McKinney's rehab ahead of schedule

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, October 18, 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.

— There was a celebration Monday at Baum Stadium.

Keaton McKinney threw off the mound for the first time since his Tommy John surgery in February. Until this week, McKinney's throwing had been limited to flat surfaces.

"He got to throw 20 pitches and to celebrate that we let him do it off the game mound," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, adding that 18 of McKinney's pitches were strikes. "All the pitchers were out here watching and were pretty excited, so that was good to see."

The redshirt junior right-hander is ahead of schedule in his rehab, Van Horn said, although it's unclear whether he will be ready to pitch when Arkansas opens the season in mid-February. McKinney has 30 career starts and could factor into the Razorbacks' starting rotation when he returns.

Those around the program have mentioned that McKinney looks different after his Tommy John rehab. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, about 5 pounds lighter than his program weight this time last year.

"He stayed with a relative in Iowa and had a summer job, but before he went to the job he worked out every morning and then he worked out after his job in the afternoon," Van Horn said. "He came back bigger, stronger, no baby fat - he looked like a full-grown man to me.

"I told him that it's going to pay off. I was proud of him. He has changed his body."

McKinney was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American on the Razorbacks' 2015 team that went to the College World Series. The Ankeny, Iowa, native started 18 games that season and led Arkansas' starters with a 3.21 ERA. He threw two complete games, including a shutout at Alabama.

But he has struggled with injuries since late that season when he injured his hip at the SEC Tournament. He underwent a major hip surgery in 2015 and struggled the next season, going 1-5 in 12 starts with a 6.66 ERA.

Prior to last season he said the hip felt 100 percent for the first time since his freshman season, but he tore his ulnar collateral ligament during a preseason practice in January.

"I knew I had arm pains for two years; just random - bicep, forearm, tricep, all over the place," McKinney said earlier this year. "When Dr. (Timothy) 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."

McKinney was one of the top recruits in the nation out of high school. He was listed as one of Baseball America's 80 best prospects in 2014, but wasn't drafted until the 28th round that year by the New York Mets because of sign-ability concerns. McKinney was draft-eligible this year but was not drafted.

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