After a season plagued by pain and far less pitching than he’d expected, Washington Nationals prospect Matt Purke is recovering from surgery on his left shoulder to relieve bursitis and clean out scar tissue. Purke, whose labrum and rotator cuff are in “excellent” condition, is expected to be ready for spring training.
The Nationals’ top left-handed prospect, Purke pitched in just three games for low-Single-A Hagerstown this year in his first professional season, going 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA, 12 walks and 14 strikeouts in 15⅓ innings. Otherwise, he spent the year going through shutdown periods, rehab periods and more build-up periods, only for the pain to return almost immediately.
On Aug. 22, after visiting with Dr. Lewis Yocum, Purke — who dealt with bursitis at Texas Christian University — had some of his bursa sacs removed and underwent the cleanup procedure on his left shoulder. The bursa sacs that were removed are expected to grow back.
“It’s just something you can’t control how it happens or when it happens, but it definitely can be a problem,” Purke said Wednesday in a phone interview. “To a certain extent, it can cause more pain than an actual tear in something. But I think with what we did and how we got everything back to the way it was and my strength, I’ll be able to keep myself out of trouble with it.
“The doctor said he didn’t feel it was something I was going to have to worry about, as far as coming back. They gave me the green light and said it was better than anybody expected.”
Purke is in the midst of rehabbing twice a week in Houston and is expected to begin a throwing program in December. A member of the Nationals’ 40-man roster by virtue of the major league deal he signed in 2011, Purke will report to spring training with the rest of the team’s pitchers and catchers in mid-February.
While he hasn’t been cleared to throw, Purke noticed the difference in the way his arm felt almost immediately after the procedure. He’s regained his range of motion quickly and has turned his focus toward Year 2 in his pro career.
“I am more than excited to get back out there,” Purke said. “It’s been a long year, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands in Florida, and I haven’t enjoyed it. I’m definitely excited to start offseason workouts, to get ready and then, when it comes spring training, we should be on full throttle.
“I’m ready to get back out there and finally pitch the way I know I can and what I’m supposed to.”
The Nationals drafted Purke in the third round of the 2011 draft, elated that a power lefty who was once a possible No. 1 overall selection had fallen to them at that spot. He was signed to a major league deal worth just more than $4 million, including his $2.75 million bonus.
Purke was the 14th overall pick in 2009, but Major League Baseball vetoed the $6 million bonus he’d agreed to with the Texas Rangers, and he went to TCU instead. He was the National Freshman of the Year in 2010, going 16-0 to lead TCU to the College World Series. But concerns about his health led to his draft stock falling, and outside of a stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2011 and a brief appearance this season, he’s struggled to stay on the field.
“It was definitely a frustrating [year] to go through, but I think in the long run it’ll help me out a lot,” Purke said, noting the experience he got in big-league spring training as well as with Single-A Hagerstown and his introduction to pro ball.
“It was a relief to me [to have the procedure],” he said, adding that the doctors assured him his labrum and rotator cuff didn’t even show significant signs of wear and were in good condition. “Going in, I thought it was a lot worse than it was. This was best-case scenario. … I feel really good, and I’m really excited to get back on a mound and start pitching again.
“This was the bump in the road that I couldn’t get over to get me going again. But now that I’ve got it cleared up, I think it will be all squared away.”