Chico ready to return better than ever

Nationals lefthander Matt Chico missed most of the 2009 season after having elbow surgery in 2008. Chico is optimistic he can return even better than he was before the surgery because he is pain free for the first time since his first spring training in 2004.

I had a chance to talk with Matt as he prepares in Viera for spring training.

How does elbow feel?

“I pitched 83 innings last year in Low A and Double A. I made three or four starts. Everything was good at that point. Some simple soreness you are supposed to have. It wasn’t anything that I had felt the previous three or four seasons. Now I am 19 to 20 months out from the surgery and it feels night and day.”

Matt Chico

How did you pitch with all that pain?

“For me I just kind of got used to it. For a while the pain would go away. But I couldn’t extend my arm all the way or touch my shoulder for three or four years. Then all of sudden in 2008 it wasn’t feeling right and it just popped.”

Have you talked to anyone else who went through similar issues after surgery?

“Actually, Jordan Zimmermann had some questions. We go back and forth with war stories. He is going through what I went through right now. I talked to Shaun Hill a little as well. He was going through a second post-surgery and gave me some pointers on how to approach some things: don’t do this, don’t push it.”

Was it tough not to go all out when you felt well?

“It was pretty hard. I had a lot of those days in extended throwing sessions where I was feeling good. I remember one day where I went out to long toss and got out to 180 feet and felt good. I hadn’t been able to do that in three or four years. Then when I went to 220 and it went okay, but the next two or three days I felt the elbow again. So I took it easy after that and didn’t push things. I am fine now.”

You relocated a couple of years ago to the Viera area to be close to the complex, how has it been for you this offseason living so close to Space Coast stadium?

“I have been doing baseball related stuff since early December. I wanted to start my throwing a little earlier. We had a baby son in late December (second child, congrats!), so I knew I would be busy and wanted to get a head start.”

With the Nats making so many offseason moves, especially to the pitching staff, do you relish the upgraded competition?

“The whole competition for spots makes it fun going out there to pitch. I was thinking, for me, if there wasn’t a competition you are not going to do your best. It pushes me a lot if there are other guys there you try to out-perform. Better competition makes for a pretty good pitching staff.”

So with your left arm feeling so good, are your ready for spring training?

“I feel better arm-wise than I have since my first spring training in 2004. After that it kind of went down hill. I was never right. I tried to change mechanics. I tried to make it so my arm did not hurt anymore. That threw off my speed and then my knees starting hurting. I was putting pressure on myself because I knew how I was doing and couldn’t do anything about it.

“I was never able to accomplish want I wanted to because of certain things going on (with my arm). Now I feel good and I will try to make the rotation. I am just happy I am healthy and I can still pitch.”

What is it like to have Steve McCatty as your pitching coach?

“Steve McCatty is a great coach and a great person. He helped me in 2007 when I went down there for two weeks. He helped me work on my mechanics.”

The 2009 spring training has a different feeling with all these changes, doesn’t it?

“It does. It won’t be the 100 losses of the last couple of years. I think it is going to be more successful because it is a whole different team, especially the bullpen. We now have some experience in the bullpen, ten times better than it has been the last three or four years, especially with the year Tyler Clippard had last season.”

Being from San Diego, do you know Stephen Strasburg?

“I didn’t before but we came to find out I went to high school with his wife’s cousin. So we all know some of the same people.”

Chico is ready for Friday with the first workouts scheduled for this weekend. Matt will keep us updated as spring training gets underway.

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