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Nice piece on De Los Santos


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Background on another savy pickup by our "inept" FO...



De Los Santos makes quick return

Published July 7, 2005


MIAMI GARDENS--One night this March, Brewers bullpen coach Bill Castro stopped by the Arizona home of his friend Valerio De Los Santos.


Over a dinner of shrimp pasta prepared by the pitcher's wife, they discussed the long road back from shoulder surgery and how De Los Santos should just be happy to make it back to the majors sometime after the All-Star break.


They agreed the lean lefty shouldn't take things too fast and shouldn't even throw for scouts until he was fully recovered from the procedure he underwent last July 30.


So you can imagine Castro's surprise Wednesday night as he sat in the visiting bullpen at Dolphins Stadium and watched De Los Santos pump 93-mph fastballs and 87-mph sliders by his former team. De Los Santos pitched a perfect 12th inning and picked up his first big-league victory since Sept. 4, 2003.


"That's a credit to him and how hard he's worked," Castro said before the 5-4 Marlins win. "He did the right thing waiting to sign. If he would have gone to spring training being weak, they probably would have said this guy is washed up."


Instead, De Los Santos, who spent his first 11 pro seasons in the Brewers organization, appears far from done. At 32, he has filled a need in the Marlins' bullpen and been far more effective than anyone could have dreamed for a guy who didn't sign until May 13.


De Los Santos has a 1.50 ERA in 15 outings with the Marlins. In 12 innings he has allowed just eight hits and a .190 batting average and has stranded 10 of 17 inherited runners.


Not bad for someone making just $350,000, a steep cut from the $850,000 he made a year ago with Toronto. Also not bad considering he only had eight rehab outings at Jupiter and was back on a big-league mound by June 9, at least a month ahead of schedule.


That was also a year and four days after he threw his last pitch for the Blue Jays in a pain-filled 2004 season. He saw Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist in Alabama, and rest was prescribed.


When the pain persisted, De Los Santos wound up in the California office of Dr. Lewis Yocum. This time surgery was recommended, and Yocum went right to work repairing a frayed labrum and cleaning out calcifications and a lesion in the pitcher's throwing shoulder.


The Marlins signed him only after club officials Michael Hill and Dan Jennings conducted extensive research into the pitcher's medical history and were satisfied with his on-field audition. The Yankees, Cubs and Angels, who employ Yocum, also showed interest, but De Los Santos, a cousin of Marlins outfielder Juan Encarnacion, had his heart set on South Florida.


It also helped that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had always liked De Los Santos, going back to his days in Milwaukee and Loria's days owning the Expos.


"I used to pitch really well against them," De Los Santos said. "[Loria] said he was hoping one day I'd be on his club."


Now you might think surgery is surgery, but there's a vast difference between opening up a pitcher's elbow and messing with his shoulder. With an elbow reconstruction, unless you're poor Tim Spooneybarger, the prognosis is delivered with eerie precision.


See John Smoltz, Matt Morris, A.J. Burnett and seemingly hundreds of other Tommy John surgery survivors who returned in 12 months or so. The success rate is around 93 percent.


When it comes to the shoulder the success rate is just 70 percent and the rehab can take much longer. Up to 24 months, said Keith Kocher, who heads up Physiotherapy Associates, an athletic rehab center at Tempe, Ariz.


That's why Kocher, who works with dozens of pro baseball players every winter, proudly displays an 8-by-10 glossy of De Los Santos on his clinic's wall of fame. The two have worked together since 1996 and have overcome season-wrecking injuries to the pitcher's back (1999) and elbow (2001).


But getting De Los Santos back to the majors in just over 10 months might have been their finest magic act yet.


De Los Santos spent maniacal sessions at the rehab center, starting several weeks before he underwent surgery. A light day, Kocher said, would last three hours. A typical day ran up to five.


"He's probably in there longer than 99 percent of the guys that come through here," Kocher said.


And he owes Kocher a new photo for his wall. This time in a Marlins uniform.

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