Cubs' Wieck back on the mound following heart surgery

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cubs relief pitcher Brad Wieck has his cap and glove checked by umpire Hunter Wendelstedt as manager David Ross looks on last June at Wrigley Field.

    Cubs relief pitcher Brad Wieck has his cap and glove checked by umpire Hunter Wendelstedt as manager David Ross looks on last June at Wrigley Field. Associated Press

  • Cubs lefty Brad Wieck.

    Cubs lefty Brad Wieck. Associated Press

 
Updated 1/21/2022 5:51 PM

Ginger Wieck placed her ear on the chest of her concerned husband last July.

"It doesn't sound normal," Brad Wieck was told.

 

Considering that the 6-foot-8, 257-pound Wieck underwent a cardiac ablation to address an atrial flutter 16 months earlier, this was no time to take chances.

A telephone call to the Cubs' training staff led to an immediate visit to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

By that time, Wieck's heartbeat returned to normal sinus rhythm, and he stressed to the doctors that he didn't consume large quantities of caffeine during the Cubs' game that he didn't pitch earlier that night.

But Wieck was diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that could result in strokes and heart failure, according to several medical websites.

"It was a scary ordeal, but I'm glad we got it taken care of," Wieck said.

Two months after undergoing surgery, Wieck, 30, was cleared for activity in November and has thrown four bullpen sessions in Arizona to prepare for a left-hander relief role -- provided spring training starts on time.

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"My timing is still a work in progress after not throwing the ball for a while, but it feels great to be back on the mound," Wieck said Friday in a telephone interview. "My body and arm feel very good. It's just a timing issue right now.

"It takes time to sync up your body. And I'm a big dude, so it's good to get on the mound and figure out that mound timing."

Glimpses of Wieck's potential have been interrupted by an array of health issues. Wieck made his major league debut in September 2018 with San Diego and struck out 10 in seven innings. But the following January, Wieck told the Padres he wasn't feeling well, and he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He recovered in time for the start of the 2019 season, and the Cubs thought highly enough to acquire him for reliever Carl Edwards Jr. at the July 31 trade deadline despite a 6.57 ERA in 30 appearances.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wieck was dispatched to the Cubs' pitch lab at their spring training headquarters in Mesa, where he learned to throw a spike curve under the supervision of pitching rehab coordinator Josh Zeid.

In his second appearance, Wieck snapped a curve that caused Seattle left-handed hitter Kyle Seager to duck, only for the pitch to break over the plate for a called third strike and the first out of the ninth inning of a 5-1 win.

"That's really interesting stuff," then-manager Joe Maddon said at the time.

But Wieck's heart issues surfaced the following spring when Cubs team doctor Stephen Adams detected an abnormal heartbeat via an electrocardiogram during a physical exam. Wieck underwent a cardiac ablation and was ready well before the 60-game 2020 season started in late July.

Wieck, however, suffered a right hamstring strain in the second game and didn't return. He spent the first half of 2021 shuttling between Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs, where he didn't allow an earned run in 15 appearances prior to his latest heart issue.

Wieck said he was told after his cardiac ablation that he had a 30-to-40 percent chance of experiencing an atrial fibrillation, an ailment that his aunt previously experienced.

"My heart was going crazy," Wieck described that night last July. "Sometimes it was beat fast, then it would go one second to two seconds, and then start racing again."

Wieck initially wore a heart monitor synced to a cellphone that provided information to his doctor. But MLB doesn't allow cellphones on the field, and he said taking the equipment on and off became too awkward.

Wieck, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 draft by the Mets out of Oklahoma City University, said he's since researched details of atrial fibrillation and was told by doctors that it could require multiple surgeries to fully cure.

"But as of now, I feel great," Wieck said.

To prove his point, Wieck posted a video clip of one of his bullpen sessions on his Twitter account.

"I've had to deal with a lot in my career, but it's one more thing that's made me who I am," Wieck said. "I take pride in what's made me, and all I can do is continue to work."

Because of the MLB lockout, Cubs officials cannot comment on players on the 40-man roster. But it's evident that Wieck will get a reasonable chance to make the opening day roster -- provided he stays healthy.

"I haven't felt anything weird since the surgery," said Wieck, who praised Dr. Bradley Knight for performing the procedure and educating him.

"(The Cubs) have faith in who I am, what I'm capable of. I just got to keep busting my (tail) and feel better."

@MDGonzales

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