After the Nats decided to take a precautionary step of slowing down his rehab during spring training, the right-hander is now doing so well that he is about to take that next step in his rehab throwing program.
“I should be throwing bullpens in the next three weeks,” Denaburg said. “I go 150 feet throwing-wise, the next week 180 feet and then the week after that long toss, hopefully. If they approve of it, then I have that, which is really good.”
Compare how Denaburg feels health-wise currently to how he felt in March and he will tell you there is a big difference.
“I am feeling a lot better than when I first started in spring training,” Denaburg said. “When I first started in spring training, it was a like a rush to break off with all the throwing. I ended up having to take a month break right when they ended the season. They said, ‘We want you to just chill, see what happens and we will go from there.’ Then I came back and started throwing at my house and it progressed quickly. I haven’t had problems with anything since.”
Obviously Denaburg, 20, was hoping that when he arrived at spring training the first time he would have been able to ramp up quickly. But his surgically repaired shoulder did not respond as well as he had hoped.
“Like a week or two into early camp, I was having some discomfort, a little bit of my lat, which was no big deal and nothing was wrong,” he said. “I just wasn’t used to all the throwing and stuff. So they said, ‘Hey, we are just going to have you take a break.’ Obviously, the week after all the stuff shut down with the virus. So I went home.”
The Nationals’ physical therapist in Melbourne, Fla., Brian Pogue, then continued working with Denaburg. His throwing program started out at 60 feet with 25 throws a day for one week. The next week, they did two sets of 25 throws per day, then three sets the next week.
Fast-forward to the more recent segment of his throwing program and he has worked from 60 feet to 90 feet to 120 feet. Denaburg said he has been allowed to “progress a lot quicker, which is nice.”
During the shutdown, Denaburg had his father record videos of his throwing program and send them to the Nats. The right-hander would get responses from the senior advisor of player development Spin Williams on his progress.
“I’m sending it to Spin and (the medical and rehab coordinator) Jonathan Kotredes. He gives them to (pitching coordinator) Brad Holman,” Denaburg said. “They are 40-second clips. Spin breaks it down, texts me if it’s good (and) if it’s not, he will call me and I’ll fix it for the next time. He’s mostly looking at where my elbow is and how I am finishing and the rotation of the ball as well.”
During the rehab, Denaburg also had gym time where he focused on his strength, cardio and conditioning program. With all the weightlifting, throwing and running with his brother, Brady, the 6-foot-4 right-hander has dropped a good amount of weight since his arrival at spring training back in early January.
“I actually have a gym in my back yard,” Denaburg said. “My dad, when we were in high school, he built a shed. We have a squat rack, bench press, dumbbells. We pretty much have everything I need to do what I would do in West Palm. I’ve used it to my advantage. I think I have lost close to 20 lbs. from when I was in spring training to now, which is weight I needed to lose.”
But the big deal in all of this is how well his throwing shoulder has progressed since the October cleanout, including the bump in the road in early March. The shoulder issue was actually something Denaburg has had to deal with since 2018.
“I have had this issue from when I first got into pro ball pretty much until they fixed it,” Denaburg said. “It would bother me some days and some days it wouldn’t. But it never felt right.”
The problem became something the club and Denaburg had to deal with after an Aug. 3 matchup in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League where he was only able to record five outs over 11 batters.
“I never felt the confidence to go out and throw the ball as hard I could because I was always worried about my shoulder,” Denaburg said. “And that one day at the Cardinals place was like the final (straw), it was just too much.
“I think with all that stuff going on, like my velocity not being there, I had to be the pitcher that I never was. I had to throw different pitches behind (in) counts and work on new stuff to try to get people out.”
When he is on, he has a strong fastball and a very good slider. Denaburg believes he can get his changeup going, too, once he gets back to repetition of pitches that comes from several starts in a row.
“My fastball is definitely my favorite pitch because it’s easier to control for me,” Denaburg said. “I’d say my slider is my second favorite to throw. I really need to work on my changeup. I have a lot to work on with that pitch, but it’s definitely getting a lot better. It was getting a lot better at the end of last year, which is good.”
Denaburg is happy with his recent progress and is excited to get going on a more accelerated throwing program in the next couple of weeks.
Because his shoulder feels normal again.
“Yes, you can definitely tell the difference,” Denaburg said. “At first, I was like this is a little weird. But then now, after it’s been like three or four months, I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I feel like myself again.”
First-round picks Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Seth Romero are with the Nats in the current 60-man player pool. Denaburg is the only first-rounder in the last four years not a part of this current summer camp.
But what separates Denaburg from other top selections who might be disappointed in not being included this season is that the right-hander is completely focused on returning to 100 percent health. That’s his biggest goal right now. He understands the Nats have placed him on a different time track than other pitchers. There’s no hurry.
“I’m not really trying to rush anything and I don’t think they are either,” Denaburg said. “As long as Spin and Brad and Jon are happy with my progression each week, I think I’m pretty happy. Just taking it a week at a time.”
Flashback to Oct. 30, 2019, and Denaburg was pumped up to watch the Nats on television win the World Series in a thrilling Game 7 in Houston.
“It was crazy. Me and my friend had an apartment and we had a bunch of people over back when you could actually have people over,” Denaburg said. “They all played on other teams but it was really cool to watch them win.”
Now fast-forward a few seasons. Denaburg is determined that someday he will be the one helping the Nats to another title.
“It just gives you and extra motivation to say, ‘Wow, maybe that could be me in a couple years,’ ” he said.