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By Jon Weisman
Joe Wieland has already made it back. More than two years after July 2012 Tommy John surgery, the 6-foot-3 righthander pitched in four games for the San Diego Padres this past September, including an 84-pitch start September 24 that gave him his first big-league win.
The kinks, literally and figuratively, have been worked out, and having come to Los Angeles alongside Yasmani Grandal in the de facto three-way trade with the Padres and Philadelphia, Wieland is completely ready to take on 2015 as one of the new members of the Dodger pitching staff.
“It’s been a normal offseason — finally,” Wieland said today, in a brief moment between playtime with children at a Special Olympics event on the Dodgers’ Pitching in the Community caravan. “This is the first time in three years I’ve had a normal offseason. I’ve just been puting on weight, getting stronger, getting ready for spring. Arm feels great.”
Wieland, who said he will start throwing bullpen sessions in about a week, said that he didn’t have to hold back once he started his rehab assignment last summer. In nine minor-league games covering 38 2/3 innings, he struck out 36 while walking six, allowing 33 hits.
“I was full go the whole time,” he said. “My UCL, the graft they put in, never had any issues. It was the back of the elbow that I was having problems with. Fortunately, we were able to find out what was wrong and take care of that, but I never had any issues of concern, being a little conservative, trying to hold back.”
Command is a big part of Wieland’s game — he has walked exactly 100 batters in 515 2/3 professional innings while striking out 476 — and with just a little bit of lag, it came back when he did.
“My curveball took longer to come back, just finding that release point,” Wieland said. “But the command was there.”
Though he was touched up for four runs in 2 1/3 innings in his MLB return (which took place at inhospitable Coors Field in Colorado), the memory of simply making it back to a big-league mound remains a powerful one for Wieland.
“It was incredible,” said Wieland, a Reno native who turned 25 on January 21. “It’s hard for me to put words to it. It meant a lot. I went through 28 months of being off the mound, and it was very humbling. … I was in Arizona most of the time doing my rehab, because I was continually one step away from being on a rehab assignment, and I kept having a setback. (I learned) the importance of staying focused and not losing your focus for a split second. At this level, it takes all that you have, every pitch, every second, to be successful.
“I learned a lot in that time — a lot of patience. I learned how to prepare myself the right way and how I needed to take care of myself. I feel like there were times I took some things for granted. You never want to have an injury, but I feel like God told me, ‘Until you’re ready, until you appreciate what you have, I’m gonna keep you off the field.’ So when I finally started appreciating it, I started getting healthy, and next thing you know, I’m out on the mound throwing.”
The Dodgers have five veteran starting pitchers ahead of Wieland on everyone’s depth chart, but that’s not going to make him a wallflower at Spring Training.
“I’m gonna go into camp and just show ’em what I have, and I’ll let them make the decision,” he said. “I’m 100 percent ready to go, and I’m gonna do all I can to make it a hard decision on them.”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Just coming up and helping the community and just putting a jersey on definitely makes me feel like a Dodger. It feels great. It’s an honor to play for such a storied franchise. It’s a huge honor, and I’m very excited.”