On the mend: Injured pitchers watching from afar, biding time for '18

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, May 19, 2017
Arkansas' Keaton McKinney warms Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' Keaton McKinney warms Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

— When Chad Spanberger hit a home run to give Arkansas a 10th inning lead over Texas A&M on Thursday, a pair of teammates were watching from afar.

Keaton McKinney was with his parents at his home in Ankeny, Iowa. Isaiah Campbell was watching on an iPhone app from the Kansas City Royals' game in Kauffman Stadium.

"It's still nerve-wrecking," Campbell said. "You're still part of the team, so I was rooting hard for those guys to come back.

"It sucks not being on the field with this team. This team has a lot of talent and a really good shot of making the College World Series. It's just killing me watching from the sideline and in the dugout, or from home."

McKinney and Campbell are redshirting this season after suffering arm injuries in February. McKinney tore his UCL and required Tommy John surgery, while Campbell required surgery to remove 13 bone spurs from his throwing elbow.

Neither are able to travel with the team because of roster limits and both have returned home since the spring semester ended.

Their injuries - as well as a UCL tear by reliever Cody Scroggins - came during a short span, threatening to hamper Arkansas' season before it was two weeks old. McKinney, a junior, and Campbell, a sophomore, were expected to challenge for weekend starter roles. Campbell had even been mentioned as a possible No. 1 starter.

"It caught everyone by surprise," Campbell said. "The players weren't thinking the season was going downhill because we have the talent to still do a really good job with some players injured. It came as a shock, but everyone knew we could be good."

Arkansas has been tough to beat despite the injuries to its pitching staff. The Razorbacks are 38-14 entering tonight's game at Texas A&M and still in contention to win the SEC West with two games to play.

"I definitely wanted to be out there and get a better season, but it's nice watching the guys you played with so long having success," McKinney said. "It's fun to take a step back and be a fan of the team, but it just makes me want to come back that much better to help the team next year."

McKinney, a top 100 prospect out of high school, said he doesn't expect to be drafted next month. He said he expects "to be back in some form" by the start of the 2018 season with the Razorbacks.

Cincinnati Reds medical director Timothy Kremchek performed McKinney's Tommy John surgery. McKinney is scheduled to go back to Cincinnati for a checkup in July, at which point he could learn when he'll be able to start a throwing program.

The UCL tear likely was the result of a more longterm injury, McKinney said, possibly even one related to a hip injury that caused him to have surgery after a Freshman All-America campaign in 2015.

"I knew I had arm pains for two years; just random - bicep, forearm, tricep, all over the place," McKinney said. "When Dr. Kremchek went in, he saw a lot of scar tissue and when you see a scar tissue buildup, it means it happens over time. He said it could have been a couple years.

"With my hip issue, he said I could have developed some scar tissue to protect my arm and that's kind of what held my arm together. Then it couldn't hold up anymore. I just couldn't stand the pain.

"When you really can't use your lower body fully, you're really relying on your upper body for all your power. I guess that might have been part of it."

Campbell said his injury was related to growth plates not growing fast enough in his elbow. His rehab has gone well and he was cleared to begin throwing a week earlier than anticipated. He expects he could be throwing off the mound again by mid-July.

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Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell looks toward home plate during a scrimmage Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Fayetteville. + Enlarge

"I'll be 100 percent by the time fall rolls around, but I don't know if I'll be pitching or not," Campbell said. "I might take a couple of weeks to make sure I'm healthy before I start throwing in the scrimmages."

Campbell and McKinney said it helps that they aren't going through their rehab programs alone. In addition to Scroggins, redshirt freshman Harrison Heffley has been working out with them this season. Heffley, a left-hander, underwent surgery in the preseason for a torn labrum.

The rehab sessions can last around three hours, McKinney said.

"We all go in together and it makes it a lot easier because rehab sucks," Campbell said. "It's really boring and repetitive, but you've got to do it to get healthy. When you have Keaton and Cody and Harrison, you just have people to talk to. We make each other laugh and time goes by a lot faster than it would if I was by myself."

Both players are hopeful they will be back in the same stadium as their teammates this postseason. Arkansas is a candidate to host a regional for the first time in seven years.

"That just shows you how mentally tough our team is," Campbell said. "People were put into roles they weren't expected to be in and they've done well."

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