In 2007 and 2008 right-hander Brandon Erbe, 24, was making his way up through the Oriole minor league system, pitching for Single-A Frederick with the Keys. Now he is back and he's delighted to be with Frederick as his comeback from labrum surgery in August of 2010 continues.
It's been a long road back for the Baltimorean and Orioles' 2005 third-round pick. Erbe pitched in just 4 2/3 innings all last year. But he recently came north to join the Keys from extended spring training.
He said is feeling great, throwing well and you can tell he is upbeat now about his present and his future.
"This is the best I've felt in two years, since before I had surgery," Erbe said last Saturday outside the Keys clubhouse. "It's just nice to be able to pitch and know every day I have the possibility to pitch. It's been a real good past two weeks here in Frederick. Just nice to be healthy. I'll never take that for granted again. I'm blessed to come back and feel good after that surgery."
He struggled with three walks in his first outing, but has pitched 8 2/3 innings since giving up seven hits and just one run with 11 strikeouts, working out of the Frederick bullpen. He pitched three shutout innings last night at Winston-Salem. Erbe is back touching 94 and 95 with his fastball and it is great to see him get back to this point.
"To see a couple of 94s and 95s helps build confidence and helps you guage where you are at," Erbe said. "I was about that (pre surgery). As a full time starter then, I was about 90 to 94. I'd get 95, 96 every now and again. For where I am right now, I'm very happy with that."
But last season was difficult for Erbe. The shoulder strength was just not there consistently and he only pitched in five games between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen.
"It was a struggle of ups and downs," Erbe said. "I would feel really good for a couple of weeks and then for a couple of weeks, feel like I had no strength. My shoulder wasn't where it needed to be on a consistent basis. A lot of highs and lows. Once the season ended I could fully focus on building (shoulder) strength and I've felt great so far.
"I had a few setbacks (last year) and there is not a specific timetable you can put on anyone's surgery. Some guys can return in nine months and never have a problem. I pitched at nine months, but then had to take time off."
Even when times were tough last season and he wasn't pitching anywhere close to what he can, Erbe never felt that his career was hanging in the balance.
"I've always been confident in myself and had faith," Erbe said. "You kind of get out of this what you put into it. I've worked very hard through the rehab process and did everything I could. But the thing is, for the rest of my career, I will always be strengthening and conditioning my shoulder. From now on it's kind of a non-stop thing.
"But now I look forward to pitching again. I want to pitch and can't wait to get out on the field. That is something I hadn't felt with my shoulder in a long time."
Erbe said there are players that he could see and that he knew in the O's organization that proved to him that you can come back all the way from labrum surgery.
"With pitchers and surgeries, there are guys that have been through it," Erbe said. "I've known guys that have gone through this and come back to pitch at a high level again. Guys like James Hoey, Troy Patton, Chorye Spoone. They have been able to tell me about it and they are very important.
"Plus my family has supported me and the Orioles have supported me 100 percent. Bringing me back when I was a free agent after last year showed they still had confidence in me. Knowing a lot of people had my back is a nice feeling and helped me keep my confidence up."
So now Erbe is working his way back and this time he feels he'll make it all the way back. Last August he was removed from the Orioles 40-man roster and cleared waivers. Now he wants to get back to the point where he can pitch well at Double-A and Triple-A. And at some point, become a pitcher the team wants to put on the 40-man roster and possibly have a future in Baltimore.
"Just to continue to progress (is my goal for this year," Erbe said. "I feel I am back on the track where I used to be if not better. As far as where I stand with the organization and where I will be later in the season, I can't tell you. There is not a specific plan. Being here is my first time pitching in a routine and in games. Maybe I can move on later to Bowie or Norfolk."