ST. LOUIS — In the year of Tommy John surgery, the Cubs are rooting for their own comeback story.
Arodys Vizcaino might’ve had the best stuff in camp — GM Jed Hoyer said as much when pitchers and catchers reported to Cubs Park. But Vizcaino’s season has been scripted out since spring training, trying to protect the 23-year-old right-hander.
“He is right on plan,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “Obviously, we’d like to get our hands on all these guys up here at some point. He’s maintained his stuff and he’s done well.
“It’s exciting what we potentially could have in a couple months with this guy.”
Vizcaino missed the last two seasons after getting Tommy John surgery in March 2012 and having Dr. James Andrews do another follow-up procedure on his right elbow last May.
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The Cubs wanted Vizcaino to start this season in warmer weather and sent him to advanced Class-A Daytona, where he dominated overmatched hitters, allowing one run in nine innings. He’s pitched three more scoreless innings at Double-A Tennessee this month.
Vizcaino’s put up 15 strikeouts against four walks, showing what made him a prized international free agent for the New York Yankees and a top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system.
“We saw 97 to 100 (mph),” Bosio said, “but you also saw a lot of mechanical things that still need to be cleaned up.”
The Cubs are taking it slow with someone who was once on the fast track with the Braves, pitching for three different affiliates in 2011 before making his big-league debut with Atlanta that August.
Seeing all that upside, the Cubs gambled when they asked for Vizcaino in the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson trade before the 2012 deadline.
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Vizcaino still has to show that he can pitch on back-to-back days and the Cubs understand that no one has all the answers. It’s a mixture of art and science. There’s the eye test, feel, anecdotal evidence, data analysis and medical opinions.
The Tommy John epidemic has reportedly claimed more than 30 pitchers this year, with Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez possibly getting the surgery as soon as Friday, joining a list that already included franchise building blocks Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) and Matt Harvey (New York Mets) in recent years.
“The thing that you don’t know is what they’re doing in the offseason, in between starts,” Bosio said. “It’s not to say that Jose or anybody else is doing stuff that they’re not supposed to be doing. Who knows? There’s no way of telling. There’s never going to be a textbook on how to follow this stuff.”