Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #40 Johnny Hellweg

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Back in the saddle again.

After what was ultimately a five day hiatus from “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” as I decided to skip a pair of non-roster invitees (#45 Brent Leach & #41 Pete Orr) around a two retired numbers and a coach, I was able to recharge my batteries. While today begins the disjointed “through the coaches” stretch, where we only have four scheduled pieces over the next 10 days (including today), it might even allow me to work ahead a little bit and be better prepared for the Thornburg to Lind corridor which has a new article every day for a full week.

But enough about the upcoming schedule. We’re here today to talk about…

Johnny Hellweg.

JohnnyHellweg

There’s nothing quite like a season-ending injury in your fourth game of the year to eradicate the good feelings and confidence gained by coming off of a “PCL Pitcher of the Year” performance. Despite poor results in his first taste of the big leagues in 2013, Johnny David Hellweg had a very solid year two seasons ago. He not only was named as the Brewers’ Minor League Organizational Pitcher of the Year, but he won the aforementioned and similarly titled honor from the Pacific Coast League as well.

Last year around this time, I wrote about his future and how he might be contribute at the big league level again in 2014, but during the fourth start of his Triple-A season Hellweg felt a pop in the elbow of his throwing arm. He would leave the April 20th game fearing the worst.

Those fears confirmed, an increasingly common plan was set in motion within days to get Hellweg into surgery and on the comeback trail. Dr. James Andrews performed Hellweg’s surgery on April 29, 2014 so as I type Hellweg is 302 days out of surgery.

There exists good news which is that Hellweg is throwing off of a mound and rehab has gone according to plan. Hellweg remains a viable candidate to pitch competitively in 2015. Nothing is certain until it happens of course, but Hellweg is right on schedule if not a bit ahead.

This is not without bad news though as Hellweg is still a little ways off from being physically ready to contribute to any pitching rotation. As Doug Melvin recently implied, Hellweg’s availability is something they’re counting on. They hope to have it shortly into the season, but the 6’9″ right-hander will still need to build up stamina and strength while avoiding any physical setbacks over these next several weeks.

Depth at starting pitching is a known concern right now for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers, but that’s why Hellweg’s rehab is important to get right. If something catastrophic happened where you’d need two or three extra starting pitchers in mid-April, the Brewers would be scrambling a bit. Don’t misunderstand though. There are enough bodies to have somebody throw, and it’s not like the new Class-AAA affiliate Colorado Springs is going with a three-man pitching rotation, but suffice it to say that when Hellweg is ready to return, there’ll be an opening for him.

He waits for that full medical clearance at this point, with a target date no doubt already identified by he and the Brewers medical staff. And as he waits, the Brewers have decided to stretch out Tyler Thornburg for possible inclusion as a Triple-A starter if need be.

Once Hellweg returns, if he’s able to build on his solid 2013 season, it’ll be a nice win for the Brewers who could be beginning to wonder about what they actually did get in return when trading away Zack Greinke during the 2012 season. Ariel Peña was recently removed off of the 40-man roster, Jean Segura struggled in the second half of 2013 even before off-the-field mental anguish torpedoed his 2014 season, and Hellweg now carries a question mark albeit a much smaller one than it was years ago. As I said, this surgery, it’s rehab, and the resultant shelf life of pitchers who have had it is becoming a well-read book.

Still, 2015 shouldn’t be a lost season even if 2014 was. Still just 26 years old, Hellweg has plenty of time to take the next step (or three) in his development this year by ironing out his mechanics and becoming more consistent. It’s just that he’ll be a bit behind from the jump.

Catch up on the countdown!

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