‘Vintage’ Colby Lewis, but let’s wait and see

02/25/2014 9:47 PM

02/26/2014 7:45 AM

He threw 11 pitches. He gassed his fastball up to a very Colby Lewis-like 89 mph. And he cleanly, if not lithely, fielded a bunt.

“Vintage Colby,” pitching coach Mike Maddux called it.

“That was Colby Lewis, the guy I had to face before from the Texas Rangers,” added new catcher J.P. Arencibia.

And how did Lewis himself feel after pitching one inning of Tuesday’s intrasquad game, his first outing since undergoing major innovative hip surgery six months ago?

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” Lewis said, both honestly and ominously.

With Colby, who last pitched in the major leagues in July 2012, it’s always going to be about tomorrow. Six months ago, the veteran right-hander traveled to New York and underwent hip resurfacing surgery.

If Lewis was an average 34 year old, he likely would have been a strong candidate for a complete hip replacement. But Dr. Edwin Su, a pioneer and staunch advocate of the resurfacing procedure, felt that Lewis was exactly the kind of young and active athlete who could most benefit from it.

All of Tuesday’s good-old-Colbys aside, however, the prognosis is not that simple. Reportedly, no professional baseball player has ever returned to play following hip resurfacing surgery. Indeed, the medical community itself is divided on the long-term merits of resurfacing over total hip replacement.

A report two years ago by the respected California Technology Assessment Forum reversed the group’s position on the procedure because the mushroom-like ball used in it was reported to be failing prematurely and metallic debris was being found as the device wore down.

Su, meanwhile, argues that resurfacing remains the best option for those who fit the young, active profile.

In Lewis’ case, the proof is going to be in the pitching.

After Lewis missed the entire 2013 season, the Rangers signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to the big-league camp. The hip problem was discovered last year while Lewis was trying to come back from right flexor tendon surgery performed in July of 2012.

Hence, his admitted anxiousness Tuesday when facing a live batter.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Lewis said, “but I was anxious to get out there and get the first one out of the way.”

Both his catcher and his pitching coach were impressed.

“I think he can pitch,” Arencibia said. “And he’s a guy who competes, who battles, and he’s pretty spot-on with his location. He can spin the ball really well, and he’s got a great idea. There’s lot of things he does well.

“He threw a real good 2-0 sinker on the corner today, and no one does anything with that pitch.”

Velocity, perhaps, is not going to be an issue with Lewis after he touched 87-89 on the radar gun. He never reached those numbers during his post-elbow rehab attempts last season at Round Rock.

“There’s more in there,” Lewis assured.

When he was tested with a bunt play during the inning, Lewis handled it without trepidation.

“I didn’t even think about the bunt play we had at the end of the inning,” he said. “That was good. I wasn’t leery about bouncing off the mound or anything like that.”

Make no mistake — a Colby Lewis comeback would be, for the pitching-wounded Rangers, like finding money under the mattress. But that’s exactly what Lewis himself is aiming for.

“I expect myself to go up there and perform at a big-league level,” he said Tuesday. “I want to go out there and win a job.

“I don’t want to be overly patient, and get put on the back burners and not looked at for a spot in this rotation. I’m here to compete to win a job, plain and simple.”

He’s trying to make the ballclub. But Lewis is also trying to make baseball medical history.

The tomorrows will tell.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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