KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- You remember Kyle Weiland, right? He was traded to the Astros from the Red Sox along with shortstop Jed Lowrie in December 2011, only days after general manager Jeff Luhnow had been hired to reshape the Astros.
Weiland, a third-round pick of the Red Sox in 2008, had an impressive spring camp for the Astros and won a spot in the starting rotation to begin the 2012 season. Things couldn't have gone any better until the season started and Weiland just didn't feel quite right.
He made three starts for the Astros, losing all of them while allowing 24 hits, 13 earned runs and five homers in 17 2/3 innings. The Astros, knowing something was amiss, skipped his next start and eventually placed him on the disabled list with right shoulder bursitis. He hasn't pitched since.
Nearly two years, three surgeries and plenty of frustration later, Weiland is back to baseball. The 27-year-old right-hander hasn't quite fully recovered from his long medical ordeal, but he's getting close. The Astros invited him to their Minor League minicamp, which began earlier this week on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," said Weiland, who went a year without throwing a baseball because of a mystery infection in that debilitated his right shoulder.
Weiland battled the infection for nearly all of the 2012 season and underwent two surgeries in the process and took all kinds of antibiotics. Finally, a third surgery in August 2012 found the root of the infection, nestled in the biceps tendon.
"That's part of the big cause why we couldn't kill it because of all the IV antibiotics I was getting were not getting into the right area because blood doesn't get into the biceps tendon," Weiland said. "They removed a good chunk of that, and after that the six-week regimen of antibiotics seemed to work."
Weiland didn't pick up a ball again until April or May of last year and spent the entire season away from the game, rehabbing near his home in Austin while attending classes at the University of Texas, which he's applying towards a degree in anthropology from Notre Dame. He and his wife, Rachel, became more in involved in their church and made new friends.
Those were definitely silver linings, but nothing could replace baseball.
"It was kind of frustrating at times," he said. "I knew going in it was going to be extremely slow because of the nature of things. It wasn't until probably the end of November or early December that I started to get on a normal throwing program.
"It's been a crazy ride, but I think I surprised a lot of doctors with how my arm and my shoulder have come back. Just because of everything I've been through, everything that's happened, I'm extremely fortunate and blessed I'm here, because for so long I heard nothing but bad news."
Just before coming to Florida, Weiland threw in the bullpen at Minute Maid Park before Luhnow, manager Bo Porter, senior pitching advisor Doug Brocail and the medical staff. It was a big step.
"He was throwing about 80 percent and the ball was coming out pretty good," Luhnow said. "He had decent arm action and looked good. We were very encouraged. He's very optimistic, and if he continues to progress, there's a chance we will see him in big league Spring Training before Spring Training is over and we'll see from there. I fully expect at this point, based on what we saw [at Minute Maid Park], Weiland will be pitching for the Astros in 2014, maybe starting in Triple-A to get his feet wet because he's missed so much time."
Weiland approached his rehab remarkably upbeat, though much of it remains a little foggy. He wasn't sleeping and was in a lot of pain and had to rely heavily on Rachel to help him through every step of the process.
"She was my nurse," he said. "She went through all the ups and downs the whole year with me. I was very, very fortunate to have her with me."
Weiland's initial goal is simple: break camp on a roster. Any roster. He missed being away from the clubhouse, being around the guys and longed for the culture that baseball players realize they can't do without when they're gone from it for so long.
He's not all the way back, but Weiland is close. And considering where he was nearly two years ago, it's a feel-good story if you've ever heard one.
"Everything that I've been preparing for is trying to get back to the big league level," he said. "I've always tried to push myself and challenge myself, and definitely one of the challenges is, 'Let's see if we can get back by the end of the year.' Obviously, only God knows what's going to happen, but I can do everything in my power and try to prepare the best I can."