BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates had their first day of mini-camp this morning at Pirate City. The workout was what you’d expect to see in the early days of Spring Training, with pitchers doing their throwing programs, and hitters taking batting and fielding practice. If this was all happening in the middle of July, it would hardly be notable, and just the normal day-to-day work. But it’s early January, and it’s cold throughout most of the country, which makes even the smallest amount of baseball activities a great sight to see.

During today’s workouts there were a few other great sights to see, with a few key players returning from injuries. Gregory Polanco, Chris Archer, and Joe Musgrove were all active after surgeries in September and October.

Polanco is returning from left shoulder surgery, which he got from dislocating his shoulder during an awkward slide. The slide also injured his knee, but that ended up being less severe and only a bruise.

Today was the first day that Polanco took swings since his surgery, hitting off a tee in the batting cages. He said that he felt good after, with no soreness in his shoulder.

“I was surprised myself. First time swinging, and I felt nothing,” Polanco said. “My swing feels regular.”

The next step for Polanco will be throwing. He will come back to Pirate City tomorrow and see how he feels after today’s hitting, at which point the Pirates trainers will let him know about his next steps and throwing date.

Polanco said that he is ahead of schedule “for sure” in his recovery. The original timetable had him out from 7-9 months, which would have put his return anywhere from mid-April until mid-June. The late end of that timetable has been ruled out by Polanco.

“I don’t think it’s going to be mid-June,” Polanco said. “I think it will be sooner. It depends on how my shoulder comes along.”

A lot can happen in terms of setbacks, so that’s not a guarantee, but it is good to hear that things are progressing well right now. Polanco worked today with the new hitting coaches, including Rick Eckstein. He said that his final month in 2018 was the best of his career in terms of his mechanics. He’s watching video and working to get his swing back to that during his build up.

“Today we worked in the cage,” Polanco said. “[The hitting coaches] were watching me. We’re going to work on everything, and see my videos from last year. Especially the last month when I felt great. I’ve got to get to that point when I feel that swing.”

There will be one other thing Polanco will be focused on as he spends his time in Bradenton over the next few months.

“I’ve got to work on my slide,” Polanco said with a laugh. “KB [Pirates baserunning coach Kimera Bartee] told me already we’re going to work on that.”

Archer Throws Off Flat Ground

Chris Archer threw off flat ground today on the back fields, throwing for the fourth time this year. Archer dealt with an abdominal injury all of last year, and finally had surgery in October.

“I saw two of the biggest core specialists, and they both told me the same thing at first,” Archer said. “In May, I was told a low grade strain. Take 4-6 weeks off, rehab, and you’ll be back out there. At the end of the season I was still feeling something. Core specialist in Pittsburgh told me the same thing and he recommended the same thing. And then when I started training, I said something is wrong.”

Archer said that his symptoms were still lingering after the season, even though the MRI didn’t show anything. He finally opted for the surgery, since the recovery time was the same.

“If the rehab is 4-6 weeks, and the rehab to get opened up is 4-6 weeks, why not just get opened up and see what’s going on?” Archer said.

While the injury lingered all year, Archer didn’t use that as a reason for his poor performance at any point.

“I really don’t have anything to say other than I didn’t pitch well,” Archer said.

The good news is that the surgery won’t impact his throwing schedule. He normally starts throwing on January 1st, and kept to that schedule this year. He doesn’t usually hit 100% until the middle of Spring Training, so he has some time to slowly work up over the next few months.

While Archer focused mostly on the injury today, he did offer his thoughts on the state of the rotation, noting that we might not have seen the best from this group yet.

“I think that’s the scariest part about what we have as a staff,” Archer said. “Two-fifths of our rotation was injured, and still pitching at a very high level. Four of us are coming back. I know we have Mitch Keller waiting, knocking on the door. I know he has the ability to be just as good as any of us. And then we signed Jordan Lyles, who kind of resurrected his career last year.

“It’s kind of scary what we’re capable of, knowing that Joe [Musgrove] and I both have our legs under us, literally. The way we finished, even though it wasn’t ideal, the way we finished as a staff was scary. Trevor [Williams] and [Jameson Taillon] took huge leaps, and there’s still some left in there. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Musgrove Throws Off the Mound

Joe Musgrove has been recovering from October surgery to repair his abdominal wall. Today he threw off the mound for the first time since the surgery, throwing with pitching coach Ray Searage watching.

When I asked Musgrove if he’d be ready for a normal Spring Training, he said that the key focus was Opening Day, and that he might have some flexibility to take it slower in the early part of camp. But he said that based on how he’s feeling right now, he expects to be ready for Opening Day.

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