Las Vegas — How far did Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery set Tyson Ross back?
“I had to pretty much teach myself how to throw again,” he said, during a media teleconference Tuesday.
Ross, the 31-year-old, right-handed starting pitcher the Tigers signed Monday to a one-year, $5.75 million contract, was an All-Star with the Padres in 2014 and followed that up with another strong, 33-start season in 2015.
He was the club’s opening day starter in 2016 season, but he went down in the sixth inning with shoulder pain and didn’t pitch again that season. Because he wasn’t exhibiting the normal symptoms, it took doctors several months to diagnose the problem as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
“I had shoulder pain and an inability to recover,” he said. “Had I had the numbness and the tingling, it would have set off all the alarms for TOS. Because I didn’t have those typical symptoms, it was harder to diagnose and it took a lot longer than it has for a lot of guys.”
Probably if Ross could do it over, he would not have tried to come back as quickly as he did in 2017. He signed a free agent contract with the Rangers and was never right, as evidenced by the 7.71 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in 49 innings.
“I had just started my throwing program when I got to spring training,” Ross said. “Because of the surgery, it wasn’t a normal offseason. I didn’t have my strength. I was behind on my throwing program and I was just trying to play catch-up the whole year.
“With there being nerves involved and things like that, I had a lot more to overcome.”
That’s why his performance last season first with San Diego and then, at the end, with the Cardinals, was far more significant than his rather pedestrian statistics (8-9, 4.15 ERA, 1.29 WHIP).
“To really grasp a picture of what I was going through, look back to 2016-2017,” Ross said. “Combined, I think I threw 50 innings. But last year, making all those starts (22 with the Padres), pitching 149 innings — that was just my body trying to adapt and get back to what it used to be — being a workhorse and taking the ball every five days.
“Strength and conditioning-wise, shoulder-wise, I am ready to build off last year and take it up another notch.”
That is certainly what the Tigers are banking on. Early in the free agent process they identified him as a bounce-back candidate, just as they did with Mike Fiers in the winter of 2017. They expect Ross, who is an imposing 6-foot-6, to be stronger, physically, this season. They expect his fastball to remain steady at 92-93 mph and they expect him to be capable of making upwards of 30 starts.
“I was just looking for an opportunity to start,” Ross said. “To be surrounded by other talented pitchers on a young team like Detroit, it’s going to be a good opportunity for myself and the club. Detroit established itself from the get-go and committed to me as a starter.
“They got into the conversation early and I am happy my agent was able to work out a deal.”
His traditional numbers weren’t overwhelming, and his walk rate (9.2 percent) and hard-hit rate (38 percent) are concerns, but some of other metrics were better. Opponents hit just .193 with a .363 slugging percentage and a .265 weighted on-base average against his slider last season.
He threw the slider 41 percent of the time and had a 30 percent swing-and-miss rate.
Right-handed hitters only hit .176 off him last season, with a .315 slugging percentage.
As general manager Al Avila said on Monday night, “His overall stuff is still pretty darn good.”
And, go figure, Comerica Park is the only stadium in the big leagues where he hasn’t pitched.
“It’s been a long road,” Ross said. “To get the diagnosis and then ultimately the surgery and struggle like I did in 2017 was tough. But I know the pitcher I had been in the past and what I can be. I think there is a lot left in the tank.
“Last year was just trying to get my feet back underneath me and it was a step in the right direction. I look forward to many more years of solid, quality pitching.”