Drew Hutchison is yet another step closer to returning for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Buffalo Bisons announced yesterday that Hutchison has joined the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate. He will start tonight as the Bisons play host to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
It’s been a turbulent ride for the uber-talented Hutchison to start his MLB career. He tore through the Toronto Blue Jays farm system and was called up at the tender age of 21 to become the Jays’ fifth starter in late April of last year.
Despite pitching only 31.2 inning of Double-A ball, Hutchison almost immediately made an impact for Toronto. He allowed only three hits and struck out nine over seven shut-out innings on May 28, 2012 against the Baltimore Orioles. For the season he started 11 games and had a respectable 4.60 ERA, 7.5 SO/9 and 2.45 SO/BB.
But on June 15, 2012 against the Philadelphia Phillies Hutchison left the game with an apparent injury in the first inning. This came only two days after Kyle Drabek had also suffered what looked at the time to be an obvious arm injury.
At first the news around Hutchison was framed as positive. It was tweeted by Robert Griffin of the Toronto Star that Alex Anthopoulos said Hutchison wouldn’t need Tommy John surgery. NBC Hardball Talk reported Hutchison was diagnosed with a strained ulnar collateral ligament and would be shut down for 4-6 weeks. If all went to plan, he would resume a throwing program with hopes he could return to action sometime in 2012.
Except as we all know far too well now, that throwing program never happened. Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun was the first to announce that Hutchison would in fact need Tommy John surgery to repair his damaged elbow. He went under the knife in August last year approximately six weeks after Drabek had the same surgery, which was the second Tommy John procedure for Drabek. The renowned physician Dr. James Andrews performed surgery for both Hutchison and Drabek in 2012.
Exactly one year later, it appears as though Hutchison is almost back. After blowing away the competition for Single-A Dunedin, he looked just as good when he was called up to Double-A for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. In 16.1 innings (8.2 in Single-A, 7.2 in Double-A) since returning from surgery, Hutchison has struck out 22 batters (12 in A, 10 in AA) and allowed 8 walks (2 in A, 6 in AA).
He looks to be nearly stretched out as he threw 75 pitches his last outing, 47 of which were for strikes. Hutchison struck out seven over 4.1 innings and allowed only 3 hits, one walk and one earned run.
As I mentioned in my article about Drabek on Sunday (in case you missed it, here you go), it’s always tough to measure how minor league success will extrapolate especially when a player has already faced a higher level of competition.
Jay Blue from Jays Journal dispatched in his June 25 Minor League Report that Hutchison was sitting comfortably at 92-93 MPH, which is a great sign for the recovering pitcher. Based on every Blue Jays blogger’s unofficial radar gun source Clint @StivBators, Hutchison wasn’t hitting 97 MPH in Dunedin as rumored but Clint says he hit 98 MPH on the gun for New Hampshire a few times, although he does appear to doubt the radar gun’s accuracy.
The Bowie broadcast just said Hutch has been throwing anywhere from 92-98
— Clint (@StivBators) July 30, 2013
@RJBrasilcdn they've said it twice now, I don't believe, likely a hot gun
— Clint (@StivBators) July 30, 2013
@TheJaysProdigy I've had two people associated with Dunedin tell me he never once hit 97 in Dunedin.
— Clint (@StivBators) July 31, 2013
So he might not be hitting 98 MPH. But it appears his velocity is right where the Blue Jays want it to be and he’s still throwing the ball hard.
Regardless of the overwhelming lack of competition there has been much slowing down Hutchison’s return to the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s not exactly up against a Triple-A powerhouse tonight in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but they should prove to be his most difficult test since returning from surgery.
If I didn’t have a wedding to attend tomorrow night I would probably be headed across the Peace Bridge to watch Hutchison pitch live. If you can’t make it to the game (like me) but are interested in listening, here’s the link for all the Bisons games from TuneIn radio.