MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Bailey ahead of the curve in Tommy John recovery

Reds not concerned about aggressive timetable, which targets May 1 for righty's return

Bailey ahead of the curve in Tommy John recovery

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds right-hander Homer Bailey on Thursday took another step along the long road to recovery from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow when he threw two innings of live batting practice at the club's Spring Training complex.

It was the second time he's done it this spring.

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Bailey underwent the procedure on May 8, 2015, and though the usual protocol is to have Tommy John patients return somewhere between 12 to 18 months after the surgery, Reds manager Bryan Price said the club is eyeing a quicker return for the young veteran right-hander.

"He looks to be ready right around May 1," Price said before Bailey threw 16 pitches, took a breather and tossed another 14. "We're going to get him stretched out. Our typical protocol in Spring Training is to get our starters six starts unless there's a reason why we don't, a setback in Spring Training or they get started a little bit later for some reason.

"But we want to get him a minimum of six starts and get him stretched out to 95 or 100 pitches. Get him up to the highest level of Minor League baseball where he's pitching to better hitters there at the end."

Price seemed pleased with Bailey's continued progress. A scout who watched the session had Bailey top out at 92 mph on his radar gun.

Walking away from Field 2 after the session, Price confirmed that May 1 was indeed the projected date for Bailey to return to the Majors. He also said he was not concerned with the accelerated pace of Bailey's comeback.

"He would have been ready for Opening Day, but we didn't want to push him," Price said.

Bailey said he's been throwing without pain since September. Like most pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, he's eager to get back on the mound in the Majors. The next step is a simulated game, and if all goes well, Bailey will begin a series of six starts probably here in camp while the Reds head east to open the season at home on April 4 against the Phillies.

"I feel like I've been waiting a long time," he said. "[The recovery] went a lot smoother than I expected, especially after I started throwing. I mean, from the first day, I haven't had any discomfort yet. I feel like I'm right on track to where I would be normally at this point after two live batting practices."

Bailey started two games in 2015, last pitching in the Majors on April 23 at Milwaukee. Bailey began that season on the disabled list, missing all of Spring Training in recovery from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm on Sept. 5, 2014.

In comparison, other teams have been a lot more reticent about allowing their pitchers to return too quickly after Tommy John surgery.

Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish had Tommy John surgery on March 17, 2015, and isn't projected to return until the end of May at the earliest.

Mets right-hander Matt Harvey had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 22, 2013, and the club had him sit out the entire 2014 season. He wasn't reintegrated into the rotation until Spring Training 2015.

Tyler Skaggs is just returning to the Angels. The left-hander underwent the surgery on Aug. 23, 2014, and hadn't pitched in 19 months.

Patrick Corbin, another left-hander, had his surgery on March 25, 2014, and didn't return to the D-backs' rotation until this past July 4, a period of just about 16 months.

The overabundance of caution is based on the latest research.

Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedic surgeon who conducts most of the Tommy John surgeries, said last year research now shows that the closer a pitcher rehabs to the full 18 months, the less likely it is he'll have to undergo the surgery a second time.

Andrews said 50 percent of all Tommy John patients have to have the surgery again, putting their baseball careers at greater risk.

Andrews didn't operate on Bailey. Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Reds' renowned medical director, performed the surgery and is overseeing Bailey's recovery. Cincinnati is obviously taking a much more aggressive approach with a pitcher who has four years remaining on a six-year contact, worth $105 million.

Bailey said he's comfortable with the current timeline, considering the consequences.

"You're going to have to talk to the doctors about that," he said. "I do what the doctors, trainers and physical therapists tell me to do."

Price also agrees with the approach the club is taking. And so far this spring, he likes what he sees in Bailey.

"He's great. He's coming along very nicely," Price said. "He doesn't look [like he was hurt]. He really doesn't and he hasn't since I got here. I think he had two bullpens under his belt when he got out here in Arizona. So he wasn't that far behind. It was just the endurance stuff and the throwing protocol for a guy coming off surgery.

"It's a lot more extended, obviously, than a guy coming in healthy. That's what's put him behind schedule. But he looks great. He looks strong. He doesn't look like an injury rehab guy at all."

Only time will tell if the Reds are right.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.