Thursday, April 21, 2011
Brett Tomko finally gets back to majors
By Richard Durrett
ARLINGTON, Texas -- There were times over the last 18 months in which Brett Tomko thought he wouldn't ever see another big league mound again.
“I wanted to be here more than I wanted to be in the big leagues in the first place,” said Tomko, who was called up Wednesday to be one of the club's long relievers. It comes after he signed a minor-league deal this offseason, performed well in spring training and kept working on things at Triple-A Round Rock.
Tomko returned to the last big league stadium in which he pitched, back in 2009. It was in Arlington, as the A's and Rangers played out the string late in the 2009 season, that Tomko's career was altered with one pitch to Chris Davis.
"I told CD that if he'd been a Punch-and-Judy hitter, I might not have felt the need to throw it that hard," Tomko said.
But as he released a fastball toward Davis in the ninth inning of what would become a complete-game shutout in a 9-0 Oakland win, Tomko felt something pop.
"I thought my bicep had torn," Tomko said. "I was feeling around and noticed it was still there."
He told his catcher, Kurt Suzuki, that something was wrong and to keep calling curve balls, figuring he could finish the inning if he stayed away from the hard stuff. After the game, an impressive 114-pitch effort with five hits allowed, Tomko was having a drink when he noticed the glass felt like 20 pounds.
"I went back to ice the area and by 3 in the morning, part of my forearm was numb," Tomko said. "It just got worse."
Tomko was diagnosed with a nerve problem. He said when he threw the pitch to Davis, his nerve tightened and then stretched out. The result was nearly his entire right arm was numb and tingly. And surgery wasn't an option.
"I sort of wish I could have had surgery because it would have fixed something right away," Tomko said. "Instead, I just had to wait for the nerve to heal."
He was told it would be one inch per month.
"I took an ice cube and put in on my arm to see if I could feel the cold," Tomko said, showing an area just below his elbow. "I couldn't feel it and then a few weeks later, I could. It just kept working it's way down."
Tomko shaved the hair on his forearm because whenever the hair moved, it felt like his arm was burning. At first, he even cut off the sleeves on his sweatshirts because he didn't want anything touching the arm.
"Now I don't feel it when I pitch," Tomko said. "It gets tingly sometimes, but it's just fine out there."
Tomko got emotional as he recounted conversations with his wife, Julia, when he lost arm strength and was throwing 80 mph and wondering if he'd ever regain his velocity.
"I was in Stockton last year and all of a sudden my velocity jumped 2 mph and then it jumped 2 more and I thought, 'Maybe I'm on the way back,'" Tomko said.
The Rangers took a flier on Tomko this offseason, signing him to a minor-league contract. Tomko felt he could come in and prove himself. He was brought over the major league side of camp midway through spring training and was one of the final cuts made before the season started.
Tomko was in the starting rotation and was 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in two starts for Round Rock. He pitched into the seventh inning in his most recent start and allowed two hits until a couple of walks hurt him and inflated his line.
"The numbers aren’t the best but I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well," Tomko said. "I feel like my stuff is good."
Tomko has been primarily a starter throughout his career. He pitched 15 games in relief with the Yankees in 2009. He's with the Rangers in case he's needed in long relief.