At this point, all Nick Vander Tuig can do is smile and brace for what’s ahead.
Because the baseball gods have proven to be fickle and, in his case, cruel.
What else can a professional pitcher do when he’s approaching his second Tommy John surgery, all before his 24th birthday?
“I’m not really in control. All I can do is my part to stay healthy,” said Vander Tuig, the Oakdale High graduate who was off to a strong start this spring with the San Jose Giants. “I will play as long as I can. If my body doesn’t allow me to, I’ll hang it up if I need to hang it up.”
Vander Tuig, one of the stars of UCLA’s march to the College World Series championship in 2013, has been sidetracked by some discouraging déjà vu. He underwent his first Tommy John surgery, performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum (he died in May 2013) as an Oakdale junior and missed his senior year.
His rehab was a success. He was named second-team All-America as a UCLA senior, a season in which he was 14-4 with a 2.16 ERA. He saved his best for the NCAA tournament – 4-0 and only one earned run in his final 21-plus innings. His eight innings of shutout ball in the championship game, an 8-0 win over Mississippi, escorted the Bruins to their first national baseball title.
Better still, Vander Tuig appeared to be on the right track after he was signed by San Francisco. He started this season in the San Jose bullpen and eventually became a starter. His 3-0 record and 2.73 ERA indicated progress.
His problem started when he felt something in his arm April 26 at Bakersfield, though he dismissed it as scar tissue from the previous surgery. His velocity dropped over his next two starts, however, and his forearm tightened May 16 at Bakersfield.
“Nothing popped. There was no pain, but I told the coaches I thought my arm would pop if I threw another one,” Vander Tuig said.
An MRI three weeks ago confirmed the bad news. The surgery, originally scheduled for Friday, was reset for next Wednesday. Dr. Neal ElAtrrache, Yocum’s assistant during Vander Tuig’s first operation, will repair his arm.
“You hate to see kids come up here and get hurt,” Giants manager Russ Morman said. “Such a tough break.”
Vander Tuig was in good spirits as he chatted a few hours before San Jose closed its three-game series against the Modesto Nuts on Wednesday night.
He’s been told the recovery time after the second Tommy John is 14 to 18 months. Besides missing the rest of this season, he probably will be out all of 2016.
“There is a 35 percent success rate the second time around,” he said. “The guys who usually have the second one are 35 or 40. I’m 23. My chances (to recover faster) should be higher.”
Another plus is his experience. He’s been through it all, the surgery and the long rehab.
“It’s been a little journey,” he summarized. “It’s part of the game. I’ve got my head on straight, and the Giants are really good. They take care of their players. It’s going to happen, so I’m ready for it. I have a really good work ethic. It’s just frustrating not being able to play, especially after the start I had.”
Wednesday’s late game – Harrison Musgrave won his eighth game of the season and his Modesto teammates pounded out 14 hits in support as the Nuts defeated the San Jose Giants 7-2 Wednesday night in a California League baseball game at John Thurman Field. The Nuts took two out of three from the Giants.
Musgrave (8-1), compiling his fifth straight quality start, pitched seven strong innings and allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out five. He hasn’t lost since his first start of the season on April 12 at Lake Elsinore.
“First time I had four pitches I could throw for strikes,” said Musgrave, who throws harder than before he underwent Tommy John surgery as a freshman at West Virginia. “I also had good defense behind me.”
Giants starter Jason Forjet was nearly as sharp, giving up just one run, five hits and a walk in five innings work. But one of those hits was Jordan Patterson’s sixth home run of the season, a solo shot to right in the fourth. It was Modesto’s 39th homer, least in the Cal League.
The Nuts would add two in the sixth – Ryan McMahon’s league-leading 24th double of the season plated Patterson, and Rosell Herrera drove in McMahon with a single to left – and then blew the game open with four in the seventh. Correlle Prime had a two-run single, Cesar Galvez drove in a run with a single, and another run came in an on error.
McMahon bounced back from his four strikeouts Monday night. He had two hits on Tuesday and, on Wednesday, doubled to the base of the wall in right-center for the Nuts’ second run. That hit came off San Jose reliever Luis Ysla, who handed McMahon one of his strikeouts on Monday.
The Nuts will entertain High Desert (Rangers) through Sunday, before breaking for the Carolina-California All-Star Game on Tuesday in Rancho Cucamonga.
Nuts notes – Catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez (oblique) will be out for a few more weeks, manager Fred Ocasio said. Rodriguez (.234, 20 RBIs) has been out since June 2. The Nuts welcomed two new players during last week’s road trip: Catcher Jordan Parris and right-handed pitcher Alex Balog. Modesto lost 11-3 at Bakersfield on Sunday despite Balog’s five shutout innings as a starter.