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The Return of Patrick Corbin

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It's official. Patrick Corbin will be making his first major-league start since 2013, tomorrow night at Chase Field.

Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Looking back, we should perhaps have taken heed of an apparent sign from the baseball gods, and called off the 2014 campaign before it started. Not even 24 hours before the team was due to take off on its flight down to Australia, for the ground-breaking series there, our scheduled Opening Day starter, Patrick Corbin, departed what should have been his final tune-up start with the dreaded "forearm stiffness". On March 25, Corbin went under the knife of Dr. James Andrews, ending his 2014 season before he had thrown a single meaningful pitch.

At the time, there was hope he'd be back for Opening Day, but it wasn't long before that schedule was being extended, with the side erring on the side of caution. Then manager Kirk Gibson said in August 2014, "I think with Patrick it will be more like June for him. He'd probably punch me if heard me saying that but you're really going to take your time and make sure he's ready to go. You're not going to expect him to come back and throw 220 innings. You kind of manage his rehab through innings and put him in a position to finish strong. … We're going to make sure we err on the side of very cautious. We're more conservative now than we've ever been with that surgery and we'll continue to do so,"

June, in the end, proved slightly optimistic, and it will be July 4 that Patrick Corbin will celebrate his independence from that pesky UCL, having sat out basically a season and a half - 242 games - since the end of the 2013 campaign. A fully healthy Corbin should provide a boost to the Diamondbacks rotation. His career ERA through the end of 2013 was 3.80, which would be an improvement over the figure posted by our starting pitchers thus far, 4.58. But the key words there are "fully healthy". Even with it having been more than 15 months since the procedure, it would be recklessly optimistic to expect Corbin to hit the ground running and return immediately to pre-TJ form.

His rehab began in Visalia, and not well: he retired just two of eight batters faced, as he didn't escape the first inning, and allowed four hits, two walks and four earned runs. However, subsequent outings for Mobile have shown a steady improvement: while the pitch count was the same in all three appearances, in the high seventies, Corbin has become more efficient, working deeper into games. His last outing, on June 26, lasted six innings and 79 pitches, Patrick giving up one earned run on four hits and two walks, with five strikeouts. The team will look to keep him on a pitch count tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if they take advantage of off-days to give him longer between starts too.

That may help explain why the team decided to skip the originally intended final rehab start. With off-days on Monday and Thursday next week, and then the All-Star break beginning the Monday thereafter, Corbin's first three outings back in the majors could easily have a week between them, without any need for special handling. Early on, the same will go for Patrick as all our other returning pitchers. I am less concerned initially about performance than good health. So far, we've done well in the latter category, with Daniel Hudson, David Hernandez and Matt Reynolds all apparently - and I am typing this with my fingers crossed - showing no adverse effects physically.

To be honest, I feel we should treat the remainder of the season as extended spring training for Corbin. It's less about his numbers this season than rediscovering a feel for pitching at the major-league level, something which is bound to be more than a bit rusty after 21 months away from it. He is still only 25 at this point, and is under team control through at least the end of the 2018 season, so could certainly be an important component of the Diamondbacks' rotation over the next few seasons. It's certainly a morale boost to have our intended 2014 Opening Day starter back on the roster, and I'm sure we're all hoping his return goes as well as that of erstwhile rotation-mate Hudson.