Kyle Hart pushing through final months of Tommy John recovery #iubase

The cloud of Tommy John surgery still looms over Kyle Hart, even if his left arm feels fine.

The physical rehab is behind him, the pain and discomfort long gone. What remains is a mental and emotional hurdle that Hart continues to reconcile through every pitch and every appearance of a waning 2015 season.

“When people say Tommy John (recovery) is 14-18 months, I didn’t really believe that,” Hart said. “Hell, I’m pitching in games, I’m able to compete. But there’s still that sense of, ‘Here’s 60 pitches, can you get 10 more pitches? What’s 75 pitches feel like?”

Then there are the days in between appearances when Hart must consider how far to take a workout. “Do I run?” he will ask himself, “Do I work out at all?”

The path toward reclaiming his former self yields those answers one day at a time.

“No one’s telling you how you’re going to feel tomorrow or next week, or next month, but all I know is that it’s gotten progressively better,” Hart said. “So I think that tomorrow is going to be better than today, and a month from now is going to be better than today. That’s where I’m feeling about it.”

As he approaches the 13-month anniversary of his surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left arm, Hart is coming off his two best outings of the season. Since debuting two months ago, Hart has gone from bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen to sliding in as IU’s Saturday starter down the stretch. Part of that move has come with an uptick in his available workload.

Hart made his first appearance since surgery on March 11, when he was limited to 30 pitches or two innings — whichever came first. Now, although that limit is something closer to 70-80 pitches, IU coach Chris Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn are comfortable letting Hart go a bit deeper.

In earning his second consecutive win on Saturday against Long Beach State, Hart threw a season-high 93 pitches, while tossing five innings for the second outing in a row after holding Maryland to one run over five frames on May 2. These have not been strenuous outings, Lemonis said, allowing Hart to go deeper and longer than he may have a month ago.

“(That) was the best I’ve felt in controlling the ball and throwing my off-speed for strikes, pitching out of the stretch,” Hart said of his series-clinching win at Maryland.

The permanent move to the starting rotation has helped get him to this point, too. His time in the bullpen, which lasted two appearances in the middle of April, was used to get extra work for Hart. He was able to handle the mental adjustment that comes with working on call and on short rest, but his arm wouldn’t cooperate.

Going back to being a starter, a role in which Hart earned Big Ten All-Freshman honors in 2012 and became a dependable member of the rotation as a sophomore, was much more ideal because of the routine and the break between outings. As he situates himself into that job, the recovery time in between starts has become less of a burden, too.

“The starting role is good because I’ve done it before and I’m comfortable in it,”Hart said, “but it’s really easier on my arm to have a six-day plan almost in the college game with the seventh day being a start. Here’s a day off, here’s a bullpen day, here’s a long toss day, here’s a light day and then you’re pitching. So that’s been a lot easier on my arm. I feel like I can be successful in either of the roles, just like anybody else on our pitching staff can be, but it’s easier for me.”

Hart has always been a left-hander who relies on mixing speeds and pitching to contact. He is efficient with a fastball that sits primarily in the upper-80s, while mixing in a changeup and breaking ball that have been effective in keeping hitters off-balance.

All told, through seven appearances and five starts this season, Hart owns a 2.45 ERA with 18 hits and 18 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings. He has allowed only five runs — all earned — and walked three, while holding opponents to a .254 batting average.

In doing so, and as Indiana searches for more consistent pitching around him this weekend, Hart may be the closest thing IU has to a reliable starter. He’ll be constricted to a pitch count the rest of the way, but Hart is gaining on the portrait of normalcy he has sought since the initial elbow injury last March.

“We’ve just got to get that (Tommy John surgery) out of his head a little more as time goes on,” Lemonis said. “I know it lingers a little bit, but his elbow is better than it’s ever been right now. So that’s the confidence he needs to take into it.”

3 comments

  1. Question for Mike Miller :
    What’s the story on the CWS 2013 just now appearing on the outfield wall at the ballpark ?

    1. Hey IU South,
      I kind of touched on this in a story on the H-T web site late last week. We were told that Lemonis pressed for this once he took the job last summer. Lemonis also said that Tracy Smith was looking to get something similar done prior to leaving. I have no idea why it took so long — Lemonis said the banner was ordered during the fall of 2014. Also sounds like, according to Lemonis, there will be some commemorative Big Ten championship banners/flags to come in the future.

  2. I was out of town last week and missed your article, thanks for the update, as the old saying,o Bettter late, than never.

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