VIERA, Fla. - The call may not come tomorrow, or even in the next week or the next month. But Jordan Zimmermann is sure he'll pick up his cell phone sometime in the near future and punch in Sammy Solis' phone number. When Solis picks up, he'll have a lifeline to someone who's gone through what he's facing.
Solis, a promising left-hander, will undergo Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery in Los Angeles on Tuesday, with Dr. Lewis Yucom performing the operation that will rebuild Solis' left elbow. It's the same surgery Dr. Yocum performed on Zimmermann in August 2009 and on Stephen Strasburg in September 2010, and both of those patients made it back to the majors on the usual one-year timetable.
When Strasburg blew out his arm in Philadelphia in August 2010, short-circuiting a promising rookie campaign, Zimmermann reached out after the phenom went under the knife. Zimmermann figured their shared experience would help in the post-operative process, particularly in the first couple of months when rehabilitation is tedious. And he'll do the same with Solis, a 23-year-old who first experienced elbow trouble during the Arizona Fall League season.
"Anytime you talk to a guy who's had the surgery and gone through everything, and he can give you a little heads-up on what's coming up, it's always helpful," Zimmermann said.
Zimmermann said Solis will progress from lifting light weights to a more intense lifting program before he begins to throw in closely controlled settings. By the time he's ready to go back on the mound, Solis will have to erase any self-doubts, though he'll also be raring to move on to a more rigorous phase of the rehabilitation process.
"You're a little leery the first couple of throws after having the surgery. ... How's it going to feel? You always have in the back of your mind, is it going to tear again?" Zimmermann said.
Zimmermann actually was eager to get through the surgery because, as he reasoned, "The sooner I got the surgery, the sooner I could get back."
But there's a definite mental aspect to the recovery that doesn't always mirror the physical healing.
"For me, the big thing that kept me going is that I was going to get back in 12 months and the success rate was 80 percent, so I knew there was a really good chance I was going to come back to where I was before the surgery," Zimmermann explained. "I did all my shoulder and elbow stuff, worked real hard and was able to make it back in a year."
By the time Solis hits spring training in 2013, he'll be able to trade recovery stories with Zimmermann and Strasburg. Zimmermann said this will be when Solis will feel most at home, with baseball as a backdrop and preparation for the season ahead as the focus.
That motivation will hit another small roadblock once Solis is back on the mound in game situations. In his first full season back, he'll be limited, just as Zimmermann was last season and Strasburg will be this year, to about 160 innings. That's the blueprint the Nationals have laid out for their pitchers after Tommy John surgery, and they won't deviate from the template.
"It's a pretty strict schedule, I guess," Zimmermann said. "He ain't going to throw more than 160 (innings), or he may go a couple of innings over. I'm sure he'll be the same way as me and Stephen. Stephen's come back just fine. I've come back just fine. And it's proven it's going to work, so they'll keep him on the same (program)."