TAMPA — Clarke Schmidt said Saturday his expectations for 2021 haven’t changed despite being sidelined with an elbow injury since his first bullpen session of the spring last week.
The Yankees right-hander was shut down after suffering a common extensor tendon strain, which is similar to tennis elbow — an unusual injury for a pitcher.
“It was definitely a blow and very frustrating for me,’’ Schmidt said. “This was one of the offseasons I did more work than I ever had before. It’s just another mountain to climb.”
The 25-year-old entered the spring hoping to compete for the fifth spot in the Yankees’ rotation and still expects to be a factor in the majors, though now that won’t occur as soon as he would have liked.
Schmidt is unsure what led to the injury, but some alterations to his offseason program — including more work with weighted balls — may have contributed to it.
He said he used weighted balls earlier in his career, but stopped following his 2017 Tommy John surgery.
Although he wasn’t throwing in Tampa, Schmidt said he was in constant communication with the Yankees and all the changes to his workouts were done “in conjunction” with the pitching coaches.
He had hoped the tweaks in his routine might help his mechanics, including with his lower body and shortening his arm path.
Schmidt was pleased with the early results, with an increase in velocity from 92-94 mph to 95-97 mph, but he believes after throwing about a dozen bullpen sessions prior to spring training, he may have overexerted himself in his first session of spring training — especially since he began throwing earlier in the offseason than in prior years.
“I felt amazing [coming into camp],” Schmidt said. “The best I’ve felt coming into camp, as far as an arm and body standpoint.”
But in that first bullpen session, Schmidt said he experienced some discomfort about halfway through and his elbow stiffened afterward, limiting his range of motion.
He likely won’t pick up a ball for at least another two weeks and won’t be ready in time for Opening Day, but Schmidt was confident he’d still be able to “log a significant amount of innings and contribute a lot” this season.
“It could have been a lot worse,’’ said Schmidt, who may use weighted balls in a “more controlled environment” in the future. “I want to be smart, because it’s a muscle injury and they can linger.”