September 19 marked a milestone for the Colorado Rockies: the return of Ryan Feltner. Feltner was placed on the 60-day IL after taking a scary comebacker off the head on May 13. In a season where the rotation has been decimated by injuries, this provided a feel-good moment in mid-September. To boot, Feltner went toe-to-toe with NL Cy Young candidate Blake Snell and threw five scoreless innings.
“It was hard for me to settle down and sleep last night,” Feltner said on Wednesday. “I was pretty excited, but my parents were here, so the whole thing was a really cool, but long road back. Just to be able to be back out there was a win, and to be able to pitch the way I did was a bonus.”
On top of holding the San Diego Padres scoreless, Feltner allowed just two hits, hit one batter, walked two and struck out five. The Rockies ended up losing the game on a walk-off two-run homer by Xander Bogaerts in the ninth, but overall it was an excellent culmination after months of hard work.
“There were a lot of milestones along the way, for sure,” Feltner said. “Even from the beginning – the first day that I could make my own breakfast again (avocado toast with eggs). And then going into the first day I played catch, the first bullpen, first live batters, first rehab game and then last night, there were a lot of milestones that I was able to check off.”
Bud Black also took note of all the milestones Feltner had to achieve in order to return, and how far the right-hander has come.
“Initially, months ago, there was some concern about long-term effects,” Black said. “But as the weeks and months went on, all the signs were trending towards a positive outcome as far as him coming back. And I think the thing that stood out for me was his desire to come back and pitch. I mean, he wanted it to happen.
“And as time went on, we kept getting positive prognoses from all of his doctors,” Black continued. “All the little steps he had to take from just jogging and then running harder and then intense physical activity. In the early stages, there’s headaches and wooziness and generally not feeling right, but all those things that happened in May and early June went away. It all lined up for him to come back.”
But the biggest milestone that Feltner was able to check off was his first bullpen session in August, and that gave him the confidence to attempt a comeback in 2023.
“Once I started throwing bullpens was really the first time that we thought this year was a possibility,” he said.” All the way up until that point, it was just ‘let’s take it a day at a time and see where we end up.’ And then I started throwing bullpens and we looked at the schedule a little bit and we thought this would probably work out. So luckily I didn’t have any setbacks in rehab, and I’m glad the timing worked out the way it did.”
And the timing was perfect because Feltner’s parents, Laura and Derek, were able to make the trip from Ohio to see their son take the mound again.
“They loved it; it was great. My family loves San Diego, so they’re here for a little vacation as well. It’s a two-for-one for them,” he chuckled. “They’re super supportive and to have them along the way with me in the process was big. I talk to my parents every day, so to have them here… they saw me go through the whole thing, so it’s cool for them.”
Throughout his rehab process, Feltner leaned heavily on his teammates. Specifically, he sought out Matt Koch and Kyle Freeland for support.
“The same thing happened to Matt Koch a while ago, so we had a couple of conversations about what the process was for him to come back and that was super helpful,” he said. “The whole pitching staff and the team as a whole has been super supportive. Just being able to come back into the clubhouse and feel like I never left was a big thing.”
Freeland has taken Feltner under his wing and had nothing but glowing reviews of his rotation-mate.
“He’s got a very high ceiling with his arsenal and how he pitches,” Freeland said. “I’ve said he and [Germán] Márquez are the two guys that I’ve seen that have the most raw talent from the starting pitcher standpoint that I’ve ever seen.”
But as far as Feltner’s comeback, last night was a special moment for Freeland, too, because he also previously came back from a scare.
“For a little bit there, we didn’t know if he was going to be back,” Freeland said. “An injury like that is very scary for a pitcher. I got hit off the face once before and it’s a tough thing to come back from. It’s frightening when you first get back on the mound and you’re facing hitters because of that scare you’ve had. So being able to see him last night do his thing without any fear was awesome.”
Looking forward, Feltner plans to continue taking things a day at a time.
“I think what I learned throughout this process was that I like a challenge,” he said. “This is a big challenge and last night was a challenge. So I’m just trying to meet those challenges – and there’s always going to be a new one that comes up – and trying to make sure that I always check those boxes the best I can.”