, is back in Cardinals camp and arguably better than ever. Monday, Hicks faced hitters for the first time since his operation, clocking 102 mph during a live BP session at the team’s spring training site in Jupiter, Florida.
Despite the nearly two-year layoff, Hicks has every intention of cracking the Cardinals’ Opening Day bullpen. The former third-round draft pick has consistently wowed fans with his overwhelming, triple-digit cheese—he and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman are the only pitchers to reach 105 mph in an MLB game. Thanks to this trait, Hicks has missed plenty of bats (.196 BAA with 70 strikeouts), though unfortunately, the 24-year-old has been just as likely to miss the strike zone altogether (56 walks over 106 1/3 innings). Once Hicks learns to harness his ferocious fastball by throwing strikes—a welcome departure from his usual smattering of backstop-bound misfires—he’ll be a daunting late-inning assignment for opposing hitters.