Cole, Vogelsong utilizing new rehab approach

Cole, Vogelsong utilizing new rehab approach

PITTSBURGH -- Gerrit Cole was throwing in left field Monday morning, winding up and delivering pitches to a bullpen catcher crouched along the foul line. Just behind the catcher stood Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage and head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk, a radar gun in his right hand.

With Cole and right-hander Ryan Vogelsong working their way back from injuries, the Pirates are trying out a different pitchers' rehab program for the first time, one involving more pitching and less throwing.

The difference may not seem obvious to most casual observers, but Tomczyk's idea -- something he saw implemented during his time with the Dodgers -- is drawing rave reviews from those involved.

"I'm all in. I'm in 110 percent on what we're doing with [Cole] and what we're doing with Vogelsong," Searage said. "It's amazing."

Added Vogelsong: "I feel like it's paying off in the bullpens because I'm repeating my delivery way better than I have in a while."

That is the crux of the idea: Helping pitchers maintain their mechanics as they work their way back from an injury. Cole and Vogelsong have been throwing from 60 to 90 feet, focusing on getting full extension while still increasing the intensity of their delivery.

"I'm just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is an epiphany. You're a genius,'" Searage said of Tomczyk.

The traditional "long toss" program, heaving the ball from 60 to 150 feet, has one inherent flaw that occasionally manifests itself when pitchers get back on the mound: It's more about throwing than pitching.

To send the ball 150 feet, they have to raise their front shoulder and send a high-arcing ball that doesn't remotely follow the downhill plane they seek on the mound.

It's a natural fit for Vogelsong, on the 60-day disabled list following surgery to repair multiple facial fractures. He didn't have an arm injury, so he didn't necessarily need to rebuild his arm.

Vogelsong and Searage believe the shorter, more intense flat-ground work has transferred well to his three sessions off the slope of the mound.

"It's more of a pitching distance with max effort," Vogelsong said. "I like it because I feel like it's making my arm feel better, and it's more about repeating your delivery with effort instead of going back a long distance and having this high arm swing with an arc in your throw."

Tomczyk doesn't hold up the radar gun for Vogelsong, but he does for Cole, who's recovering from a right triceps strain. Tomczyk isn't looking for high velocity, Searage said. If Cole surpasses a certain number, Tomczyk tells him to ease up.

"The velocity is not 90-95 [mph]. It's like 75 percent," Searage said. "You start training your muscles to get back in this way as opposed to going 60, 90, 120, 150 [feet] -- now you're scratching the sky with the ball, now your release point's up here and you develop bad habits. Then all of a sudden, you've got to get the ball downhill again and it works against you.

"He's a genius."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.