Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek suffered similar elbow injuries two days apart midway through the 2012 major-league season.
Over a year later, the paths of both Toronto Blue Jays pitchers continue to converge as they recover from Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery.
Both right-handers saw action last Wednesday, when the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons took on the Rochester Red Wings.
Hutchison started and allowed two runs over three innings, while Drabek, who entered the game in the sixth, worked three scoreless frames and was credited with the win as the Bisons prevailed 8-3.
The fact the pair appeared in the same game seemed appropriate since they have shared the same clubhouses quite a bit during the rehab process.
Drabek, recovering from his second Tommy John procedure, pitched in eight games with Single-A Dunedin before moving on to Double-A New Hampshire for a pair of starts. Hutchison made three appearances with Dunedin and two with New Hampshire, all but one of them coming within three days or less of a Drabek appearance for the same team.
Hutchison and Drabek have been valuable sources of information for each other about the recovery process.
“The first time I got to meet him was last year in spring training,” said Drabek, who has a 2.56 earned-run average over 312/3 innings in 11 rehab appearances. “We became close since we were younger guys and we could relate to the same things in a way.
“I ended up living with him through most of the rehab and got to know him real well.”
Drabek is quick to recall the dialogue he and Hutchison have shared.
“After a surgery like this, there’s no reason to come back the first full year and try to be a hero,” Drabek said. “I think I did that my first time and it started getting real sore. I had to take a little bit of time off a I still ask him questions about it. If he has the same pain as I do and he finds the right thing to get it done, I’d love to do [the same].”
Unfortunately, Hutchison hasn’t found the same level of sharpness as Drabek, posting a 5.09 ERA in 23 innings over seven minor-league games.
“Right now, I need to focus on pitching as well as I can,” said Hutchison, who has especially struggled in his two Triple-A appearances. “I’m not real happy with it. It’s a matter of being more consistent and executing the way I’m able to.”
Hutchison, who turns 23 next week, lasted 32/3 innings and allowed six runs in a rehab start for Buffalo last Friday. He was activated by Toronto the next day in order to be optioned to the Bisons.
He quickly burned through 72 pitches and had seven of 15 batters reach base Wednesday.
“Too many pitches. I lost it a little bit in the second inning. It was frustrating,” Hutchison said. “You have to execute quality pitches and that’s what leads to good innings and then good outings. That’s what my focus is.”
The 25-year old Drabek, on the other hand, faced the minimum nine batters Wednesday, and had only one batter reach base on an error.
“I’m pretty much back to where I was,” Drabek said. “I can’t wait to see how it feels at 100 per cent, instead of 98 or whatever it feels like.”
Either way, the two have come a long way from those fateful starts last year, when Drabek came out of a start against Washington on June 13 and Hutchison lasted just nine pitches against Philadelphia on June 15.
For now, while the two can ponder the possibility of joining the Blue Jays when active rosters expand in September, they also find themselves with an added role of helping the Bisons make the playoffs.
Buffalo trails Rochester by two games in their division race and is half a game back in the hunt for the International League’s only wild card playoff berth. The season ends on Labour Day weekend.
“Every time I take the mound, I try to compete and do the best I can,” Hutchison said .
Drabek admitted he’d rather be pitching for Toronto’s big-league club, but he knows he won’t get there overnight.
“Right now, I’m trying to work my way back up and we’ll see how it goes,” he said.