Nathan Eovaldi opens up about his 2nd journey through Tommy John surgery
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Nathan Eovaldi didn't believe it was serious.

Every pitcher is sore in August. He thought this was no different.

He knew the type of pain all pitchers fear. The pain that results in a player hearing the name they never want to hear: Tommy John. He had been down that road once before as a high school senior. This wasn't the same pain. At least, he thought.

"With the season being so long, you battle your ups and downs, soreness and everything like that," Eovaldi told theScore. "That's why I didn't say anything (warming up) because I honestly did think that it was just soreness in my arm."

So he kept going, kept pitching. He figured the soreness would work itself out. He thought he'd walk off the mound at the end of his work day, ice up, carry on with his routine, and get back on the field in five days.

But that's not how it went. The soreness was a warning sign. Things inside his arm weren't well. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons that worked in symmetry - allowing his arm to fire 100-mph fastballs - were self-destructing.

"I did not think it was as severe as it was."

On that mound at Fenway Park that day, it would be the last time he'd throw a ball as a Yankee. That was the day his career changed.

"I was really shocked"

It was the middle of the first inning. Eovaldi needed only 12 pitches to retire the Red Sox in order. When he got back to the dugout, he informed the coaching staff of the soreness, and that's when they made the call to remove him from the game.

"I got out of the first inning and my velocity was down a little bit. I thought it was one of those days where I'd have to rely a little more on my offspeed pitches. They asked if my arm was bothering me and I said a little bit and they took me out."

The Yankees would send him for tests. Things would be okay, he thought. The findings, though, were something unimaginable: A torn flexor tendon in his forearm and a damaged ulnar collateral ligament.

"I definitely didn't think I tore the muscle off the bone. When I got those results, I was really shocked."

"You work so hard to get to that free agency year"

Eovaldi was 26, two months away from his first run at free agency. It's an experience most players look forward to. An opportunity to choose a team, and hopefully receive a lucrative deal.

Those feelings of excitement quickly shifted to worry. Now he wasn't going to pitch in 2017, and was about to lose his safety net with his contract in New York expiring.

"Leading up into (free agency), I knew I was feeling good. The year, before I had a really good year. It was tough because you work so hard to get to that free agency year."

He did his best to clear his mind of worry and put his faith in the hands of his agent. But November, December, and January passed without a deal. There were thoughts about rehabbing on his own and entering free agency again in 2018. But in February, his faith would finally be rewarded when he reached a one-year, $2-million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays which included a $2-million club option for 2018.

"We were really pleased with what the Rays were able to offer us. They were one of the teams in general that we wanted to go with regardless of the deal because of the training staff that they had. When the Rays put out that offer, we were really excited to jump on that deal."

"It takes a while before you can touch your hand to your shoulder"

Despite the deal being signed, there was still a long road ahead.

Eovaldi's arm was in a brace to start. He says getting full extension with his elbow didn't happen until maybe two months after the surgery.

"It takes a while before you can touch your hand to your shoulder."

With limited functionality of his arm, keeping his mind clear became one of the biggest obstacles.

"The toughest part is being patient with everything. Going through it once before, I remembered some of the steps and sequences we were going to have to do to get to where we needed to be. But even then, it is tough but I just try to look at the bigger picture."

It was Valentine's Day when he started throwing a ball again.

"We started playing catch (for the first time) at six months. It just so happened that Feb. 14 - the day I signed with the Rays - that was when we started playing catch."

Under the watchful eye of the Rays' training staff - one Eovaldi previously admired from afar given its history with rehabbing injured starters - the plan was clear. Patience, and more patience.

"It was a slow process. I wanted to do more, but it was just being patient with everything. They told me right away that the first year we don't expect you to make it back. We don't necessarily want you to make it back this year. We want you to take your full time, your full recovery. Take your time, rehab, and get as strong as you can and get ready for 2018."

"It's probably going to feel like a World Series game"

Eovaldi admits he's fortunate with how everything went. There were no bumps in the road throughout his recovery.

"I am really pleased with where I'm at. The training staff took care of me."

The light is now at the end of the tunnel. He'll be among the Rays' pitchers and catchers to descend on Port Charlotte, Fla. on Feb. 14 - exactly one year removed from when he signed with Tampa Bay - and will arrive without any restrictions: "100 percent ready to go."

And while to most, it's only spring training - a time the majority of the league can't wait to be done with - that first step back on a major-league mound to face live hitters will be special for Eovaldi.

"It's probably going to feel like a World Series game. I'm going to be so excited."

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Nathan Eovaldi opens up about his 2nd journey through Tommy John surgery
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