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03/17/09 12:59 PM ET

McGee being patient with rehab

Rays prospect's ascent delayed by Tommy John surgery

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jake McGee should have been knocking on the Rays' door this spring, a whisper away from the Major Leagues.

Left-handed with a lively 95 mph fastball ...

Only the highly touted McGee has been on the mend.

After 15 starts for Double-A Montgomery in 2008, he felt soreness in his left elbow.

"It was real sore for a week and a half, nothing out of the ordinary, though, just real sore," McGee said. "Even after I got taken out of the game, there was no pop. It was just really sore and it wasn't swollen. So I got an MRI and they told me it was completely torn. Went from there to Florida, got a second opinion."

A second opinion validated the first -- a torn ulnar collateral ligament, which punched McGee's ticket to Birmingham, Ala., where Dr. James Andrews performed season-ending Tommy John ligament transplant surgery.

Tommy John surgery is a complex surgery that has evolved so much over the years that it is perceived as routine. McGee said the experience has not been routine.

"It's a year of rehab," McGee said. "And it's tough to get through. There's a lot of waiting time. And you want to rush stuff, but you really can't."

McGee's recovery became easier once he began talking to other players who have had the surgery. They told him about the ups and downs of the recovery and what to expect. McGee also took solace in the fact doctors have told him chances are the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow will be stronger.

"Because I tore mine off the bone ... they repaired the one I tore off and put a graft over it," McGee said. "So they said it might be stronger. And they said I didn't have any scar tissue in there, either. They said it was really clean, because, I think, I tore it and got the MRI the next day, whereas a lot of guys continue to play after tearing it."

Mitch Lukevics, Rays farm director, called McGee's injury unfortunate.

"But it is what it is," Lukevics said. "He's doing great rehabilitating his left elbow. [Saturday], he had a 30-pitch fastball, changeup [bullpen session]. It went well."

While McGee is progressing nicely, Lukevics was pressed to come up with a best-case scenario for his recovery.

"It's hard to tell at this time, because you have to see how he progresses through the rehabilitation process," Lukevics said. "Right now, he has had no setbacks, which doesn't mean that in two weeks there could be. We hope not. So we have to play it by ear as he progresses. He dictates to us what his course of action will be based on how he feels.

"We're looking for health. We're not looking for strength right away. Health comes first; strength comes second. We're going to take it easy with him. This is a long-distance race. There's no reason to speed the process up. There's no reason to accelerate the process."

McGee understands that his natural inclination is to push for a faster recovery, which can be counterproductive.

"You feel good, throwing off the mound, full distance, and it's like everything is game ready," McGee said. "But it's really not. I still have a couple of months to go before I'm really ready for a game."

McGee will likely remain in Port Charlotte until June or July. He expects the rehab to culminate by playing a few games for Class A Port Charlotte, moving to Montgomery by the end of the year, and finishing the year in the instructional league.

"And I should be completely healthy next spring," McGee said.

McGee is already looking forward to what he plans to work on once he's healthy.

"Better command with my fastball and shorten up my breaking ball a lot more," he said. "I'll have a lot more time to work on my changeup since I've been hurt."

Pitching is the strength of the Rays' organization. Despite McGee's setback, which has put him lower in the pecking order, he isn't discouraged.

"I don't really think about that," McGee said. "I just try to think about my situation, how I'll progress. [I'll] just get up there when I get a chance to get up there. There's no rush. I'm still just 22."

Lukevics still considers McGee one of the organization's top prospects.

"There's nothing that would indicate to us otherwise," Lukevics said. "There are a lot of guys who have had Tommy John surgery and come back even stronger. This is what we anticipate for Jake McGee."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.