Blanks On The Return

Padres first baseman coming back from Tommy John





PEORIA, Ariz.—Kyle Blanks hadn't faced live pitching since May.

Since having Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in July, the power-hitting, first baseman/outfielder has hit off a tee, taken soft toss and stood in at the plate, tracking balls as pitchers warmed up. All that changed in mid-March.

Taking advantage of a rare B game, far from the public eye, Padres manager Buddy Black decided to drop Blanks into the lineup as the designated hitter against the Mariners. The results weren't pretty as he walked once, but struck out twice.

"I've been tracking balls in batting practice, but this was the first live at-bats with the intent to hit the ball," Blanks said. "I definitely felt competitive, but the reps just aren't there. And those were the first breaking balls I've seen since early last season."

Blanks, 24, will probably open the season on the disabled list. When he's ready, he'll go on a 20-day rehab assignment in the minors, to whichever affiliate can give him the most at-bats.

The normal rehab time for Tommy John surgery is 12-16 months. It can be less for position players, though.

"I haven't set any target dates," he said. "I'm just getting treatment, going with the flow. I'm going to put in the work to get myself ready, they know that. Whether I get one AB as a pinch-hitter or three as a DH, it's OK. Wherever they send me is OK, too. One thing is for sure, though, I need to get some serious reps on the curveball machine."

FATHER FIGURES

• All three minor league players acquired from Boston in the Gonzalez trade—righthander Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Reymond Fuentes—impressed in big league camp. "They're as good as advertised," Black said. "They still have some hurdles to clear, but they'll be good players for us."

• Young catcher Jason Hagerty also made a positive impression. "I like the way he swings the bat," Black said.