JUPITER, Fla. -- When John Gast had July 2013 surgery to repair a left shoulder tear, he was advised that it would likely be eight to 12 months before he could resume pitching. What he didn't know at the time, however, was that the road to feeling completely right would take much longer.
Gast made his first post-surgery appearance a little more than 10 months after the procedure but never felt entirely back during the 12 Triple-A starts he made thereafter in 2014. His fastball velocity, which once sat around 88-90 mph, hovered near the 84-85 mark. Even retraining his arm to repeat its motion was a struggle.
"All around, I felt off," Gast said. "The whole year was tough with every pitch, really. It was hard just going out there against really good competition in the [Pacific Coast League] and knowing that you're not operating at full capacity and knowing that you don't have what you used to. It's mentally tough to go and operate at less than what you know you should be able to do."
Invited back to big league camp this spring, Gast acknowledged that he's finally feeling like himself again. He hasn't checked a radar gun yet, though he expects his velocity has climbed back to where it should be. He described his pitches as having "more life than last year."
Where Gast fits into the depth chart isn't entirely known until the Cardinals see how he fares against competition, now that he is again pitching at full strength. There are other lefty starters (Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons) who enjoyed Major League exposure while Gast was recovering.
Gast is likely to begin the season in the Triple-A rotation.
"I think he's capable of pitching in the big leagues," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Now it's going out and showing that he has the durability to compete every fifth day."
Gast was just getting his feet wet in the Majors when he suffered the shoulder injury in 2013. In three spot starts for the Cardinals, Gast allowed seven runs on 11 hits in 12 1/3 innings.
In preparing for this big league camp, Gast started his offseason throwing program earlier than usual to build up the arm strength he was lacking. He also incorporated more long toss into his work.
"I'm just glad to be here, first of all," he said. "And then I'm really happy with how my arm feels now. It's now just showing that you're back, that you have something to offer still."