Tomko eyeing May return to mound
Veteran pitcher continues to rehab pinched nerve
PHOENIX -- Brett Tomko was greeted by plenty familiar faces when he entered the A's clubhouse Saturday, among them former Padres teammate Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Kouzmanoff, after welcoming him with a bear hug, proceeded to make thumb prints in Tomko's rehabbing arm -- much of which Tomko couldn't feel.
"There's some feeling," the right-handed pitcher said.
Not enough, though, to get Tomko back on the mound anytime soon. Signed Feb. 28 to a Minor League contract worth $750,000, the 36-year-old Tomko is not projected to be game-ready until mid-May due to the irritated nerve in his right arm. He'll continue his rehab schedule in Minor League camp throughout the spring before getting the chance to regain his big league role as a starter or reliever.
Tomko is no stranger to the A's, though, as he initially signed a Minor League contract with Oakland on Aug. 5 last year after being released by the Yankees. However, his season was cut short after experiencing pain in his pitching arm on Sept. 14 -- the same day he earned his 100th career victory in a five-hit shutout against Texas.
"I thought I had torn my bicep tendon at the time," he said. "I threw 10 more pitches and felt a little sore that night, but it wasn't until the next day when I really felt it. That was probably the worst day ever."
The pain stayed with him, as did unanswered questions surrounding it. Tomko endured an MRI on his neck, which began what he called a "barrage of tests" to check for aneurisms, tumors, blood clots and the like.
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"I really wanted them to do all these tests just to make sure it wasn't anything serious," Tomko said.
Finally, doctors told him a swelled muscle likely was causing a pinched nerve that ran from his biceps down to his thumb -- the same injury from which right-handed starter Brad Penny once suffered.
"I called Brad up and realized it was the exact same thing," Tomko said. "Same symptoms, same pain -- everything. I never thought I wouldn't pitch again, and after talking to him I knew I'd be back on the mound."
With which, team, though, was an entirely different question. He garnered interested from four clubs, among them Minnesota, which was the team "I was leaning toward," said Tomko, who owns a career 100-102 record and 4.65 ERA in 309 games (266 starts) over 13 Major League seasons.
"But Oakland offered up the same type of offer," he continued, "and we had kept in contact, and I had wanted to come back from the get-go."
Mission accomplished. For now, though, Tomko will continue to undergo therapy on his arm while also making strides as a new father to five-month-old twins, Jack and Ty.
"There were grim moments," he said, "but things could have been much worse. Having them around has definitely helped."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.