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Rays’ Nick Anderson working out of a different kind of jam

Rehabbing reliever has been doing his throwing in a parking lot as a result of lockout rules.
Rays reliever Nick Anderson has been throwing in the parking lot of a mid-Pinellas physical therapy center due to the current lockout. Courtesy of Nick Anderson
Rays reliever Nick Anderson has been throwing in the parking lot of a mid-Pinellas physical therapy center due to the current lockout. Courtesy of Nick Anderson [ Courtesy of Nick Anderson ]
Published Feb. 22|Updated Feb. 22

ST. PETERSBURG — Nick Anderson is taking definite steps forward in his rehab from an October elbow procedure and toward a midseason return to the mound.

He just has to be careful he doesn’t step in front of a car as he does so.

Consider the Rays reliever’s current situation another product of baseball’s lockout and lack of agreement on a new labor deal.

Since players are banned from using team facilities, even as they work back from injury, Anderson is doing his rehab work with a private physical therapist who has an office in a strip shopping center in mid-Pinellas County.

Related: Rays Brett Phillips is up to some new tricks

Which is how after assorted strengthening and stretching exercises, Anderson ends up with an office staffer in the parking lot, just off busy Ulmerton Road, playing catch.

“Fortunately it’s not a high-traffic area, so it’s been good so far,” Anderson said. “There’s a couple cars that come across. Right now I’m only throwing at 60 feet. Once we back up to 75 feet, then we’ll be a little bit more in traffic.”

Besides dodging Dodges and other cars pulling in to visit one of the center’s restaurants, pilates studio and assorted shops, Anderson said there are some other hazards, such as the hard and uneven nature of the lot.

“It’s not the most gripping surface,” he said. “There’s rocks and sand, so you’ve got to be a little bit careful. (Monday) was my seventh time playing catch. I started in a new pair of shoes and you wouldn’t be able to tell, the toe (area) is all torn up.”

On the plus side, Anderson said no one has recognized him or interrupted his sessions.

“They’re probably so baffled that there’s these random people in a parking lot playing catch that they think we’re weird and they’re not even going to pay attention,” he said.

To be clear, Anderson, 31, isn’t complaining about the arrangement.

He could have opted for a less convenient but more lavish sports-oriented rehab center (as the team is paying for his rehab), one that would have some of the other perks — besides a grass field — that the Rays have in their training rooms, such as hot and cold tubs and laser treatments. But he has been pleased with his therapist and the treatment plan.

“You’re never too big to play some catch in a parking lot,” Anderson said.

His main concern, of course, is getting his elbow back in shape, then getting back on the mound in the form that made him one of the game’s top relievers in 2019-2020 before he faltered in the 2020 postseason.

Anderson spent most of last season trying to return after sustaining a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament early in spring training, eventually pitching in six September games but without his usual dominating stuff, his velocity down 2-3 mph.

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“It was weird,” Anderson said. “Some days were good. Some days weren’t. It was just very up and down.”

Anderson agreed with the plan to try to rehab, which he said had been advised by the Rays and his doctor, Keith Meister, rather than have Tommy John surgery. In retrospect, he now says the surgery may have been the better option since he could have been ready for the start of this coming season.

Catcher Kevan Smith, left, celebrates with pitcher Nick Anderson after the final out in a September 2020 game against the Nationals.
Catcher Kevan Smith, left, celebrates with pitcher Nick Anderson after the final out in a September 2020 game against the Nationals. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“When you get into injuries there’s just nothing certain,” he said. “Obviously looking back at it, I’m like, well, shoot, I should just got cut open right away when I had the injury.

“That would have solved that and I would have been back like the beginning of this year. But what do you do? You don’t really ever know. You just make a choice and roll with it, and hope it’s the right one.”

Anderson faced another choice at the end of last season: Take a month or two off to see if his stuff improved, or hope that a less invasive surgical procedure, with a quicker recovery time, worked.

That led to installation of a brace — a suture-like tape coated in collagen attached to the ligament to provide strength and prevent further injury.

If all goes well, Anderson is expected to be back pitching for the Rays around the middle of the season — assuming there is one. Shorter term, he is looking forward to the lockout ending and heading to Port Charlotte to rehab with the team.

“I’d just like to get on some grass,” he said.

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