When Eric Hurley toes the rubber against the Iowa Cubs on April 8, it will be his first regular-season appearance since he faced the Oakland Athletics on July 27, 2008.
After that start in the Oakland Coliseum, the right-hander was shut down for the remainder of the ’08 season with discomfort in his shoulder. He attempted to rehab the injury for over half a year before undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and a frayed labrum.
Hurley began throwing light bullpen sessions in January 2010 and was initially slated for a return to game action in May. However, he broke a bone in his left wrist during spring training that March. He needed three total surgeries––with the last coming in late-June––to repair the wrist.
Not surprisingly, Hurley’s first two outings in the Arizona Fall League were a bit shaky. He showed plenty of rust, struggling with command and yielding five runs on six hits and five walks over 4.2 innings.
Surprise Rafters (and High-A Myrtle Beach) pitching coach Brad Holman noticed a few issues in Hurley’s delivery early on.
“The first couple starts, he was okay,” Holman said. “You could tell that he wasn’t at his best or feeling at his best. In watching him after a couple starts, we realized that his lead arm was low. His glove was underneath his front elbow and he was scooping it sideways. It was leaving his front side moving toward first base. As a result, his arm was dragging and he was getting some soreness in his elbow.”
After making adjustments, Hurley began to see some immediate progress in terms of stuff, command, and results. The 25-year-old didn’t surrender a single run over his final four starts with the Rafters. In 20 innings, he yielded 10 hits while walking four and fanning 12.
“We went to the bullpen and changed his front side,” Holman said during the Fall League season. “We got his lead arm working up and over his delivery. As a result, he is able to work behind the baseball better and pitch down in the zone.
“It has helped with his deception, command, and stuff as well. So lately, he has been 92-94 mph with his fastball. The last three outings have all been five-inning shutouts, so his last 15 innings, he hasn’t given up a run. It’s a credit to him. He was able to make an adjustment and take it right out to the mound.”
By the end of Hurley’s six starts with the Rafters, he was showing above-average fastball velocity to go with a slider that improved with each outing.
Hurley didn’t have quite the same velocity when he fired it up again during spring training, but the results were excellent. Touching up to 92 mph and working more in the 86-90 mph range, the former top prospect yielded just one run on four hits in nine big league innings. He walked two and struck out five.
Although his velocity wasn’t dominant, Hurley was doing an excellent job of commanding all three of his pitches––fastball, slider, and changeup––down in the zone and to both sides of the plate. He was attacking hitters, mixing pitches, and commanding more like a veteran than a hurler that hadn’t made a game appearance in over two years.
Hurley's fastball doesn't have a lot of natural life, making his command of the pitch even more important. He had a tendency to live up in the zone prior to surgery, and he surrendered 20 round-trippers in 98.1 innings between Triple-A and the majors in '08. While he hasn't pitched in an official game since then, he is working lower and appears to have matured on the mound.
As Hurley explains below, he reverted to his former split-change grip while throwing bullpen sessions in Arizona with veteran catcher Toby Hall last summer. The righty is having some success with the pitch, finding it easier to command.
Hurley is opening the season in the Triple-A Round Rock rotation, and he will look to regain the low-90s velocity that he showed during the Arizona Fall League stint. If the former first-round pick remains healthy, he appears to have the stuff and pitchability necessary to be a contributor in Arlington––perhaps even as a starting pitcher––at some point this season.
Jason Cole: First off, just tell me how nice it is to be out of Arizona and with an affiliate.
Eric Hurley: Unbelievable. It feels great. I think the thing I missed most about this game was being in the clubhouse and spending time with the guys. Just the stuff that goes on during BP, the storytelling, and stuff like that. That’s a pretty good time.
Cole: You were out there for over two years I think. Did you ever count the days?
Hurley: I never thought about counting them (laughs). But I might now though if I get bored. It’s probably a lot. Like you said, it has been such a long time since I put a uniform on with a name on my back. It’s just a good feeling.
Cole: How difficult was it, going out there and doing the same thing every day during rehab?
Hurley: It gets pretty mundane after awhile. You can’t say enough about the training staff for the Rangers and everybody at TMI with Meister and those guys. I’ve been pretty blessed with some people that really care about what they’re doing. It has been a long road.
Cole: I guess it’s kind of the obvious question, but how is the arm and wrist feeling right now?
Hurley: Everything feels good––everything feels great. I’m participating every day. It feels good to be able to go out there.
Cole: Just tell me what it was like being back on the mound in a competitive situation again when you were pitching in the Fall League.
Hurley: It was nice. I think, the first time I went out, I was kind of nervous. It has been awhile. You throw live BPs, but there’s nobody behind you. I was turning around and seeing the guys behind me. Everybody out there was busting their tail and I was fortunate to throw up a few zeros. The defense played great. In spring training, I thought I threw the ball pretty well and the defense played great behind me again. I was just trying to keep the ball in play.
Cole: Overall, what were your thoughts on your Arizona Fall League performance?
Hurley: I thought I threw the ball pretty good. I made some good adjustments and worked with Brad Holman a lot. It was one of those things where we worked in one bullpen and it just kind of clicked out there. I stuck with it.
Cole: I interviewed Holman about it during the AFL season. What were the adjustments that you guys made to get you going in the right direction?
Hurley: I raised my front side up a little bit. We were working on a different arm path to the plate. I kept my body on line. Then I was a lot more consistent.
Cole: Did you feel your previous mechanics were contributing to the shoulder problem at all?
Hurley: No. I think it was just wear and tear. It was just one of those things where it was in my cards. I battled through it though. You can’t say enough about Brad Holman, really. He has been my savior right now. I got to work with Terry Clark a lot in spring training, and I’m getting to work with him here. We’re just pounding some basics right now. So far, so good.
Cole: You got around nine innings in big league games this spring. How did you feel those went?
Hurley: That was great. It was fun to get out there and face big league hitters again, for sure. It was kind of early in the spring and hitters are still trying to see pitches and stuff like that, but still to go out there in a competitive situation was great. And to just put that Texas uniform on again in its own was amazing. I think I took a picture of my jersey in the locker room the first day.
Cole: It seemed that you had pretty good command of all three pitches in camp, especially given that you were still coming back from the injuries. Do you feel that, even in your time off, you were still able to develop as a pitcher?
Hurley: Absolutely. I got a chance to work on my changeup a ton. I was just pounding my changeup. It all started when Toby Hall was rehabbing with us. Me and him, all we did was changeup, changeup, changeup. I just beared down on it, trying to find something that works. I went back to a grip that Terry Clark showed me––a little split-fingered change. He showed it back to me whenever I played for him in Double-A. I went back to it, and me and Toby just pounded it. It ended up working.
Cole: And you feel like you have pretty good command of it now, I assume.
Hurley: Yeah, I’ve been throwing it to righties and lefties behind in the count or in full counts.
Cole: Obviously you got work in the Fall League and spring training, but how much are you looking forward to getting on the mound in the regular season when the numbers count?
Hurley: I can’t wait. These fans here are unbelievable. The hospitality here already with me, my wife, and my kids has been awesome. I can’t wait to throw. They’re going to pack the house almost every night, and I’m looking forward to pitching in front of this crowd, for sure.
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