In his first interview since the news came out that he will need season-ending surgery on his ailing right shoulder on April 2, Orioles 2009 top draft pick Matt Hobgood said this development is encouraging to him and he said the doctor told him he should make a full recovery by next March.
Dealing with shoulder soreness since he pitched for Rookie level Bluefield in 2009, Hobgood will have the procedure performed in Wilmington, Del. by Dr. Craig Morgan, a specialist in this area.
In a lengthy phone interview this afternoon, Hobgood also pointed to some mechanical changes he was asked to make not long after he turned pro and an alteration to his long toss program that summer he believes led to his injury. As for today, though, he was just relieved that this procedure could lead to him getting his fastball back for the first time as a pro pitcher.
"There is nothing wrong with the labrum," Hobgood said. "It's not major surgery, it's minor. I'm not going to be out into next year. I'm happy and I feel this is the answer I've been looking for. A lot of people said try this, do this, and I did and none of it worked.
"I lost weight and went to a bunch of different rehab people, but Dr. Morgan seemed very confident that he had seen this before with people. It's hard to diagnose sometimes and people miss it at times. He doesn't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to come back and pitch healthy at some point next year.
"The goal is to be ready by next March and he said that is very reasonable. I feel now there is a light at the end of the tunnel and something to work towards. I am fortunate that it is not major surgery. I'll lose this season which is rough - I've already lost three in my opinion - but I'm excited that I will be able to come in next spring and show people the reason I got drafted, which I haven't been able to do the last three years.
"They are going to be tightening the area around the shoulder capsule. He told me that he didn't think, in looking at the MRI, that there was anything wrong with the rotator cuff in the back area, but that the shoulder capsule was expanded and loose, so they are going to tighten it up basically. He said that is what he feels is causing the pain."
Hobgood, who was the fifth overall pick in the draft, said he made some progress with his rehab over the winter. However, when he started throwing at spring camp in Sarasota, it became clear that it was not nearly enough progress.
"It never got to the point where I could even throw hard for a day or week," Hobgood said. "Morgan said it was like trying to put gas in a car with no tires. He said with this injury it doesn't matter what rehab you do, it wasn't going to get better. That is frustrating to think about with all the rehab I've done.
"He told me I would be able to do some small exercises the week after. I'll get the stitches taken out the week after surgery and then go straight into rehab. I'll be in a sling for four weeks. I won't pick up a ball for at least four months. I'll probably start playing catch six months after surgery if everything with rehab goes well. He said I should be ready to go by next March and should make a full recovery. Others say he is the best in the country."
I asked Hobgood if he was frustrated that none of the medical people seemed to come to this conclusion sooner.
"Your guess is as good as mine. I'm in no position, nor do I want, to blame anybody," Hobgood said. "I don't think it's anybody's fault. I'm not happy about surgery, but I feel like I've got an answer. My name has been drug through the mud the past three years, but you know, that won't matter to me as long as I can get my arm fixed."
It was not another doctor, actually, who sent Hobgood to Dr. Morgan, but rather an Orioles minor league teammate who first mentioned him to the right-hander.
"I had a teammate, Cam Roth, who sits next to me in the locker room and I was talking about my shoulder last week and he said 'Hey, I went to this guy, Dr. Morgan, he was great, you should check him out.' That is what really, along with my agent who wanted me to see him last year and we weren't able to make it happen, that is what got the ball rolling," Hobgood said.
Hobgood has never pitched with the Orioles at the velocity that he showed in high school where he said he pitched consistently with his fastball in the 92 to 94 mph range and that he often could touch 95, 96 and 97 mph.
"He told me he didn't think there is any reason why after the surgery and rehab that I should not be able to return to something a lot closer to the form I had in high school," Hobgood said. "It wouldn't be what I've been the last few years, which has been arm pain and down velocity. He was very confident that I can get back to, he didn't go as far as to say 100 percent, but very close to it and if not a full recovery to what I was before."
There has never really been a full and clear explanation why Hobgood was throwing at one velocity in high school, but only hitting 87 to 90 that first summer in Bluefield and hasn't topped that much since. He admits he gained some weight after the 2009 draft but insists that was not the reason for his velocity drop.
While being careful not to blame anyone specifically he did say he was asked to alter his pitching mechanics in Bluefield in 2009 and that he was also told he could no longer long toss at a distance of over 120 feet then.
"You can see some Youtube videos of my pitching in high school and then in pro ball and it looks nothing like it. Those are the adjustments that they tried to have me make my first year in Bluefield," Hobgood said.
"All the hardest throwers do long toss. For me, coming out long toss was something I wanted to do and they said I couldn't. I'm not blaming anybody but I think that is one of the contributing factors to my arm becoming weak and me getting hurt.
"I was told I had to stop at 120 (feet). I followed orders. Why would I change what got me drafted? For the people that have stuck with it - (Trevor) Bauer, (Dylan) Bundy - those people have done well. Maybe I can get back to the player I was in 2009. I was long tossing around 300 feet but I could not go farther than that (120 feet)."