Matt Harvey. Greg Holland. Jonny Venters.
Three of the last five National League Comeback Player of the Year award recipients all have one thing in common.
Pitchers returning to the mound after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Corey Knebel wants next.
“Selfishly, become the Comeback Player of the Year,” the Milwaukee Brewers 2018 all-star told the Wisconsin Sports Zone about his goals for the upcoming season. “Unselfishly, win the World Series. I’d love to just be back in the post-season. Contribute to the boys.
“Two years in-a-row, we missed it by just that much. So, just to be there and help them out. Can’t wait, man. To come back and be healthy and throw some high heat. Just can’t wait, man.”
The last time he took the mound, it was Game 7 of the 2018 National League Championship Series. During the following spring training, the decision was made to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of the 2019 season.
An operation that requires months of rehabilitation, Knebel could only watch the team as they made a push for the post-season last year. A feeling he described as a “gut punch” knowing there was nothing he could do to help.
“You’re gassed going in to the post-season,” he said. “But in the post-season another animal kicks in. So I was happy to see what the guys in the (bullpen) did last year, especially in the post-season. They looked good, there’s always just one thing, you know? Even during the season, it’s one mistake that happens and that’s how it usually is.
“That’s the name of the game. You can’t change it. What is it, ‘baseball is a game of inches?’ That’s exactly what it is. It was tough to watch.”
Brewers manager Craig Counsell called Knebel’s hardware aspirations a “great goal.” Adding that he definitely has a shot at winning the award.
Knebel is continuing with his rehabilitation process. He’s hopeful to make his 2020 debut after the first month or so of the regular season. He’s currently throwing bullpen sessions on an average of two to three times per week.
“I can’t really get too far ahead of myself in throwing,” he said. “Trying to stay healthy, that’s the main things. So, i’m getting ready to go. However long that takes, I’m going to be ready to go once I get back up.”
For athletes, the underrated aspect of returning from injury is the mental capacity endure the ups and downs of the daily grind, plus getting yourself ready to compete at a high level again. Knebel said you “go through some stuff” while working your way back to full health.
He was fortunate enough to take a month-and-a-half to himself this off-season, traveling home to Texas to clear his head and prepare to play this season.
Unfortunately, his hobbies include golf, fishing and bow-hunting.
Three activities that you cannot participate in while rehabbing an elbow repair.
“I had to rifle hunt. And rifle hunting is not really too exciting to me,” he said. “You check them out in the scope and pull the trigger. There’s not really any work to be done until after.”
That’s where he was able to spend time with, and lean on his family. Wife, Danielle, and three-year old daughter, Ledger Staar.
“If they’re both asleep, and I’m still up, I’ll play some video games,” Knebel said about his favorite non-family activities to do during free time. “You just got to throw in a couple of things here and there that you can’t do, and you got to make do. Got to have some fun some how.
“My family is my biggest part of my life. I’d do anything for them.”
As for his highly anticipated return to the mound.
“It’s like ripping off a band-aid. You rip it off. We’re all ready to go this year.”