It's been two years since Eric Hurley was on the minds of most Rangers fans. That's understandable. He missed 2009 with shoulder surgery (torn rotator cuff) and then fractured a bone in his wrist during 2010 spring training and had three surgeries to repair it (he even had to get a new screw at one point). He returned to the mound in the Arizona Fall League at the end of last year and turned some heads.
We talked briefly here on the blog about Hurley in November, but I heard his name mentioned again by some Rangers officials last week and I thought I'd see what he had to say about his progress. Hurley, 25, finished the Fall League on a roll. He didn't allow a run in his final four starts and was 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in 24 2/3 innings pitched. He had 14 strikeouts and nine walks and was second in the AFL in ERA among starters.
"I feel like it was definitely a confidence booster," Hurley said. "When you haven't pitched in so long, you want to go out there and see results. I wanted to see it for myself. I busted my butt as much as I could and stayed in shape. But it's different when you're out there pitching on a regular schedule."
Hurley said he started the AFL with a brace on his left wrist, but that didn't last long.
"I felt like it was shielding my front side from where I needed to be," Hurley said. "I took it off after a week or so. I got more flex in my wrist."
Hurley credits some changes in his mechanics with pitching coach Brad Holman, who worked with Hurley in Arizona.
"Things took off from there," Hurley said.
Holman said Hurley's velocity started at around 87 mph, but once the mechanical changes were implemented, he's hitting 93 mph. Hurley is throwing more sliders and changing speeds on his two-seam fastball. Hurley didn't throw a bunch of changeups in the AFL, but did work on the pitch a lot during his rehab.
Now his mission is to come to spring training (a bit under the radar) and compete for a spot on the team.
"I haven’t been around a whole lot and with the team doing as well as they did last year, they got all the media attention and they deserved it," Hurley said. "It was fun watching them play. But the only thing I could think of was getting better to be on that squad next year and be able to do what they did.
"You feel like you’re getting left out a little bit, but I had to do what I had to do. I don’t feel like I was forgotten. It’s going to be different this spring training. There are so many guys competing and it's going to be a touch crowd no matter who you are to make that team out of camp. I have to considetnly get hitters out to do that. I need to throw the ball the way I did in the fall league. That's my focus."
Don't count him out. He sounded determined and confident. Holman said Hurley just needs to build off his finish, which included 20 straight shutout innings in the AFL.
"The guy that pitched those last four starts can compete for a spot," Holman said. "It's probably a little unrealistic to think he can make the team after missing most of the last two years, but he's pitching well and is delivery has improved. He's working hard and he sure showed he could pitch at the end of the fall."