Braves’ Tyler Matzek healing from bulging disk in back during Tommy John rehab

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Tommy John surgery rehab is keeping Tyler Matzek out for the entire 2023 season. It is not what he wanted, but the extra time has given Matzek an opportunity to address the back issues he has experienced since last year.

Matzek dealt with a bulging disk in his back last season. When he arrived in Florida this spring to continue his rehab, he went to see a spine specialist.

Matzek said he’s still experiencing a little stiffness, but nothing too bad.

“Apparently it’s nothing,” he said. “Everything looks really good; it’s healing up. It’s just a slow process, apparently. When the disk bulges, it’s just a slow, long process for the disk to get back inside.”

At one point during the visit, the doctor told him this: “I would never operate on something like that.”

“When he said those words, I was like, ‘All right, that’s fantastic,’” Matzek said.

As Matzek explained it, the bulging disk will “dehydrate” – it begins to deflate – during the healing process. But as the disk sucks its way back into the correct spot, it then comes into contact with bone, Matzek said, during that dehydration process, which causes some inflammation.

“The disk actually dehydrates to heal itself, apparently,” Matzek said, relaying what the doctor told him. “And what it does is the actual spine joint is just rubbing a little bit. It’s just part of the healing process.”

Over the offseason, Matzek received anti-inflammatory injections. He said he would’ve taken pills, but he couldn’t because of Tommy John surgery and the recovery process.

He said he’s had a bulging disk in his back since January of last year.

“Pitched through it, so it never healed, because I was just playing on it,” Matzek said. “I was freaking out, like, ‘What the heck? It’s still messed up.’ Since the offseason, I’ve gotten off of it a little bit. It’s starting to truly heal and get back to where it’s supposed to be, but in the healing process, it kind of gets inflamed in some spots.”

Last season, Matzek finished with a 3.50 ERA over 43-2/3 innings. He hoped for a better season, but injuries derailed his year. In May, the Braves placed him on the injured list with left shoulder inflammation. In October, he underwent Tommy John surgery. All along, he battled the back pain.

The time away from baseball has allowed him to address finally his back in hopes that he’ll be fully healthy when he returns to the mound.

“Everything looks really, really good, which is very encouraging,” Matzek said. “It’s feeling pretty good.”

Could Wright’s four-seam fastball be better?

Kyle Wright’s cortisone injection eliminated shoulder inflammation and discomfort, which has freed him on the mound. He can now get better extension and follow-through because he’s not guarding against anything or stopping himself, and his shoulder is no longer “sticky” or “catchy,” as he said it was before the injection.

This might make his four-seam fastball better.

Whereas the pitch sometimes had some accidental movement, it might now look straighter as it goes into the zone and could feature some carry (upward movement).

“It really does. That’s actually very true,” Wright said. “I’ve already noticed some of my numbers on my four-seam are a little better. Even just talking to (pitching coach Rick Kranitz), he said, ‘When it’s right, it looks like it’s actually carrying and playing up.’ My four-seam doesn’t perform great, but I just need it to be OK. If it’s OK, then I’ll be in a good spot. So far, it’s been probably slightly better than OK, which is a great sign.”

He simply needs it to be OK because he relies on his curveball and sinker. If the fastball becomes another weapon, it could add another dimension to Wright’s game.

Wright on Tuesday threw a 25-pitch bullpen session. Unlike in his first session, he hurled all his pitches. His target velocity was 87 mph, and he got up to 89 mph.

“Overall, I was really happy with it,” Wright said.

Wright said he thinks he’ll treat his next bullpen session like it’s a game. The one after that will be a typical session. Then he’ll probably jump into throwing live batting practice as he eases back into facing hitters.

Wright said he’s still on target to break camp with the club.

“Still feeling great,” he said Wednesday. “Even today, not too sore, which is a good sign for me. Everything’s looking good. Just got to stay the course and not get too far ahead of myself.”

First cuts of camp

The Braves made their first cuts of big-league camp.

They optioned catcher Chadwick Tromp, who will play for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, to Triple-A.

They reassigned righties Blake Burkhalter, Roel Ramirez and right-hander Brooks Wilson to minor-league camp.

None of these moves comes as a surprise.

The Braves now have 61 players on their major-league camp roster.