By STEVE KRAH
Skylar Szynski has not delivered a pitch in a regular-season baseball game for more than a year.
A tear in his right elbow — the first major injury of his diamond life — cropped up near the end of preseason camp.
“I was feeling good all through spring training,” says Szynski, the former Penn High School standout and Oakland Athletics minor leaguer. “I threw my (simulated) game (and the arm began to hurt).
“I’ve been sore. But that’s regular soreness.”
An examination revealed the damage.
As a high schooler, he had originally accepted a scholarship offer to play at Indiana University or the $1 million signing bonus that came with being taken in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics.
At Penn, he won 27 career games (20 as a junior and senior), including the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A state championship (a 3-2 win for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and the Kingsmen against Terre Haute North).
The hard-throwing righty opted to go pro and saw limited action the summer in the rookie-level Arizona League.
On an innings restriction limit coming off his senior high school season, Szynski appeared in seven games (all starts) in a month with the Arizona League Athletics. His professional debut came was June 29. He gave up three hits and four runs in 1/3 of an inning. He went on to log 13 1/3 innings, going 0-3 with an 8.10 earned run average, eight strikeouts and four walks.
After a short break, he went back to Arizona to throw bullpen sessions in the fall instructional league.
It had been hoped that rest would allow him to continue without surgery. But that was not possible.
Now, Szynski had another decision to make.
Would he have right-arm ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) or repair?
Szynski chose UCL repair — which generally has a recovery time half as long a reconstruction.
Decoding against a stem-cell shot, collagen tape was wrapped around the repaired elbow and then the pitcher started on his journey to get back in the game.
The last few months, Szynski has been at Oakland’s spring training complex in Arizona for five-days-a-week rehabilitation program.
“It’s going pretty good,” says Szynski. “I work on shoulder strength and have soft tissue massage on my elbow and forearm.”
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Szynski and a half dozen others are led by Athletics pitching rehab coordinator Craig Lefferts, a former big league pitcher. This week, they moved from 60 to 75 feet to play catch.
Lefferts watches Szynski and company to make sure they are using the proper mechanics and not overdoing it.
“We’re throwing around 65 mph,” says Szynski, who goes through arm care protocol with shoulder and elbow movement after these sessions. That is followed by working out, 10 minutes in the cold tub and a consultation with trainers.
When Szynski is in Indiana (he lives in Granger with parents Brent and Robin and little brothers — sophomore Camryn and eighth grader Bradyn), he is a regular at Sharpley Training in Elkhart.
Former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley pushes Skylar to the limit.
“Everyday is brutal,” says Szynski. “There’s no easy days at Sharpley’s.”
At 6-foot-2, Szynski has been looking to put more weight on his frame and get to around 215 or 220.
“That should help with my durability,” says Szynski, who was at 207 as a Penn senior.
Szynski throws both a four- and two-seam fastball, circle change-up and curve.
“The change is the pitch I need to work on the most,” says Szynski, who turned 20 on July 14. “I need to throw more strikes with that. In high school, I really didn’t need it. Here, you need three pitchers or better to succeed.”
Szynski says the Athletics sees his breaker as more of a slider. He is trying to fine tune the pitch and get more break downward and less sweeping action.
Plans call for Szynski to come back to Indiana for Christmas and New Year before he heads back to Arizona and resumes getting ready for spring training and the 2018 season.
“I should be game ready toward the end of spring training if everything works out,” says Szynski. “I’ll probably be in extended spring training to get some innings in.”
From there, he hopes to be once again standing on a mound in a regular-season game. It could happen close to home. The Athletics’ Low Class-A team is the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers. Beloit is slated to visit the South Bend Cubs July 11-13.
Skylar Szynski delivers a pitch for the Arizona League Athletics during the summer of 2016. The 2016 Penn High School graduate had elbow surgery and missed the entire 2017 season. He is working his way back for 2018. (Robin Szynski Photo)
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