Crosstown: Cubs’ Codi Heuer could become White Sox’ one who got away
Heuer and the Cubs think Tommy John surgery may answer questions about the reliever’s declining velocity.
Cubs reliever Codi Heuer thought the soreness in the back of his arm late last season came from his triceps. Imaging months later revealed something else entirely.
“My ligament was torn off the bone, so I had a big gap in there,” said Heuer, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March. “So, I was actually feeling the bone on bone.”
It will be a while before Heuer, 25, will climb a big-league mound again. He expects a 15- to 16-month recovery, which puts his return at around June or July of next year. But the diagnosis at least provided answers and clear next steps.
“There’s no telling just how impacted he was by the injury,” Cubs vice president of pitching Craig Breslow said. “But I think there’s reason to be really optimistic about what he’s capable of doing when he returns. We’d identified him as a target and in that trade [with the White Sox last summer] very, very intentionally and seen some development opportunities. Unfortunately, we just didn’t really get a chance to realize those.”
Including Heuer, none of the players involved in the most recent trade between the Cubs and White Sox will appear in the second installment of the 2022 Crosstown Cup. Guaranteed Rate Field hosts the two-game series this weekend.
Second baseman Nick Madrigal, the other young talent the White Sox gave up for closer Craig Kimbrel, is scheduled to start a rehab assignment (low back strain) in Triple-A Iowa on Saturday. And Kimbrel, who the Sox traded for AJ Pollock this spring, is closing games for the Dodgers.
Initial reviews of last summer’s crosstown trade came back overwhelmingly positive, as both teams filled their diverging needs. But between the failed setup man experiment with Kimbrel on the South Side, and the surgery rehab waiting game on the North Side – first with Madrigal and now Heuer – retrospective trade grades are still on hold.
Heuer has the chance to topple the scales. If the Cubs’ post-op optimism holds true, Heuer could develop into a vital piece in their next contending team – and the one that got away in White Sox lore.
“We started to see potentially the divergence of two distinct fastball shapes, some opportunity to improve the breaking ball, obviously he had a great change,” Breslow said. “And so I think when he comes back at full strength, we’ll see a pretty exciting version of him.”
Heuer’s velocity gradually dropped over the course of last season. His fastball went from averaging 98.6 mph in his season debut with the White Sox, to 95.6 mph in his first game with the Cubs, to 93.5 mph in his last outing.
“I was a little in my head last year figuring out what’s wrong with my mechanics or whatever,” Heuer said.
Some ulnar collateral ligament injuries the player feels in the moment, as the UCL tears on one fateful pitch. Heuer’s wasn’t like that, to the point where he’s not sure when the injury occurred. And while most UCL tears present as pain on the inner side of the elbow, Hoerner’s soreness radiated from the back. So, it didn’t sound any Tommy-John-surgery alarm bells late last season.
When Heuer started ramping back up this winter, during the lockout, his recovery was slower than usual. When physical therapy didn’t eliminate the discomfort, he went in for imaging.
“I don’t know if relief is the right word,” Breslow said of his initial reaction when he heard Heuer’s diagnosis, “but it kind of explained what was going on, why was the velocity starting to trend in the wrong direction.”
Heuer underwent full UCL reconstruction and had an internal brace put in his elbow.
“I’ve still got a bunch of confidence knowing that I can go out there and get outs when I’m not feeling 100 percent. So, I’m going to carry that into whenever I’m ready to go, and build from there and keep going.”
First step: months of tedious rehab.
“I won’t be picking up a ball until September,” Heuer said.
In the meantime, as Heuer put it, he’s “doing a lot of leg days.” Last week, he declared with a smile that he’d already regained full range of motion in his elbow. That, and working out scar tissue, are the main goals in the early days of Tommy John rehab.
“But honestly, it feels pretty good,” Heuer said. “Champing at the bit to get back.”
CUBS AT WHITE SOX
Saturday:Keegan Thompson (4-0, 1.54 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (0-0, 0.00), 6:15 p.m., FOX, 670-AM
Sunday:TBD vs. Dylan Cease (4-2, 4.24), 1:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM