JT Brubaker understands the grind of professional baseball.
The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander was selected in the sixth round of the 2015 amateur draft. He made his major-league debut five years later.
But Brubaker never experienced a grind quite like the 2023 season. He was injured late in spring training and had season-ending elbow surgery.
Brubaker also figures to miss a significant part of the upcoming season. He is expected to return to the major leagues sometime around the All-Star break in July if he has no significant setbacks in his rehab.
“It’s a long season. When you’re playing, you realize it’s a long season. When you’re rehabbing, it’s an even longer season,” Brubaker said when he asked what he learned from sitting out last season. Fortunately, I was up with the big club and just learning about myself and what can I do to make it (through a) 162 (-game season).
“The past two, three years, I’ve had little minor hiccups here and there, whether it’s the shoulder, the side, my lat and stuff. But it’s what can I do to make 30 starts, full 162 and continue to contribute from the mound.”
Brubaker won’t make 30 starts this season.
The 30-year-old did not start playing catch after surgery until the final day of last season on Oct. 1. He is now throwing four days a week in his hometown of Springfield, Ohio while also undergoing physical therapy.
Brubaker is traveling to Bradenton, Fla., this weekend to be evaluated by the Pirates’ medical staff and get settled in for spring training, which begins Feb. 13 when pitchers and catchers report to Pirate City.
Not surprisingly, Brubaker feels he has a lot of catching up to do.
“Really, in my opinion, it’s not even close to where I would be at this point leading into normal spring training, like a healthy spring training,” Brubaker said. “For me at this point, I think I’d be throwing first, maybe second bullpen. I’d have been spinning them on flat grounds by now. And right now, it’s like I said 60 (feet), 90, 120, 90, 60. It’s a little different, but going at my own pace and feeling the arm out and going as intense as my arm is allowing you to go.”
Brubaker is hopeful that he will indeed be able to pitch in the big leagues by July.
“That was kind of the conversation throughout the whole thing even when I wasn’t even throwing, like the six months when I wasn’t doing anything,” Brubaker said. “That was still the conversation of our goal, my goal. If I’m ahead of schedule, then let’s hope that I can be back earlier. But I think with the 30-day (minor-league) rehab and everything lining up right there for the All-Star break, that’ll probably be the main target date.”
Brubaker took care of one piece of business Wednesday, agreeing to a one-year contract worth $2.275 million to avoid a salary arbitration hearing.
Now, Brubaker just wants to have an opportunity to earn that money. He has already been waiting an interminable amount of time just to get back on the mound.