NIH: The Comeback Trail 3: Luis AyalaDid anyone else forget about Luis Ayala? Does anyone else remember the World Baseball Classic?
Ayala, I will admit, slipped my mind while planning these Comeback Trail stories, which is a shame, because he was one of our more reliable bullpen arms during the 2005 season. In the course of 68 appearances, he put up more wins than losses, kept his ERA to 2.66 (which, while not great, put him 3rd of our 5 most used relievers that season), and even recorded a hit in three plate appearances. He was, in short, a guy you could put in and not worry about too much.
Then, the World Baseball Classic happened. Many teams griped that their players might get injured in the WBC, or would lose development time. For the Nationals, these gripes seemed to come to fruition. With the exception of [b]Alfonso Soriano[/b], all the Nats representatives in the WBC had slow starts to the 2006 season. Ayala we should have been so lucky for him to be slumping. Instead, he overused a sore arm during the Classic, and ended up being taken out of a game with an elbow injury that was season ending. He'd been having some problems for awhile, and it's arguable that his elbow would probably eventually need reconstruction. Hell, some might even say that the WBC meant he had the injury sooner, meaning his surgery happened sooner, meaning his return is coming sooner. Not having had a camera in his elbow, it's hard to say if the injury was inevitable.
Whatever is to blame, the injury happened, and Tommy John surgery was the result.
Now, he's back. Or, at least, mostly back. The average recovery time for Tommy John averages around a year, with pitchers usually needing a little longer, since they require more out of their repaired elbows. In Ayala's case, we're just a little shy of a year at this point, and he's already taking throws from the mound with a hope that he will be on the 25-man roster when the team comes north (or, technically, west) for it's home opener.
How effective he'll be, that's the question. He might still have some recovery to do, and there's far from a guarantee that he'll be at RFK on April 2nd. He's still in his late 20s, and his three seasons in the majors have been decently consistant. He won't set the world on fire, but if he can stay at his career numbers, he might help eat some innings and shore up some of our relief pitching this season. The question is how long until Ayala returns fully to form. Fortunately the team is in no kind of hunt, so if he costs us some runs or even games early on, it shouldn't have too much of an effect on our season.