CHICAGO -- Donnie Veal made a guarantee just prior to having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in June of 2010.
“I'll be back," Veal told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette in 2010. “I’ll come back even stronger, ready to pitch.”
Veal’s road to recovery hasn’t been easy, but two-plus years after making that statement he has returned as good as he’s ever been.
Veal has been the Chicago White Sox’s go-to lefty bullpen specialist since being called up from Triple-A Charlotte in early August, allowing no hits, one walk and striking 11 hitters in 20 plate appearances against lefties this season. Overall, he’s allowed two hits and one run and has a 1.00 ERA in nine innings and 14 appearances.
“I feel like you appreciate it more,” Veal of being in the majors prior to Tuesday’s game. “It has been a hard road, and it’s not easy. You’re not a first-rounder, got up here in half a season or something like that. It’s been awhile and had my ups and downs.”
Veal’s career has been full of twists and turns. He was originally drafted by the White Sox in the 12th round of the 2003 draft out of high school, but he opted to attend college at Arizona. He was drafted again by the Chicago Cubs in the second round in 2005.
Veal spent four years in the Cubs’ minor league system before the Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the Rule 5 draft in 2008. With the Pirates, he worked his way up to the majors in 2009 and had a 7.19 ERA in 19 appearances in his first season.
Veal’s injury troubles soon followed. He strained his right groin in 2009 and was on the disabled list for nearly two months. In 2010, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow in late May and missed the remainder of the season after having surgery.
Veal returned last season and spent time in Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. By the end of the season, he finally started feeling like his old self.
“My arm felt great,” Veal said. “I was throwing the ball pretty good. I was able to hit some spots.”
Getting there was a mental hurdle as much as a physical one.
“After surgery, you just want to be healthy, get over that trusting factor,” Veal said. “Trust it won’t pop, it won’t hurt when you let it go. It’s just getting over the injury part.
“Pitching at the lower levels coming back is part of the rehab, part of the process. You just have to stay positive and know you can pitch at the upper level.”
Veal signed with the White Sox in the offseason and proved he could pitch at the upper level when the White Sox first gave him a shot in July and then again in August.
On Monday, Veal was called upon in the eighth inning to face left-handed hitter Prince Fielder with runners on second and third base with two outs and the White Sox leading 4-1. On the fifth consecutive curveball, Veal came through again and got Fielder to ground out.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who was a left-handed hitter, believes its Veal’s curveball that would have given him troubles as well.
“He just has a deceptive delivery and a great curveball,” Ventura said. “He throws harder. It's pretty good.”
As Veal said, he knew he’d be back.