Nick Hagadone is back on track after missing most of last year due to Tommy John surgery, and that’s good news for Indians fans. Acquired from the Red Sox in Friday afternoon’s Victor Martinez trade, the hard-throwing-23-year-old lefthander is again displaying the power arsenal that made him Boston’s top pick in the 2007 draft. Ranked by Kevin Goldstein as the eighth-best prospect in the organization, despite the injury, Hagadone made only three appearances last year before blowing out his elbow.
“I got hurt on April 16th of last year,” explained Hagadone. “It happened on a changeup, and it just came out of nowhere. My arm had been feeling great. Right up until the pitch before, it felt perfect, then, with one pitch, it just blew up. I tried to pitch through it, to see if would go away, but it didn’t. That was in my third start, and I actually didn’t end up having surgery until June 10th. That was because I had an infection in my foot. I was in the hospital for a week, trying to get rid of it, and then I had to wait even longer because you have to make sure that [the infection] is gone before you can have the surgery. That really delayed it, and it was about a month and a half that I was in Ft. Myers, just waiting to have the surgery.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow, as Hagadone had gone into last season with high expectations. Many envisioned the University of Washington product blowing through the minor leagues and reaching Boston in short order. Instead, his 2008 campaign was one of frustration and rehab purgatory.
“Once I had the surgery, I was in Ft. Myers until June 2nd of this year, which is when I came here to Greenville,” said Hagadone. “It was probably the toughest year of my life. Not only wasn’t I pitching, I was away from all of my family for that whole time. I was in Ft. Myers for the off-season, getting up every morning and rehabbing, then working out, and after that, I didn’t do much for the rest of the day. So yeah, it was a pretty tough year.”
While he was frustrated to be on the shelf, Hagadone had relatively little fear that his career was in jeopardy. With Tommy John surgery having become a common-place procedure throughout the game, it was more a matter of waiting.
“I never really thought that I was going to be done,” said Hagadone. “I always knew that I’d be back, and as strong as I was before. It was just that I was impatient and wanted things to happen faster than I knew that they were actually going to. I wanted to break camp, from spring training, even though I knew that wasn’t realistic. I ended up leaving two months later, and that was actually pretty quick. Still, I always wanted things to go faster, which made it worse, even though I knew that I was being realistic.”
Once he was back on the mound, it didn’t take Hagadone long to prove that he was healthy enough to retire hitters. The expected rustiness was there, but so was the first-round ability.
“I threw my first game, in extended [spring training], at about 10-and-a-half months,” explained Hagadone, “and my first inning, when I came back, I felt great. I was throwing strikes, and I threw some good sliders. I don’t think I threw any changeups, but I felt better than I thought I was going to. It felt good to be back on the mound.”
His arm-speed most of the way back, Hagadone’s main focus is to build up the consistency in his offerings.
“At times, I think my changeup is where it was before the surgery,” said Hagadone. “It is kind of inconsistent, but in my last start I threw a lot of good ones, so I’m hoping to take that and keep moving forward with it. My slider still has a sharp break, but it’s not up to the speed that it was before. Before I got hurt, it was around 85 or 86 [mph] and right now it’s around 82. But I’m confident that it’s going to come back, the farther out I get from the surgery and building up my arm strength. As far as my fastball goes, velocity-wise, I’ve been up to 97, and before I got hurt I was up to 98, so my top velocity is basically back. There are some games where it’s completely back, and some where I’m still throwing hard, but it’s maybe a little lower. So I’d say that it’s basically back, but maybe a little inconsistent from game to game.”
Asked why the velocity on his slider has been slower to come back than his fastball, the 6’5” native of Sumner, Washington says that it is to be expected.
“I’ve been told that happens a lot when you’re coming off the surgery,” explained Hagadone. “It just takes a little longer for the slider velocity to come back. I have no idea why, but it probably comes from just not throwing the pitch. I mean, I didn’t throw it for 10 months or so. Hopefully, by the end of the year it will gradually get harder.”
Discretion being the better part of valor, especially when it comes to young arms, the Red Sox were proceeding cautiously with the prized left-hander. Only 14-months post surgery, Hagadone has been on a reduced workload this season.
“I’m being limited to three innings or to a 50- to 55-pitch count,” said Hagadone, shortly before the trade was consummated. “It is a little frustrating, because I just want to be normal again, and to be able go at least five or six innings, but I also don’t know that I could right now. I think the Red Sox are being really smart by limiting me to three innings, because if I pushed it too much…well, maybe it just wouldn’t be the best thing right now.”
A closer in college, Hagadone has been a starter since beginning his professional career, and the jury is still out on his future role. Asked if the injury may play a part in that decision, he wants to believe that it won‘t.
“No, at least I hope not,” said Hagadone. “I think that will be decided once I’m fully healthy and they get a real good look at what I can do. I mean, I believe that I can be a starter once I get my three pitches to be more consistent, like they were, so I’d like to be a starter. On the other hand, I don’t really care. As long as I pitch in the big leagues, it doesn’t matter to me which it is. I’m pretty confident in my abilities, and as long as I keep getting better, I think I should be fine. I just want to stay healthy and pitch.”