Kansas City Royals

Royals’ Jesse Hahn elated to feel the “butterflies” again after elbow surgery

Royals pitcher Jesse Hahn back in the majors after elbow surgery

Kansas City Royals right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn speaks to reporters about his patch back to the majors after having had elbow surgery in August 2018. Hahn was one of the club's September call-ups from the minors on Sept. 3, 2019.
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Kansas City Royals right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn speaks to reporters about his patch back to the majors after having had elbow surgery in August 2018. Hahn was one of the club's September call-ups from the minors on Sept. 3, 2019.

Watching Jesse Hahn pump fastballs past hitters at 94, 95 and 96 mph and complement it with a nasty slider that darted off the table on Thursday afternoon was like finally getting to see the sequel to the first installment of a promising movie franchise that ended on a cliffhanger.

The wait was probably even longer than Hollywood executives would approve, and they’ve perfected the art of squeezing every ounce of anticipation (and money) out of those situations. Hahn, who hadn’t thrown a pitch in the majors in more than two years, felt something akin to movie magic when he finally got the call to pitch out of the bullpen in the eighth inning.

“I was anxious the whole time,” Hahn said after his scoreless one-inning outing against the Tigers. “It was hard to sit still. I just did the best I could to breathe and calm down.”

Thirteen months ago and about six months after the Royals acquired the hard-throwing right-hander in the trade that sent slugger Brandon Moss to the Oakland Athletics, Hahn underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

The UCL has become commonly associated with Tommy John surgery, a reconstructive procedure. However, Hahn underwent a procedure designed to repair the ligament and reduce the recovery time of Tommy John surgery.

Hahn, who turned 30 at the end of July, had thrown just 3 and 2/3 innings in four appearances in the minors this season as he recovered and rehabbed from the elbow surgery. Prior to Thursday, he last pitched in a big-league game for the Oakland Athletics in Houston on June 28, 2017.

Since going on a rehab assignment, Hahn has been pitching every two days in the minors, and he bounced back better each time.

“For me, the hardest part is the mental side of it,” Hahn said earlier this week. “For me, believing was a huge part of it. Believing and setting goals that I was going to be here again helped me. As soon as I was able to put that injury behind me and realize everything was going to be okay, that’s when my process started going quicker and easier for me.”

Hahn made at least nine starts per season in the majors from 2014-17.

Slowly progressing towards a return frustrated Hahn and really tested his patience. At times this season, he began to doubt if he’d accomplish his goal of getting back to the majors by the end of this season. He felt like he might run out of time, until he got the call to join the team as a September call-up.

“After the first pitch, it all came back,” Hahn said after Thursday’s game. “I was nervous, butterflies, shakes in the legs a little. But after I threw the first one, it was just compete mode. It just felt good to be out there again.”

Hahn will likely get two days of rest for each time he throws until the end of the season. Royals manager Ned Yost was pleased with what he saw from Hahn in that first outing in the majors coming off surgery.

Hahn “passed every test” as far as what Yost wanted to see from a command, velocity and stuff standpoint, but the team will remain cautious and careful with him through the end of the season.

“We’re going to make sure that we do it right for him,” Yost said. “Our goal for him is to make sure that he gets through this year healthy so that he’s ready to compete next spring. He’s got a really good arm, and we would really like to see him in competition next year for this pitching staff. The first thing we’ve got to do is make sure that we do it right and make sure that we don’t overdo it.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.