These are the most crucial weeks in Leonard's comeback. Dr. Noyes and Dr. Edward Grood, a bioengineer at the University of Cincinnati, conducted a comprehensive biomechanical analysis of Leonard's pitching motion, using mathematics and physics to recreate the thousands of pounds of force that will be placed on his patellar tendon. Then Bob Mangine, the director of rehabilitation at the Cincinnati Center, devised a series of weightlifting workouts—squats and lunges—to simulate pitching forces.
Mangine has also suggested that Leonard alter his pitching style—shorten his stride—to lessen the forces on the tendon. Mickey Cobb insists that Leonard pitch at a lighter weight—195 pounds rather than 205.
Will Leonard, who survived on fast-balls, sliders and changeups, be able to throw with as much velocity as he once had? Noyes isn't sure. The doctor has sent runners, pole vaulters and racquet-ball players back to work after reconstructive patellar tendon surgery. But Leonard is the first pitcher ever to have this surgery.
Leonard's progress has been remarkable thus far, and he is weeks ahead of schedule. "He's doing beautifully," says Cobb. "We're just waiting for time to pass." On July 22, 51 weeks after his last operation, Leonard was scheduled to throw batting practice in spikes.
If he continues to throw without pain, he'll report to one of the Royals' farm teams in August for a 20-day rehabilitation assignment. If he passes that test, Schuerholz says he will put Leonard on the 40-man roster in September.
Leonard is trying to be realistic. "If it doesn't work out," he says, "I don't want to feel as if I've fallen off the Empire State Building."
But he is scared. "I'm ready to accept being a middle reliever, at first," he says. "I want to be a starter, though." He pauses. "It will really kill me if I'm mediocre," Leonard says, softly. "I'll be the first one to tell them I'm through.
"I believe my leg is strong enough. I believe I still have a lot of pitches left in my arm. I believe I'm in the best shape of my life. But the most important thing is that I have the hope. I will not give that up."