The rhythmically slow, unfolding windup that, for years, seemed to suck all anxiety from save situations is unchanged as Joakim Soria works through the early throwing stages of his recovery from another Tommy John surgery.
“I know what to expect because this is my second time,” he cautioned. “I know what’s coming for me. There will be some days when I don’t feel that good, and there will be days that are awesome.”
Soria paused and broke into a wide smile before adding: “Right now, at this point, I feel awesome.”
It is late Tuesday morning on the conditioning field just outside the main clubhouse on the Royals’ side of the Surprise Recreation Campus. The desert heat seems to climb by the minute under the cloudless blue sky.
Elsewhere, roughly 70 of the organization’s minor-league players take part in a series of drills on the adjacent practice fields. They are here for the Instructional League, a five-week tour of specialized training that follows the season.
Soria seeks to be unobtrusive as he walks from the clubhouse, but heads turn as he starts to throw. Two-time All-Stars are rarely spotted anywhere near the Instructional League. Club officials are closely monitoring these sessions, too.
It is just over six months since Soria, 28, underwent surgery to repair a torn elbow ligament for the second time in his career. He missed the 2003 season, when he was a minor-leaguer in the Dodgers’ system, following the previous operation.
Six months is the typical point at which the rehab program permits a player to begin throwing again. Soria started throwing last week – just two sets of 25 throws from 45 feet – and is currently limited to two such sessions per week.
“They’re baby steps,” he conceded, “but they’re positive steps. I feel really good. No pain at all. Everything is going smooth. All of the exams and tests that I’ve had here, I’ve passed – perfect. Right now, at this point, I am feeling really good.”
By late October, barring setbacks, Soria will begin throwing three times a week. Beyond that, he doesn’t know because his timetable is mapped out just one month at a time. There are no target dates, officially, for throwing from a mound or facing hitters.
Even so, Soria knows what everyone knows: The typical recovery period is 10-14 months, which gives him a reasonable chance to be ready at some point in spring training.
The looming question is spring training for what team?
Royals officials privately acknowledge the club will exercise a $750,000 buyout clause on Soria’s $8 million option for next season. The deadline for doing so is three days after the conclusion of the World Series.
Soria would become a free agent if/when the Royals exercise that buyout, but both sides continue to express interest in reaching a new deal that, presumably, would contain a much lower guarantee but include significant bonuses based on appearances, etc.
“I just have to wait to see what they do,” Soria said. “It’s better for me and my family (to stay with the Royals). My wife is pregnant. I’m just focusing on my rehab. The most important thing is for me to get healthy. After that, everything else will come together.”