"I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something like, 'It's going to be a while,'" said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, recalling Peavy's season-ending injury from 10 months ago.
Eight days later, Peavy was undergoing experimental surgery to reattach the tendon that anchors the latissimus dorsi muscle to the rear of the shoulder. What followed were months of intensive rehab, including physical therapy, a throwing program putting Peavy to work in the cold winter months and even during the holidays, and eventually a test run taken during Spring Training.
There were setbacks along the way. Peavy was shut down on March 19 after a start against the A's because of rotator cuff tendinitis, and he came out of a Minor League rehab start on April 18 after 15 pitches because of pain from scar tissue breaking up.
They were disheartening, at the time, but all part of the process leading Peavy back to the Majors. That return comes Wednesday, when Peavy throws in the series finale against the Angels.
|"You battle so hard. I take myself back to 8-9 a.m. on a cold December day when I'm driving to therapy, and I'm playing catch over holidays or whatever and thinking, 'Nobody in baseball is doing this right now and I'm having to do it.' It's been a grind but a grind that hopefully will be rewarded."|
|-- Jake Peavy|
"Certainly it will be different once again walking off the field facing the Angels and walking back on the field facing the Angels," said Peavy, speaking in front of his locker before Tuesday's contest. "It's just funny how things work."
"Sure, he's going to be juiced up," said Cooper of the intensity Peavy figures to bring to his return. "He's been around enough to know he has to channel that energy."
Balancing that competitive fire with the focus of crossing all the T's and dotting all the I's to get back was one battle Peavy had to wage during his five Minor League rehab starts. In that start on April 18 for Double-A Birmingham, Peavy felt something in the repaired area on his first pitch but believed he could work through it.
When the pain didn't subside, Peavy had to fight the competitive side from within of not wanting to be removed after being roughed up in the first inning. This is the same veteran hurler who won a National League Cy Young Award in 2007, has fanned more than 200 in three different seasons and truly has nothing to prove in a Minor League contest.
Every game result matters for Peavy, even if the result is not the focus of the outing. Behind this intense work toward coming back was Peavy's desire to take the mound completely healthy for the first time as part of the White Sox.
No ankle problem. No lat issue.
"Since I've been in Chicago, I haven't been who I really want to be, and that's really from a health standpoint," Peavy said. "I just didn't want to fight it any more. I fought it through the end of '09 and fought it through the start of last year.
"It's just not fun playing the game when physically, you feel hamstrung, so to speak. I certainly think my velocity, strength and endurance will all grow over the next few months and be ready for a strong 2012. But I certainly feel like I have plenty enough to compete and do well and with all that being said, I have realistic expectations on what's going to happen tomorrow night.
"That's to win tomorrow night, and I wouldn't be here if I didn't feel like I could go out and make that happen," Peavy said. "You can put all the expectations you want on it, and I'm not going to do that, other than I expect to win on my fifth day and bring the best out in my guys to bring the intensity and edge that we're going to get after it."
Cooper's goals for Peavy center in the 80-100 pitch area, but he also expects a winning effort from the right-hander as he joins this unique six-man rotation. That "sick feeling" Cooper had when Peavy suffered the torn lat has been replaced by excitement to watch him throw.
After each game of this Angels series, Peavy makes the one-hour drive back home to the San Diego area so he can spend time with his wife and his sons. His family will makes the return trip on Wednesday, along with other close friends, to watch Peavy take the baseball ahead of schedule.
"I'm just excited I'm here and have a start date," said a smiling Peavy. "I feel as good as I can feel at this moment. And just a relief.
"You battle so hard. I take myself back to 8-9 a.m. on a cold December day when I'm driving to therapy, and I'm playing catch over holidays or whatever and thinking, 'Nobody in baseball is doing this right now and I'm having to do it.' It's been a grind but a grind that hopefully will be rewarded."