Lefty Cameron Coffey finally made his anticipated minor league debut for the Orioles last August in the Gulf Coast League and he went 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in seven games.
Some fans may have assumed, as I did, that it just took time for Coffey to make it to the mound following his elbow ligament replacement surgery in March 2009.
But while Coffey's comeback from Tommy John surgery progressed fine and he was throwing well last spring training, his delay in getting in a game last summer was due to a shoulder injury.
"In spring training, everything was great," the 20-year-old Coffey said. "Around the middle of May, I started noticing my shoulder would get exhausted very quickly and after I pitched it would be sore. I reported that to the training staff.
"They shut me down and I had (a magnetic resonance angiography) and got a cortisone shot and that took care of any inflammation and I rehabbed it for six weeks and got rid of that soreness. I returned to pitch late in the year and since then it's been a lot of rest for it."
Coffey said the diagnosis was tendinopathy of two of four rotator cuff muscles. That is basically a case of shoulder tendinitis.
"It was nothing out of the ordinary and a couple of guys looked at it and no one saw anything alarming. Just rest and rehab for it. The plan for now is to give an extra month of rest for the shoulder because there is nothing better than rest for it," said Coffey, who will thus begin a throwing program in February instead of this month.
"The Orioles are trying to keep things more in the long-term for me. No one is too concerned if I break with Delmarva and we are focusing two or three years down the road in the big picture. People with the club are always calling to check on me."
Coffey became someone for fans to track when the Orioles selected him in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft out of a Houston high school. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery, he got a signing bonus of $990,000. It is one of the largest bonuses ever given to a player drafted later than the 10th round.
Coffey had a scholarship offer to Duke and most thought he was headed there until the O's over-slot bonus convinced him otherwise.
"From what I have discovered, with some players coming off Tommy John, a shoulder flare-up is not completely rare. You are rehabbing the elbow, but your shoulder has been sitting there dormant for months," Coffey said.
"No one was more disappointed than me with how last season played out. I had high hopes and expectations and it was a total letdown, but I won't let that affect me in upcoming years. I look forward to being who I was scouted as and being who I know I can be. I want to show people what I can do when I am healthy. My stuff last year was not even half of what I've got in the tank. I was feeling pretty good late last year, but the No. 1 thing for the shoulder is to rest it this offseason to solve everything for the long term."
Coffey, who hit the low to mid-90s with his velocity as a senior at Houston's Christian High, said his elbow is now sound after that 2009 surgery.
"My elbow has never felt better. I haven't felt any soreness or pain there since the surgery. I would say it's 100 percent and will be that, no doubt."
Coffey knows fans are expecting a lot from him, as he does from himself. He fully is hopeful for a healthy 2011 season, but doesn't want to proclaim himself fully healthy now. Not because he is having any concerns or issues, but after two years dealing with elbow and shoulder issues, he is optimistic but also is taking things a day at a time.
He and the club realize you can't rush health and, as a high school draft pick, it was going to take him several years to move toward the majors anyway.
"I would like to get to Delmarva this season, hopefully sooner rather than later. But I will be smart about this and take it one day at a time. I'm anxious to make some great strides in 2011," he said. "It is frustrating, because people expect something out of you when you are drafted in the 22nd round and get a million dollars. It's not a thing where working harder makes it better or I would be working myself to death. I am trying to put this in perspective for the long run."
Coffey expects to begin a throwing program next month and will have his high school pitching coach, David Evans, monitor every session.
Evans, who works with several minor leaguers, including Jameson Taillon, the second pick by Pittsburgh in last year's draft, once pitched in the Orioles' minor league system.