Life in baseball is certainly unpredictable and players have to deal with minor adversity all the time that doesn’t hit the headlines. Minor and/or nagging injuries are played through, things happen at home that you miss out on, and some days you just have to power through not feeling 100% in order to get your work in or finish out a game. Its just the way things are.
That is what Braves’ pitching prospect thought he was dealing with for years. In college as well as his first year as a pro, Kasey dealt with soreness in his wrist that he thought was just soreness that hung around from a weightlifting injury from back in high school. He was still able to pitch well enough at Texas A&M to be the Braves’ fourth round pick in 2019 and played very well in his first season of pro ball with a 1.25 ERA and 24 strikeouts and 11 walks in 21.2 innings pitched.
However, a fluke accident after that season revealed a larger problem that Kalich has spent the better part of a year recovering from. To walk us through his injury and recovery, Kasey was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about it and what 2021 holds for him. Enjoy!
For the last year or so, you have been recovering from an injury What was that injury and what went into your decision to have it corrected the way you did?
So last fall (2019), I was training at Texas A&M’s facility and I just happened to slip on some slide boards that are used for lateral movements and I fell and landed on my wrist. It hurt, but I wasn’t I wasn’t in excruciating pain or anything like that. Well, I get back at it and I am doing dumbbell presses and I can’t stabilize a 50 or 60 dumb bell and thats when I knew something was wrong. I spoke with the trainer, he kind of felt around, and we called the trainers down in Florida. I went and got an X-ray and found out that I had a fractured scaphoid which is a bone in the wrist. From what the X-rays showed, the bone had been broken for about four years and it had just displaced when I fell. Once we found that out and sent those X-rays on to Dr. Lourie in Atlanta and confirmed that I would need surgery, three days later I drove to Atlanta, got more scans, and had surgery on the third day.
So do you remember how you were originally hurt four years prior or was it something you were completely unaware of?
I do. It wasn’t from a fall, it was from a weightlifting injury. In high school, we were lifting and on a 250 lbs lift, I didn’t get my elbows through so when I went to front squat, my elbows hit my knees and the bar rolled backwards and snapped both of my hands backwards. You can see that while they recovered, I don’t have the same kind of movement in my left wrist as in my right. I never got X-rays on it because it never hurt enough to make me think it was fractured or anything, so basically for four years I was playing on a broken wrist.
So I guess my next question was how were you able to perform at a high level with this injury and did the injury impact how you threw certain pitches?
I wouldn’t say that it impacted what pitches I threw or how I threw them. It just always hurt, so it was pretty much ibuprofen every game day was pretty much the remedy for it. As for my performance, it didn’t change what pitches I threw or how I threw them. In fact, when I hurt it junior year, I threw harder….which is weird.
So you have the surgery and it is a pretty extensive repair, what is the normal timetable for recovery for your surgery and what has the rehab process been like?
So, the recovery for just a normal scaphoid repair is, I believe, 3-6 months...if that. However, in my situation, they took three different bone grafts out of my right wrist as well to put around that bone in addition to a double-sided screw to promote more blood flow and heal more quickly. With taking those bone grafts, those areas had to heal and come back so the overall time for me was 10 months in a cast.
I know you and I talked a bit about the rehab to get the flexibility back in your wrist was one of the worst parts.
Oh yeah, getting that range of motion after 10 months in a cast was probably the worst part of therapy. It was, more or less, him grabbing my palm with his thumbs and just forcing my hand back and trying to get those ligaments to loosen back up.
So from the time you had surgery, how long did you have to wait to throw again?
So I may have exaggerated the time in the cast a little bit. I was in the cast for over nine months and then it was something like a month and a half of rehab to get enough range of motion back so I could throw again, so I didn’t start throwing again until December and I have been throwing for about three months now. It is a throwing program to build back up and I am already into flat grounds and off the mound a little bit. I am definitely not at 100% nor am I trying to get to 100% and push myself too hard right now. I know it just takes time and the last thing I want is for something to happen in my arm because I hadn’t picked up a ball in so long. I’m trusting the trainers and the program they are giving me. They are definitely being cautious especially with me being far away in Texas. As spring training and the lead up to the minor league season progresses, that process should speed up a bit.
Has the main difference been just the lack of pain post surgery or are you noticing other things that are different now that you are throwing again?
The biggest difference is the lack of pain when I do anything with my wrist. I can finally do a normal push-up. For three years, I was doing them with dumb bells. It’s great that now I get to work out in a normal workout routine without having to cater to my injury. Throwing-wise, there is zero pain, it feels great, and I feel a lot stronger than I ever have. Right now, I’m just taking it slow and making sure that nothing else happens.
So what is a typical day of training for you right now and who have you been working with?
So, for the first two months, I was down in Victoria in my hometown because we know people that own their physical therapy place so that is where I went because I trusted them and our family has gone to them for any injuries they had. Once I was done with physical therapy, I worked out at home for a month or two and decided that I wanted to go somewhere different and get around a different group of guys working towards the same goal so on January 4th, I moved to Dallas, TX which is about six hours north of my hometown and I am training at a gym called TPA. Since I have been here, I think it was the best move for me as its a great bunch of guys with a lot of smart people that I can pick their brains and good trainers. It was definitely the best move for me coming up here because I am back in that competitive atmosphere where there is energy and you can push your body to its limits. It is a different mentality when you are in a gym with 20-30 guys who are working towards the same goal. Everyone is going to push themselves.
A normal week for me is that we work out Monday-Friday with Monday/Wednesday/Friday being our lift days and Tuesday/Thursday being either our throwing days or where we get our running, medicine ball work, etc. As for the lift days, we just switched into our more explosive program, so it is going to be a lighter weight for fast reps. For the first couple months I was here, it was more for power with really heavy weight, low reps, and building up that base to be able to be explosive.
So lets talk about the 2021 season. You should be throwing this year in games, do you have any specific goals for the season as you come back from injury?
I don’t really have any thoughts on that in terms of where I am going to end up level-wise or anything like that. My goal is just to be better than I was last season, find something else that I can be good at whether that is developing the curveball that I didn’t have in college that I want to bring back or its spotting my pitches a little bit better. I’ve talked to Paul Davis who is the minor league pitching coordinator and our thinking is that we want the grouping of my pitches to be a lot closer. We want four-seams to be in a certain grouping, sliders to be in a certain grouping, etc. I’m just ready to be on the mound and working on those groupings and just start playing again. As for goals, everyone’s goal is to make it, go up a level, or make moves...but if you play well, that will come so my goal is to just be better than I was last time.
One last question before I let you go and this is more of a baseball-y one. What has been the biggest difference you have noticed between professional hitters and those in college and who is the best hitter you have gone up against?
I would say that the toughest thing about professional hitters is that they are a little bit more patient and are looking for their pitch. Not a lot of guys like to chase unless you have them set up to do that. You really have to change eye level as well and hit spots. If you don’t hit spots, there are just going to be lasers shot all around the field and your outing is done before you know it. As far as the hardest hitter I have ever been up against, I’d have to go with my own teammate Braden Shewmake. He lit me up a few times in the fall at A&M and even throwing live ABs, he’s probably been the toughest I have had to go against.