JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- Jordan Walden hadn’t pitched for the Cardinals since last April. As part of the trade that sent Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta and brought Jason Heyward to St. Louis, Walden was supposed to be the cherry on top.
He was a late-inning arm that figured to aid an already impressive bullpen, but his shoulder sidelined him for nearly the entire year. He mounted a few rehab comeback attempts, but ultimately was never able to return.
Wednesday, he threw to live hitters for the first time at spring training.
“It was something I was looking forward to. I was a little nervous at first, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a hitter,” Walden said after his session. “I’ve worked a lot, I spent my whole offseason doing rehab so to spend time doing something fun, getting out there is kind of stress relief.”
The rehab work was in lieu of rotator cuff surgery, a decision the now 28-year-old made at the end of last season. Rather than go under the knife, Walden opted for a rehab and training plan that would strengthen the shoulder and the supporting muscles around it.
The question then became whether the results would be substantial enough to protect his damaged rotator cuff, which is likely stressed by his unorthodox and torque-heavy pitching motion, and allow him to regain effectiveness.
His session Wednesday was primarily focused on command, meaning he still hasn’t ramped up his fastball to his the customary mid-90s.
“I’ll let it loose when I think it’s the right time,” he said.
Walden now has two days off before his next live pitching assignment. After 25 pitches Wednesday, he has no exams or tests scheduled and will have to judge for himself whether his shoulder responded well enough to continue.
“It’s all on me. I have to be truthful to them and I will be. Everything is feeling strong so I should be good to go in a couple days,” he said.
Walden positively assessed his fastball command, and said the hitters he faced confirmed his opinion; a positive first step in what has been a journey measured by inches forward and miles back. Perhaps the greatest victory was the freedom to concern himself only with command.
“Not having to worry about, ‘God, I hope it feels good today,’ or ‘hopefully it’s not cranky,’ or ‘did I sleep on it wrong last night?’” he explained.
Though camp is long and shoulder’s are finicky, Walden was thrilled to end his first live session with routine pitching concerns. The next two days may see the return of stressful self-evaluations as he assesses his shoulder’s response, but Wednesday, all he had to care about was where the ball was going.