Former Astros Pitcher Brandon Backe Details Recovery From Tommy John Surgery

Backe also had insight into Lance McCullers' comeback

Brandon Scott
March 14, 2020 - 6:51 pm

(SportsRadio 610) Former Astros pitcher Brandon Backe can identify with what Lance McCullers Jr. is going through in 2020. 

McCullers is in his first season back after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He is expected to be a force in the Astros' rotation, despite the likelihood of limiting his workload. 

McCullers is admired in the Astros locker room for his fiery competitiveness, and he isn't a fan of slow-pedaling his way back. 

Neither was Backe, who detailed his 2006-2007 recovery with Clint Stoerner and Cecil Shorts III.

It's very painful. It's a long process. Backe, though, was back in the big leagues 11 months after surgery. Typically, the recovery is 12-14 months.

Backe was extra motivated because he wanted a new contract. McCullers, who avoided arbitration with the Astros for a one-year, $4.1 million deal in 2020, will be arbitration-eligible for a fourth and final time after this season.

"I pushed the issue just because of my contractual reasons," Backe said. "I was going into a contract year where I felt that if I could prove that I was healthy at the end of this season, it's going to only benefit me for the following season. So I pushed the envelope and I got back within the last month of the season, pulled off five starts, did pretty good. And I'm not going to lie, after every start, my elbow was very sore. More sore than normal.

"So I did it. It worked out well for me. I think it helped me for the next contract. But you really don't feel 100 percent until 20 to 24 months after your surgery. It just takes that long for your body to recuperate."

It's been 16 months since McCullers underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. 

McCullers threw 50 pitches Wednesday in the Astros' final spring training game before Major League Baseball suspended play due to the coronavirus outbreak. Thirty-one of his pitches were strikes, and his velocity was in the mid-90s.

McCullers told reporters he's really starting to feel like himself again -- normal, without apprehension or second-guessing his pitches. 

He said his changeup Wednesday was the best he'd ever thrown it, and this is the best he's felt.

McCullers has been adamant about being against a strict innings limit, preferring to allow his body and stuff to dictate how he's managed. 

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker (right) relieves pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (43) in the third inning of a spring training game against the Washington Nationals at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports


Backe said McCullers is further along than he was more than a decade ago, but eventually the soreness is going to catch up to him.

"He's going to be fine up until a certain point, when his arm is saying 'Hey, I know your brain and the rest of your body is used to this, but this arm ain't. It's new,'" Backe said. "It's tired. It's sore. Take a break. And when he feels that, I'm not sure. Everybody's different. But there's no doubt that he's going to feel some soreness in that elbow throughout the season, if he hasn't already."

Listen to the half-hour with Backe, Stoerner and Shorts here