There’s never a good time for a pitcher to learn he needs Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. But there couldn’t have been a worse time for Chad Bell.
It seemed downright cruel.
Bell had finally put himself on the map in his third professional season in the Texas Rangers’ organization. He moved up three levels in 2012, going from High A Myrtle Beach to Double A Frisco to Triple A Round Rock and had established himself as a big-league prospect.
But those positive vibes went away before his 2013 season even began. He underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, costing him a season that could have seen him reach the big leagues.
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“It was frustrating, for sure,” Bell said. “I was having such a good year in 2012, building off stuff, learning from all the pitching coaches. I learned something new at every level and advancing like that was great.
“So the injury was definitely disappointing, but everything happens for a reason. I feel like I’ve kept learning through the rehab process and have gotten more mentally tough.”
That’s the mentality the Rangers like to see from their prospects when faced with adversity and something that impressed rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock.
Comstock said the organization typically gives rehabbing prospects about a week to “throw a pity party” before embracing the rehab process. But Bell didn’t need that.
“At first, he was in shock like they all are because he finally got his name on the map,” Comstock said. “But he recovered from that pretty quick. He has leadership skills in him, too, and he took those from the field into his rehab.
“He showed the other young kids that you don’t have to get down on yourself. You don’t have to have the cookie-cutter depression for a week. You can go into it heads up.”
Bell, 25, went through the lengthy rehab process and benefited by going through it with veterans such as Joakim Soria and Colby Lewis. He’s now in the beginning stages of his full recovery, returning to game action last month. He made one appearance for Round Rock before joining the Low A Hickory rotation.
He had a rough outing at Round Rock, but is showing signs of getting it back together at Hickory. Bell threw five scoreless innings in a start May 24 and then allowed two runs over 4 1/3 innings Thursday.
“I felt like the [May 24 start] is really as close to normal as I’ve felt,” Bell said. “The velocity was there, the action on my pitches was there. It’s been kind of a roller coaster since I got back. Some days you don’t feel as sharp or as recovered, but the more I get out there, the better it gets going.”
Bell might have fallen off the map somewhat because of the surgery, but he could get back on it in a hurry if he has success. He’s not an overpowering left-hander, sitting in the 88-90-mph range, but has good movement and off-speed pitches that should play at the big-league level.
Bell knows he has some work to re-establish himself in the organization, but he isn’t focused on that. That will take care of itself if he can get back to his 2012 form.
“I just need to keep working and getting out on the mound,” Bell said. “This year is important to get the innings back on the mound and get some competition and really get ready to feel strong next year.”