9/6/2013 10:16 P.M. ET
Kohn's return from TJ surgery has few peers
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Michael Kohn hasn't just come back from Tommy John surgery -- he's kicked its butt.
Kohn underwent the procedure on April 12, 2012, and, "As soon as I had the surgery," he recalled thinking, "I was like, 'Am I ever going to throw again?'" When Spring Training came, his realistic goal was to simply make it back to the Majors by the All-Star break.
Heading into Friday's series opener against the Rangers, Kohn had accumulated 54 appearances out of the Angels' bullpen and shown no signs of slowing down.
He has a 3.28 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, has struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings, is throwing his fastball an average speed of 94.1 mph -- it was 93.3 in 2011 -- and, thanks to a changeup he can now throw effectively to righties, he's notched nine consecutive scoreless appearances.
"Everyone always says the process is so long and so hard -- and it is hard," Kohn said. "... But I felt like mine just completely flew by. I think it's because I didn't have any big hurdles. I just kept going. I was like, 'OK, bring on what's next.'"
Modern medicine has a good grasp on the human elbow, but Tommy John surgery is nowhere near as foolproof and fast as Kohn has made it out to me. Look no further than Ryan Madson, who had his surgery one day earlier than Kohn and couldn't come back in 2013.
In some ways, Kohn is one of the lucky ones.
Dr. James Andrews has known Kohn for a long time. He knew he wasn't a pitcher until just before he got drafted, and when he went in for an MRI exam in early April 2012, he realized Kohn -- then two months removed from his 25th birthday -- had been playing with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow for nine years.
That prompted Andrews to take a far more aggressive approach with Kohn. He replaced his elbow ligament with his hamstring tendon, which is a lot thicker than the tendon that's most commonly used in the procedure -- and he'd take a very aggressive approach with his rehab.
Said Kohn: "I left everything in his hands."
Less than four months after surgery, Kohn began tossing a tennis ball 15 feet.
At the 7 1/2-month mark, he was hitting 92 mph with his fastball.
At eight months, he was certain he could pitch in a game.
And by the time he reported for Spring Training in mid-February, he had already thrown 33 bullpen sessions.
All along, Kohn had a giant daily planner sitting on the desk of his Camden, S.C., home. Filled out in ballpoint pen for each day were the exercises and throwing schedules he'd be doing with Hunter Bowie, a trainer for Rehabilitation Centers of Charleston in Kohn's home state.
"And every hurdle I just kept crossing off," he said.
Sure, there were obstacles along the way. There were times, as Angels reliever Scott Downs warned him, that he wouldn't have any idea what his arm was doing as he drove towards home plate. It happened in Spring Training, when Kohn posted an 8.44 ERA in 5 1/3 innings and was forced to start the season at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Five Minor League appearances later, though, Kohn was in the big leagues -- and he hasn't looked back.
"I was amazed," Kohn said. "I was like, 'This can't be this good?' Eventually, I'm going to have a setback. It's going to catch up. And it didn't."
Hamilton discovers less is more at DH
ANAHEIM -- Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton made his 25th start at designated hitter on Friday night. That's 10 more than his previous career high, set in 2008, and six more than the number of times he served as DH from 2011-12.
That has prompted Hamilton to search for a routine to effectively combat the long stretches of idle time between plate appearances when one doesn't play the field.
The strategy that works best for him: "Do as little as possible."
"When I go down there in the cage and just swing, swing and get loose and get hot, terrible result," Hamilton said. "So now I go down there and maybe sprint a couple times or whatever, don't swing. Just go up there and freaking hit."
Hamilton hasn't played a game in the outfield since Aug. 27. His left shoulder, which received a cortisone shot about 10 days ago, no longer feels sore. And prior to the opener against the Rangers, Hamilton was on the field early and throwing at pretty much full strength.
The Angels, however, continued to play it safe, starting Hamilton at DH for the sixth straight time.
Hamilton enters the weekend series on perhaps the best stretch of his trying season, with 30 hits and 13 walks in his previous 102 plate appearances to put his slash line at .238/.299/.422 for the year.
That stretch dates back to Aug. 9, when Hamilton was playing the outfield semi-regularly -- and it hasn't stopped while he's been the DH.
"I just keep going back to saying, 'I need to do something,'" Hamilton said of staying loose between at-bats. "And then every time I do something, I suck at the plate.' So, don't do anything.'"
Kendrick isn't done battling in 2013
ANAHEIM -- It would've been pretty easy for Howie Kendrick to shut it down for the year, with the season 3 1/2 weeks from being over, the Angels 15 games out of first place and his sprained left knee still not allowing him to run at full speed.
But there he was early Friday afternoon, doing more agility drills and remaining confident that he'll return to second base before the curtain closes on 2013.
"I want to play," Kendrick said. "I like winning, I like playing. I'm not one of those people that's just going to sit out just because we're losing. We've been playing good baseball. And at the same time, too, I want to play. I'm not a guy who likes to be hurt. Nobody is. That being said, I want to go out there and play. I don't want to go into the offseason injured and have to deal with doing rehab. But I think most importantly it's going back out and trying to play and win ballgames."
Kendrick, with a .301/.341/.437 slash line in 108 games, hurt his knee on a collision with right fielder Collin Cowgill during a game against the Rangers on Aug. 5. Originally, he opted to wait a couple of days to see if he could avoid the disabled list. When he went on the DL, he hoped to be back in 15 days.
But Kendrick has yet to clear the necessary hurdle of running full speed without any soreness. On Friday, though, he felt closer than ever.
"I can turn it up a little more," Kendrick said. "For me, it's progression. We're going to do it for a couple days and go from there."
• Tommy Hanson had an encouraging start in a playoff game for Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday night, pitching six innings of three-run ball while giving up three hits, walking two and striking out eight. Hanson entered that outing 0-2 with a 5.49 ERA in four starts since being sent down, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia his velocity was more consistently in the 90-mph range and he was "more along the lines of where he needs to be."
• Peter Bourjos, 5-for-46 since coming off the disabled list, was out of the starting lineup for Friday's game against righty Matt Garza and has started only two games since Aug. 29. Scioscia said he's "still not 100 percent" with his right wrist.
• Third baseman Chris Nelson, who landed on the DL with a strained right hamstring on Aug. 28, did some exercises in the pool on Thursday, was slated to run lightly on the treadmill on Friday and has not given up hope on a return before the end of September. "I don't want to finish the season on the DL," he said.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.