OAKLAND -- Jharel Cotton was hoping 2018 would be his breakout season. Unfortunately, the injury gods had other plans.
Cotton tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during spring training and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in March. The recovery process has been long and often lonely, but the 27-year-old right-hander can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"My arm feels great," Cotton told NBC Sports California. "No setbacks so far, which is great. I think I'm stronger. My body feels a lot better. My mind is good. I had a full year to work on all of those things, so I'm trying to get back now."
The average recovery time following Tommy John surgery is between 12 and 15 months, which would put Cotton on track to return sometime during the first half of the 2019 season.
"Right now, I'm doing long toss to about 135 (feet) and I'm doing flag runs at 60 feet," Cotton said. "I think we're going to progress to bullpens in the next few weeks. I'm excited to get off the mound and just see what happens."
Added A's general manager David Forst: "He feels great. He hasn't had any bumps in his rehab progression, so we look to see him hopefully pitching competitively sometime after spring training."
The A's acquired Cotton from the Dodgers in 2016, along with fellow pitchers Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes in exchange for veterans Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. Cotton had a rocky season in 2017, going 9-10 with a 5.58 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. However, he pitched much better in spring training last year, recording a 3.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP before getting injured.
Cotton's goal for 2019 is not just to get healthy, but to come back and pitch better than ever before.
"(I want to) come back and contribute," he said. "Be a guy whenever they need me and step up for the squad. Last year they did a great job winning a bunch of games and going to the playoffs. I think this team has the ability to go and do it again. I want to come in and just pick up right where they left off."
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Of course, Cotton doesn't want to get too far ahead of himself -- he knows he still has a lot of work to do before he can even think about returning to game action.
"I just want to take it day by day, week by week," he cautioned. "If I'm healthy throughout the entire process, I'll be back before you know it."