Tip Fairchild underwent successful Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow Wednesday at Texas Orthopedic Hospital in Houston.

Now comes the hard part – getting back on the mound.

“The doctor (Houston Astros team doctor Dr. Tom Mehlhoff) said the surgery went very well,” said Bill Fairchild, Tip’s father, who was in Houston. “He said (the ulnar collateral ligament) was a one-time sever, so it wasn’t beat up or whatever. So they reattached that with a tendon they took from the other arm. It was nice and long and strong so they could really get a very good knot there.”

Tip Fairchild spent the night in the hospital and was scheduled to be released today. He will stay in Houston for a couple of more days to work with Astros medical personnel and fly back to Maine this weekend.

The 24-year-old Monmouth Academy and University of Southern Maine star tore his ulnar collateral ligament in the preseason while pitching for Houston’s Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. He will not pitch again this season, but could be back stronger than ever a year from now.

On Monday, he will begin rehabbing five days a week with Bob Brainard at Central Maine Partners in Health in Auburn. Brainard, an occupational and therapeutic rehabilitation specialist as well as licensed athletic trainer with nearly 20 years of experience working with athletes, met with Fairchild a half-dozen times last week for pre-op evaluations and to set up a schedule.

“We started to work on some strengthening exercises for the wrist, as well as the shoulder and rotator cuff, as well as total body conditioning,” Brainard said.

Most pitchers have about 160 degrees of external rotation on their shoulder, Brainard explained. With his injury, Fairchild had only about 110 degrees of external rotation before experiencing pain in his elbow.

Brainard’s early work with Fairchild will focus on improving range of motion to the wrist, elbow and shoulder. About two weeks in, Fairchild will begin a strengthening program, mostly with resistance training. Within three weeks, he should be able to do more day-to-day tasks, such as combing his hair and brushing his teeth. Like any post-operative rehab, the timetable varies from person to person.

“A lot of it is determined by Tip and his progression,” Brainard said. “We start with a lot of wrist flexibility, range-of-motion exercises. We may use ice, heat, stimulation, ultrasound – something to control pain and swelling. Sometimes you don’t really need to do that. Then you also start working on the total body.”

“After maybe 10 weeks, he’ll be back golfing,” he added. “After about three-and-a-half, four months, he’ll start short-toss, and then he’ll progress to long-toss. With Tommy John surgery, you’re looking at a year before they start competitive pitching again, and you’re looking at pitching to live batters maybe around eight months.”

Fairchild will be flying to Houston every three or four weeks to update the Astros on his progress. Brainard said he is already working closely with the ball club.

“They have their own protocol, and yeah, I have my own nuances and things that I do,” Brainard said. “They’re focusing on the shoulder. I’m going to be focusing more on the total body.”

If Fairchild follows the plan, is diligent, stays motivated and listens to his body, he should be able to return to the form that made him one of the fastest-rising minor leaguers in the Astros system.

“Eight-five percent of all individuals in today’s Major League Baseball that have Tommy John surgery actually go on and continue pitching in the pros.,” Brainard said.

“As a matter of fact, research has shown sometimes they throw harder than the did before,” Brainard said.

The list of Tommy John recipients who went on to thrive includes John Smoltz and Mariano Rivera. Fairchild has more immediate inspiration.

“(Astros starter) Brandon Backe just had his done in August,” Fairchild said last week. “He just finished his seventh month and he’s throwing live batting practice, all of his pitches. He might be in the rotation as early as July. He’s going to be one of my main go-to people to talk about it.”

Brainard said the young pitcher has good reason to be optimistic.

“This may be a bump in the road and an obstacle,” he said, “but it’s nothing that he can’t overcome.”


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