When Tyler Saladino steps up for his first at-bat in the Charlotte Knights’ home opener on Thursday night against the Norfolk Tides, it will make official what has already been a remarkable comeback.
Saladino, 25, hasn’t played in a minor-league game at BB&T BallPark since suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm days before he was scheduled to start his first Triple-A All Star game last July.
At the time of the injury, Saladino, a 2010 seventh-round pick, was hitting a team-high .310 in Charlotte and was on track to make his major-league debut when the White Sox roster expanded in September.
Instead, Dr. James Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on Saladino on Aug. 15, and a promising season was cut short.
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After the procedure, Saladino returned home to San Diego and spent three long weeks waiting for the doctors to clear him to begin rehabbing.
“For those first few weeks you’re just sitting on the couch with nothing to do,” Saladino said. “I read the paper, and pretty much let gravity go to work on my arm.”
For the next four months, Saladino rehabbed three days a week, rebuilding his body from the ground up, as his range of motion slowly returned.
He then traveled to Glendale, Ariz., to begin a throwing program with the White Sox, meticulously timed to have him ready to go when spring training rolled around.
Saladino began throwing every other day, increasing the distance each time out by 15 feet.
“After that, we moved to game throws, adding in throws from second, short, third and then relays from the outfield,” Saladino said. “We tried to simulate every scenario that could happen in a game.
“It was all just such a progression. If you go through the day and everything goes well, that day is just as much of a success as the day before.”
Unlike pitchers, who are almost without exception lost for an entire season, position players who undergo Tommy John surgery tend to be sidelined seven to nine months.
Thursday’s Knights game falls a week short of eight months since his surgery.
“I’ve healed pretty quick, and there’s been no setbacks, which is the big thing,” said Saladino, who hit .280 with a home run, two RBIs and two stolen bases in 11 Cactus League games with the White Sox. “It’s nice to be playing back in Charlotte. After playing all those games here last year, it’s a refreshing feeling.”
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said that were it not for Saladino’s injury, he would have been in the conversation with Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez (both of whom made Chicago’s roster) for a job in the majors to start this season.
“For me, I just wanted to get back on the field for the first day of spring training, and I was able to get there,” Saladino said. “Then, I wanted to be there ready for the first game of the season, so knowing that I’ll probably be leading off is a really good feeling.”
Notes: The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Thursday, and a sellout is expected. The Knights, who added 250 seats to BB&T Ballpark during the offseason, led all of minor-league baseball in attendance in 2014 with an average of 9,686 fans per game.