Tecumseh grad healthy one year after arm trouble

J.T. Brubaker was scheduled to start season at Triple-A

J.T. Brubaker had never missed any significant part of a baseball season until 2019, which happened to be the year everyone expected him to make his Major League Baseball debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

» EARLIER COVERAGE: Brubaker on rise in minors

Brubaker, a 2012 Tecumseh High School graduate who pitched three seasons for the Akron Zips, was on a path to the big leagues after posting an 8-4 record and 3.10 ERA with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 2018. Then a right forearm strain a year ago delayed his ascent.

Brubaker, 26, made four starts in April of 2019 for Indianapolis and then two rehab starts in June with the Class A West Virginia Black Bears. That was it. Considering the circumstances, Brubaker said he took it pretty well.

“I stayed in a good mindset of wanting to get back,” he said, “but it was different to see the game from the perspective of knowing you’re not going to get out onto the field and you’re not going to contribute in between the lines. You’re working on yourself. That was different. Then after the all-star break, they let me come down here to Florida to where I can just focus on my arm. That was a big help. I was just in the mindset of getting my arm back to where it was, where it needed to be. I didn’t have to worry about a game at 7 o’clock at night. I was just able to focus on that and get healthier.”

» 2017 UPDATE: Brubaker moving up in Pirates system

Brubaker was happy to avoid surgery.

“Anytime you can avoid going under the knife, it’s always a bonus,” he said. “That’s usually something you want to avoid at all costs.”

Brubaker also had help in his recovery in the form of a platelet-rich plasma injection into his arm.

“It helped a lot,” he said. “I don’t want to say it sped up the healing process, but it made the healing process stronger. I was more confident in what I was doing after the shot: the build-up and stuff like that.”

Brubaker spent the offseason in Hilliard, working out at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports facility and taking it as slow as he could while still preparing to be ready for spring training. When he reported to the Pirates’ facility in Bradenton, Fla., he was 100 percent.

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Brubaker started spring training in the big-league camp and was optioned to the minor-league camp just before spring training was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic on March 12. That demotion was expected. The Pirates wanted Brubaker to get more innings and be throwing five innings per appearance before the season started.

Brubaker would have began the season in the starting rotation in Indianapolis. He felt good in his spring-training outings.

“I felt like my stuff was there,” he said. “My body was in sync. I wasn’t favoring anything. I wasn’t manipulating my arm path. I felt normal.”

When baseball shut down in March, Brubaker stayed in Bradenton. The Pirates left the facility open for a handful of players. Brubaker said there are six or seven who stayed. He has catchers to throw to.

“I was going to wait it out as long as possible,” Brubaker said. “Then I got fortunate. I was just trying to see what they were going to do: keep it open or not. Eventually, it got to the point where Ohio was getting shut down. I wasn’t going to come back and not have anywhere to go to work out. It’s cold. Gyms were clothing. I just hung around here, and luckily, they kept Pirate City open, and I’ve been able to work out consistently.”

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Brubaker’s wife Darci, who’s a teacher, flew to Florida on her spring break just before everything closed down, so she stayed with him. They haven’t seen the rest of their family since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Brubaker is hopeful baseball will resume, though it’s unclear what will happen to minor leaguers this year even if the big leagues get started in July, There are reports baseball could expand the active roster, which could give Brubaker a chance to pitch in the big leagues this season. In the meantime, he’s preparing to help the Pirates organization in any way he can.

“That’s been the whole key through this whole thing: staying in shape, staying healthy and continuing to get my work in,” Brubaker said. “Whenever we decide that we’re going to play or start up a spring training 2.0, hopefully everybody’s ready to go.”

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