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Tigers’ Drew VerHagen has put 'awful' 2016, thoracic outlet surgery behind him

Less than a month before spring training, VerHagen is progressing well in his recovery.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — The 2016 season was a lost endeavor for Drew VerHagen. What began as a hushed stint on the seven-day disabled list with Triple-A Toledo eventually developed into season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Now healthy, he’s scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time since late May.

At the time, VerHagen had been sent to Toledo after his performance suddenly tailed off, attributed to early season struggles. Four days later, though, he was on the DL for an “undisclosed injury” and on his way back to Detroit for an MRI. On June 2, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus provided a brief update, saying that it was a “neck related” injury.

Fast forward a couple of weeks from that point, and VerHagen found himself on the Tigers’ 15-day DL on June 17 for thoracic outlet syndrome. However, the team was “hopeful” that he would avoid surgery since his injury was neurological rather than vascular. A month later, on July 27, it was announced that VerHagen would undergo season-ending surgery.

It was thought at the time that the injury sprang up in mid-May, when VerHagen’s performance suddenly dipped and he lost all command. But VerHagen said on Thursday that he began experiencing issues as early as spring training last year. While an inconvenience, it was manageable, and he received daily treatment on his shoulder from the team’s athletic trainer.

For nearly two months, it was enough for VerHagen to continue to pitch well enough that the Tigers kept him on the big league squad. But when his symptoms worsened it showed in his performance and he was sent down to give his shoulder a break.

When that didn’t work, the DL trips were the result, and eventually, surgery. Recovering from TOS surgery isn’t a complete walk in the park, but VerHagen remembered that the worst of it was in the first three to four days following his procedure.

“Just overall, the drugs, they had numbing medication that caused my whole arm to be numb,” VerHagen said. “Like, I couldn't move it at all. I couldn't do basic bodily functions, nothing. I couldn't eat. I could barely get up and walk around, I felt like crap. But after that I was good. It's pretty invasive, they go in and remove a rib.”

The surgery was on Aug. 8. VerHagen is now had five and a half months to recover and slowly work back to feeling healthy again. He spent the offseason in Dallas, Texas in therapy and building his strength back up. Most of his time has been devoted to recovery.

VerHagen hasn’t thrown off a mound yet — that comes this next week. However, he has been long tossing from 180 feet on flat ground without issue. The true test will come when he faces live hitters in less than a month, but so far the worst is behind him and he says he’s looking forward to the 2017 season — and putting a bad year behind him for good.