Stephens Easing His Way Back

Stephens just wants to get some innings this year

After undergoing Tommy John surgery last July, right-hander Jason Stephens feels he has taken significant strides forward in his first five outings since his return to pro ball action last month.

"I had a few setbacks with the surgery process, but nothing to be too worried about, and I'm back in games, which was my goal for this year," Jason Stephens said. "So, I'm pretty happy about it."

In his most recent outing on August 5th, Stephens put together his longest performance thus far, throwing six shutout innings against the Hudson Valley Renegades, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out two.

"It's definitely not 100 percent yet, but I don't think they really expect me to be that. I'm just trying to get stronger and get back to where I was before surgery."

"My velocity's down a little bit from what it was, so if I ended up where I am now I'd be disappointed...I think the fastball was sitting around 85 [Sunday], which is about three or four miles an hour down from what it used to be."

But while the 6-foot-4 right-hander has not been satisfied with the life on his fastball, Stephens said he has felt no discomfort in the elbow and has not been treated differently than any other pitcher on the Yankees' staff.

"There are no problems, just nothing feels the way that you were used to it feeling, and I don't feel quite as strong as I was, so it's just a matter of getting the strength back and the velocity and everything. All those things will come in time."

Selected in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, Stephens went 4-1 with a 1.80 earned run average in eight starts for Charleston last summer before landing on the disabled list for a year.

"It's just a really long process. You get the surgery and then you rehab the entire time — in four months you start throwing, after six months you start getting back to long tossing, and then eventually you get back on the mound," he said. "It's just a long process, and you have to bare with it and just hope that you can make it through without any real problems, which I've been able to do."

Stephens said he used his time off to practice the grip on his changeup, a pitch he feels has come a long way and become a much better weapon so far in 2007 than in the past.

"[The changeup] is coming along really well. I learned it, it starting coming along really well last year, and then through this whole process I've been able to have a lot of time to practice it, and I can throw it for strikes a lot more now than I could," he said. "I've been using it more often in the games, so that's a pitch that's come a long way for me."

Stephens said his curveball has also begun to shape up, although he used it very sparingly during his outing Sunday.

"It's something that I've always been able to throw, and it's something I'm just naturally able to do, that I don't have to think about it and it's always there when I need it," he said.

Overall, the 22-year-old pitcher has been happy with the progress he has made since beginning his rehab, as he has not changed anything about his approach on the mound from previous years.

"I've always been the type of guy who just throws strikes and I try to let the hitters get themselves out, so the approach is exactly the same [as previous years], just not trying to do too much, not trying to overthrow," he admitted.

"I was able to sit pretty patiently after the surgery, because I knew going in that it was going to be a whole year, so I just had to keep telling myself that I'd get there eventually," he said. "Right now it's just trying to get me innings this year, so that I can come back next year and be 100 percent."

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