Like most Griffon athletes, Kyle Kelly is a pretty normal guy. He likes hunting, fishing, trucks and spending time with his family. One thing Kelly can do that most of us “normal guys” can’t is command a breaking change-up. Or come back from Tommy John surgery.
Kelly graduated from Lathrop High School in 2011 and signed on as a freshman to play baseball for Missouri Western. He was redshirted the 2012 season, his first season on campus. Then in the 2013 season, he got a chance in the Griffon bullpen, making 17 appearances with two starts. In that time on the mound, he made the most of it going 3-1, having a 2.45 ERA, pitching 40 innings and making the MIAA honor while helping the Griffons win the MIAA championship that season.
Coming into the 2014 season, Kelly was very optimistic, but in his first three appearances things didn’t go too well, with him only pitching 1.1 innings and giving up four runs when disaster struck. Kelly had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, requiring the pitcher to go under the famous Tommy John surgery. The surgery is a graft procedure where a tendon form elsewhere in the body is placed in the elbow. The procedure is called “Tommy John” for the MLB pitcher who was the first to have the surgery. Kelly’s graft came from his left wrist and was placed in his right elbow.
“It definitely sucks when it happens, but I was optimistic about it. Not that I would see any gain from it, but that I would get to throw again,” Kelly said. Kelly mentioned the gain because it is a common misconception that pitchers get better after the Tommy John surgery. The real reason that some pitchers come back better after the surgery is because of the off-time spent working on their mechanics and strengthening their other pitching muscles.
After Kelly had the infamous surgery, he dove right into training to get back on the mound. Kelly said it was six months before he could pick up a baseball, and 12 months for full recovery. At the time of this interview he was only ten months out and almost to a full recovery. He started locked in a full cast where he couldn’t move his arm out of a 90-degree angle. So the first section of his recovery was just getting range of motion back. During that, he spent time strengthening his back and legs.
“It was a lot of resistance training, a lot of work with bands and balance balls; I couldn’t do any weight lifting,” Kelly said.
By the time Kelly could move his arm again he was in a very strict throwing regiment. Kelly explained it as “all very detailed, the number of throws at this distance, then a number of throws and 5 minutes off, then throw the same amount again.”
He explained some of his struggles during that time.
“The biggest thing for me was finding my release point; I had lost a lot of my timing. Getting that feel for the ball on your fingertips is different,” Kelly said.
Kelly went on to explain that before this injury he had not gone this long without throwing a ball or any kind of arm movement since before tee-ball. Kelly also said that technology was a big part in getting him back.
“Coach would use his iPad and slow down exactly what I was doing and examine exactly what my body was doing in that point of my pitching motion,” he said.
He said this was the biggest factor in getting his mechanics back.
The home series facing off against Emporia is set to be Kelly’s return to the field. That date is rapidly approaching and there is still a lot to be done before Kelly gets called out of the bullpen. Kelly said he is still trying to get back the velocity on his fastball that he once had. In previous seasons, Kelly touched 87 mph on his fastball – he says now he is sitting around 84 mph. This doesn’t worry Kelly, though. He says it just means he needs to be more creative with his pitches. He also says accuracy with his pitches is a must now.
“84 on the black will get hit, but 84 in the middle of the plate is going over the wall,” Kelly said.
He said he had set a goal to be back by the opening series of the season this year, he felt like he could go, but the training staff had him stay in St. Joseph to give more time for his arm.
“Watching your teammates leave without you is killer,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he is excited but nervous for the Emporia game.
“Yeah, I’ll be a little nervous because I haven’t done it in a while, but if you aren’t nervous before a game even if you have been healthy, you are doing something wrong,” Kelly said. “If you think you’re that good that you can’t be beat, something is wrong.”
Kelly talked about when he hoped to be back to the large role he had been in the 2013 season.
“By the Lindenwood series, I’ll be back to where I was. Maybe, but I think I can be throwing more than one inning by then,” he said. “It’s a buildup process.”
Kelly talked more about his excitement leading up to the Emporia series.
“I will probably be able to sleep – I am pretty good about that, but yeah, I’ll be like a kid in a candy store,” Kelly said. “Even if I don’t get to pitch, I get to put on a Griffon uniform again, and that’s probably the most exciting part.”