Black Bears pitcher back from two-year injury layoff

GRANVILLE — No pitcher wants to hear the dreaded name of Tommy John, especially when it’s someone in the early stages of his professional career.

After being picked by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 13th round of the 2016 MLB draft, out of Oregon State, John Pomeroy was assigned to the Bristol (Tenn.) Pirates, of the rookie-level Appalachian League.

Just 14 games into his pro career, primarily out of the bullpen, the hard-throwing rightie got the news no one wants to hear — he needed Tommy John surgery to fix a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. While the procedure (named for a longtime major-league pitcher) is simple, recovery time can take up to two years to finish.

Now, nearly two years later, Pomeroy is set to make his return with the West Virginia Black Bears.

“I’m honestly not even thinking about it,” he said about returning to live action. “I’m happy to be back out here. I’ve been throwing a little bit in some live (simulated) games, I’ve thrown a couple games at Pirates City. I just want to get this one out of the way and I’m really excited, in general.”

The Pirates took Pomeroy because of his pure arm talent as a big body. Prior to his injury, the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder threw a high-90s fastball, topping out around 98 mph.

Pomeroy isn’t expected to throw that hard right off the bat, but with his size, he’s not worried about permanently losing his velocity.

“It takes a little while for velocity to come back after this, is what I’ve heard,” he said. “Most guys see a return of velocity around 18 months while some guys are sooner. I’m not really too worried about it; what I’m trying to do is come out, be competitive, throw strikes, be around the zone and hit spots.

“I’m a big guy, I throw hard and it’s always been that way, so it will come back. I’ve been in the low-to-mid 90s area, so I’m pretty close.”

Pomeroy said the Pirates organization and coaches have been patient through the rehab process and worked closely to make sure he took it slow and didn’t try to return quicker than he should.

Luckily for Pomeroy, a new coach with the Black Bears has been through the Tommy John rehab process. Jason Stanford, now an assistant pitching coach, had the surgery while with the Cleveland Indians, in 2004.

“I’ve been with John since spring training, and then we worked together during extended” spring training, Stanford said. “I know exactly what he’s going through — the ups and downs, the struggles, the lack of command, the non-feel and the feel for what his elbow’s going through. The awesome thing about it is, he’s such a great competitor that every time out, we know what we’re going to get mentality-wise.

“For him, he’s a power pitcher, so to be able to get that power back will be key. He’s in a good spot right now and he’s going through his progressions, so he’ll be good to go.”

Pomeroy and the Black Bears begin their season at 7 p.m. June 15, at Mahoning Valley.

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