The source of inspiration is not hard for Tim Collins to find. Luke Hochevar resides on the other side of the locker room, and at this time last year, he lived through a similar arm-related nightmare.
Hochevar tore his ulnar collateral ligament last March. He rehabilitated his arm for all of 2014 so he could be ready for this spring training. He may not break camp with the Royals, but the club expects a considerable contribution from him this season.
As Collins recovers from his own elbow reconstruction, he envisions a similar timeline for himself. He rejoined the club on Thursday after undergoing surgery last week. He expects to be ready by the start of spring training next February. The typical recovery period lasts 12 to 18 months.
"I really respect Hochevar, and I know the work that he put in last year to get where he’s at right now," Collins said in his first comments since the operation. "I’ve leaned on him. I haven’t really asked him questions, but he’s really filled me in with a lot of the process. Which has been great. Just the confidence from him, after his experience, has been really good."
Collins plans to spend the season rehabbing with the Royals. The club can non-tender him after this season. They considered the option last winter, after he struggled for much of the year and posted 3.86 ERA. But the team decided to retain Collins and rewarded him with a $1.475 million contract.
The contract almost guaranteed Collins a roster spot on the current club. But on March 4, he felt a twinge of soreness in his elbow after he threw a curveball in a Cactus League game. The area felt tight. A subsequent MRI revealed the damage, a complete tear of his UCL, and a season ended before it even began.
"We knew something wasn’t right," Collins said. "In that situation, you kind of expect the worst, hope for the best. We were hoping for the best. We got the worst. So it wasn’t too much of a shock when I was told that I needed Tommy John."
After the initial examination, he flew to Gulf Breeze, Fla., for an additional opinion from Dr. James Andrews. Andrews performed the surgery on the same day he first saw Collins. Meanwhile, the Royals saw their depth tested. Team officials feel confident that southpaws like Franklin Morales, Brian Flynn and Brandon Finnegan can fill the void created by Collins’ injury.
Collins wore a sizable cast and brace over his left arm. He is still in the infant stages of his recovery. The case of Hochevar gives him hope.
"Really the goal right now is try to get my range of motion back," Collins said. "And that’s a slow process. This whole thing is a slow process. The good thing about it is I’ve got time on my side. I’m not trying to rush back this year. I know where I’ll be at next year."