Diamondbacks’ Alek Thomas returns from ‘frustrating and stressful’ rehab

Jul 2, 2024, 8:29 PM

Alek Thomas...

Alek Thomas #5 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates after scoring a run on an RBI double hit by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #12 against the Philadelphia Phillies during the seventh inning in Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Chase Field on October 19, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Alek Thomas had never been injured before, so going through a rehab that included a setback, shutdown, PRP injection and slow ramp back up was a “frustrating and stressful” process.

Thomas strained his left hamstring on March 31, a high Grade 1 strain that took more than three months to return from.

The Diamondbacks activated Thomas on Tuesday after he checked the final boxes he was looking for in a rehab game Monday for Triple-A Reno.

“Just consistently running hard and being able to get out of the box, sprint down to first or round the bases or around first base and also do some more work before the game and also just trying to get into a routine that works for me,” Thomas said were the final checkpoints.

“I’ve been speaking to him over the past several days about how he was feeling, and last night he determined that he was fully ready and excited to come back and join us,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “And I told everybody, I told you guys, I told him that when it was his time, he was going to be activated and be our starting center fielder.”

Thomas’ setback occured in a Triple-A game on May 5. Had all gone well, he was scheduled to rejoin the team after missing a month.

But it felt like it took longer to get ready for that game, and in his last at-bat of the day, something did not feel right.

“I re-hurt myself rounding first bases on the last-bat,” Thomas said. “I was feeling alright during the first part of the rehab, and it was just oddly taking a long time for me to get ready for the game. That last play definitely not only hurt me, but mentally as well and it was tough. … Tried to move forward and had a better attitude with the next rehab process.”

Thomas received a PRP injection for swelling in his lower hamstring. He did not start playing rehab games in the complex league again until June 13, and his first game back with Reno was June 25.

But he was able to swing the bat for much of the rehab process, facing live pitching at Salt River Fields. He said that allowed him to continue working on his offense so that he would not fall back into habit he was trying to break and stay sharp.

“I think that was great for me to get six, seven at-bats everyday or so,” Thomas said. “I think maybe, out of a week, I probably had like 35 at-bats or something like that. It was good making sure to stay ready.”

Thomas returned to the lineup Tuesday, batting eighth and starting in center field. He walked in his first plate appearance.

“It’s great to see him back,” D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll told Arizona Sports. “You hurt for a guy when he goes down, and with the hammy, you don’t know how bad it is right when it happens. … Just excited to see him build on what he was doing early in the year.”

How will the Diamondbacks manage the outfield?

Now that Thomas is back, the Diamondbacks have their full outfield back. Carroll slid back over to right field with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left on Tuesday. Jake McCarthy and Randal Grichuk were on the bench.

Lovullo said he has not fully mapped out what the playing time will look like, but Thomas will ease into his role at first without everyday starts.

“They’re all going to play,” Lovullo said. “We all need them. I need them all to play and play well, so I’m not going to run from any one of them, but I haven’t figured that out yet.”

Carroll stepped in as a capable center fielder with three outs above average. He was especially prolific at coming in and making plays, although he would turn the other way going back at times. Lovullo told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo Carroll had been improving in center and that has showing up in his jump data.

Thomas is a two-time Gold-Glove finalist, however, and Lovullo said his return brings their defense to a different level. Getting Gold Glove catcher Gabriel Moreno back on the same from a 10-day IL stint helps with that too.

On Thomas, Lovullo said he runs down baseballs “as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. I’ve been in this game a long time.”

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