On the inside of his right arm, Steve Delabar has baseball stitches tattooed over the scar from his 2002 ligament-replacement surgery. Under the skin, a plate and nine screws hold his elbow together from a 2009 operation.
How the 6-foot-5 Blue Jays reliever made it to the major leagues is a remarkable story. But for manager John Gibbons, the hard-throwing Delabar’s future is what matters.
With a beefed-up starting rotation expected to chew up innings, and closers Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos hopefully restored to full health, Gibbons plans to use Delabar and Esmil Rogers in the later innings to help mow down the opposition in between.
“We’re counting on them,” Gibbons said. “They both make us that much stronger.”
That means relying on a 29-year-old pitcher whose arm will set off a metal detector, depending on the device’s setting.
Delabar had never risen above Class-A ball when he fractured his elbow pitching for the Brockton (Mass.) Rox of the Canadian-American Association in 2009.
He had been released by the San Diego Padres the previous year, after five undistinguished years.
The injury in Brockton was a nasty bump on that road. He felt something on a pitch that led to a claim of catcher’s interference and a mass argument at home plate while he wondered what he had just done to his arm.
When the brouhaha settled, Delabar threw two more pitches. It didn’t feel great and things went from bad to worse when he tried to deliver an even harder throw. His elbow gave way, with Delabar hearing a pop, like the sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle. He went to the dugout and looked down. “It seemed like there was an alien coming out of my arm,” he told HBO Sports.
He was slated for a procedure called an arthrogram where dye is shot into the arm and then the arm is X-rayed. This time they didn’t need the dye when he got on the treatment table.
“I looked back and I saw the screen and there was a hole where the bone’s supposed to be connected,” he recalled in an interview. “They said, ‘Well, we don’t need to do an arthrogram. We can tell it’s broken.’ I asked them what are the chances of me throwing again and they never answered the question.”
Still, he refused to write off his baseball future, arguing he had already come back from Tommy John surgery.
“I was just trying to keep a positive attitude. But at the same time I was getting older and sometimes those doors close on older players.”
The Seattle Mariners signed him and sent him to Class-A in 2011. He worked his way up through the minors that season and was told by his Class-AAA manager in Tacoma that he was going to the majors.
Delabar called his wife and then his father, dissolving into tears both times.
He made his major-league debut Sept. 11, 2011, against the Kansas City Royals, getting a flyout before striking out Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera. Three days later, he threw a scoreless 11th inning to get the win over the New York Yankees.
He was traded to Toronto in July of 2012 in exchange for outfielder Eric Thames. He finished the season with a 4-3 record with a 3.82 ERA, striking out 92 and walking 26 in 66 innings.
Before the broken elbow, Delabar’s arm topped out at 94 miles an hour – once, in 2006. Consistently he threw from 87 to 93 mph. Today, he estimates his low at 92 and high at 97 to 98.