BALTIMORE -- Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta threw to a catcher on Monday for the first time since having season-ending surgery in August to remove a bone spur in his right elbow, and he expects to be at 100 percent when Spring Training begins next month.
"I'm feeling just as good or better than I've ever felt," said Arrieta, who flew into Baltimore on Tuesday night for the organization's three-day medical orientation leading up to Saturday's FanFest.
"Those conversations will be ironed out in the next couple days [with manager Buck Showalter and the medical staff], but I really don't see a reason to have restrictions on my progress as long as everything stays the course that it's been on."
Arrieta, who had the spur removed Aug. 12 by Dr. Lewis Yocum, said he picked up a baseball about two weeks earlier than usual, first getting in some easy tossing right before Christmas. Arrieta worked up to throwing four days a week after that, and he has been playing consistent long toss and thrown several flat-ground sessions. On Monday, he threw all fastballs from what was best described as a makeshift mound -- not all the way up on a real mound, but not on flat ground.
"I really don't feel any different mechanically, so I don't see why I would change anything," said Arrieta, who was initially hesitant to get the procedure done, with one of his concerns being that removing the spur -- which he has had since at least college -- could lead to possible hyperextension or other injuries down the line.
"I definitely gained some mobility, but I don't feel any instability in my elbow," Arrieta said. "Everything feels solid, and a lot of that is attributed to the rehab, the strength and conditioning I did -- just trying to stay on top of things. I wanted to work as hard as I could with the rehab to leave no room for setbacks."
While Arrieta downplayed the extent of his injury during the season -- even when he was shut down after July 31 start -- the 25-year-old admitted Tuesday it took a toll on him both mentally and physically.
"If you look at the big picture, I'm definitely not satisfied with the way my season went overall," said Arrieta, who went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA in 22 games. "But what I'm most excited about is to finally go into a season and not have this elbow issue, to go into a camp without hesitation, without being in the training room for two or three hours before a game trying to calm it down. It's something that weighed on me in between starts. 'Is it going to bother me today? Am I going to be able to get through five or six innings?' And it got to the point where I was having to do some stuff with anti-inflammatories to try to calm it down.
"It was really a no-brainer for myself to have that finally taken out. And the reason I was so hesitant is because anything can happen with surgery, and if it's avoidable at all, I'd rather not have it. But looking back at the way that it was, I think [having the spur removed] was one of the best decisions that I made in my career."
While having a healthy arm will give Arrieta a more relaxed mindset on the mound, the right-hander knows he will have to go to camp and earn a rotation spot. The team leader in wins when he was shut down, Arrieta showed flashes of promise in his second Major League season, but he struggled with consistency and command, issuing 59 walks alongside 93 strikeouts over 119 1/3 innings. With the additions of pitchers Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada and Dana Eveland -- coupled with Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz -- new executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has made it a priority to add depth and foster competition in the rotation.
Arrieta, Britton, Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman are among the organization's young pitchers who all took a step backward last year -- either by injury, underperformance or both -- giving way to the worst starting pitching in the Major Leagues in several statistical categories. Arrieta is well aware that the Orioles are trying to get away from the days when the big league club served as an open tryout.
"Buck has stressed this quite often: you can't be a prospect forever," Arrieta said. "And I think that's so true. You can be a [highly ranked] prospect ... but there comes a time when you have to put up or shut up. And I think for a lot of guys, that time is coming, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. The organization wants to see where it stands with some of these guys, and me being one of them. They've invested time and money into certain guys, and it's time to start seeing the benefit."
To that end, Arrieta's main goal heading into this season is to consistently go deep into games and give the Orioles a 200-inning arm to go along with staff ace Guthrie.
"A lot of those other stats will work their way out if you are pitching deep in the ballgame," said Arrieta, who went more than five innings in only one of his final seven starts. "That's something I've learned from Jeremy and other veteran pitchers in the league. If you're still taking the mound in the eighth inning, chances are you are doing something right. And that's definitely going to be a big focus of mine this year."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.