SEATTLE — If Aaron Cook had injured his elbow a few years ago and not his shoulder, he might still be pitching for the Colorado Rockies.
Elbow injuries almost always heal, even if Tommy John reconstructive surgery is required. The success rate is so high that the procedure has become routine in baseball.
Some pitchers even believe they’re better for it, the rehabilitation process serving to give them a stronger arm than they had before.
But shoulder injuries remain a medical mystery. Some pitchers return without complications, but many are never the same again.
That was the case for Cook. An All-Star in 2008, the righthander went to the disabled list with shoulder pain late in the 2009 season. Over the two seasons that followed, he had a 5.49 earned run average and missed 20 starts because of shoulder pain and other injuries.
“I really haven’t been right for probably five or six years,” Cook said.
That was part of the reason he signed with the Red Sox in January as a free agent.
After spending his entire career with the Rockies, Cook wanted a fresh start and a fresh set of opinions on what could be done to manage his shoulder problem.
“They really have a good program here,” he said. “It has been great for me. I’ve strengthened my shoulder and cut back on long toss, letting my arm recover between starts. It has made a world of difference.”
The results were evident on Friday night when Cook threw a two-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory against the Seattle Mariners.
It was Cook’s first nine-inning complete game since April 24, 2010. At 33, his career might just be getting started again.
Friday was only his third major league start of the season and the first time he pitched more than five innings in a game since a minor league start in April.
“It means a lot to go out there and prove that I’m where I want to be, to be an effective pitcher and give our team a chance to win games,” Cook said.
Through all the injuries and a stint with Triple A Pawtucket to start the season, Cook stayed positive.
“I try not to get down on myself when I have injuries or wherever I’m at. I just go out and have fun every day,” he said.
“Playing baseball is just a gift. That’s how I try to approach it. When I was in Triple A and on rehab, I tried not to get down on myself. Just try and take the mound and be myself wherever I’m at.”
Cook needed only 81 pitches to dispatch the Mariners, a poor offensive team with little plate discipline. His sinking fastball produced 15 ground outs.
Because he pitches to contact, Cook will have days when he allows bunches of hits. But the Red Sox have a solid defense and provide the kind of run support that could be a good fit for Cook.
“It’s difficult. A lot of it has to be fortunate, balls hit at people,” Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.
Said Cook: “I was really trying to make sure I was staying at the bottom of the zone. Guys were playing great defense behind me. I was really able to really pound the zone early and keep them swinging at the pitches I wanted them to swing at.”
Cook entered the rotation when Clay Buchholz was hospitalized with a stomach ailment. He will get one more start before the All-Star break. Then the Red Sox will have some decisions to make.
“We have some competition going on,” Valentine said.
Bye to McDonald
Outfielder Darnell McDonald was designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Josh Beckett, who was activated off the disabled list and started on Saturday night.
“Dream come true to play in Boston. Want to wish my boys good luck the rest of the year! Much love to RSN!” McDonald wrote on Twitter.
McDonald, 33, hit .252 with a .735 OPS, 17 home runs, and 67 RBIs over 234 games with the Red Sox starting in 2010 when he made the team out of spring training as a minor league free agent. But he hit .228 with a .695 OPS the last two seasons.
McDonald had a memorable debut with the Sox, driving in three runs April 20, 2010, against Texas. He had a pinch-hit two-run homer to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning then a walkoff single in the ninth.
The righthanded-hitting McDonald hit .214 against lefthanders this season. The arrival of Brent Lillibridge cost McDonald a roster spot, as did the play of Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish.
“Really tough,” said Valentine. “Darnell was one of those guys you loved to have around.’’
McDonald was nearly designated June 14, 2010, at Tampa Bay. But the Sox make it a practice not to complete roster moves until batting practice and Jacoby Ellsbury felt pain in his ribs, saving McDonald from being let go.
McDonald was in his hotel room watching a movie at the time and returned to Tropicana Field.
The All-Star rosters will be announced Sunday. David Ortiz is sure to be the designated hitter for the American League, having taken a huge lead in the fan voting. But Big Papi could be the lone Red Sox representative in Kansas City on July 10. The only other player who merits consideration is catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But Joe Mauer (Twins), Mike Napoli (Rangers), and Matt Wieters (Orioles) are more established at that position.
The Red Sox have had at least six All-Stars in each of the last five years and at least three for the last 10 seasons.
The team hasn’t had just one representative since 2001, when Manny Ramirez was the only All-Star from a team that finished 82-79.
Valentine probably would relish the idea of some players feeling snubbed. It makes for an easy motivational tool.
Carl Crawford led off and played left field for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in a 10 a.m. game in Fort Myers, Fla., against the Twins. Ellsbury batted second and played center field.
Crawford struck out, grounded to first, and singled. He played five innings in the field. Ellsbury walked twice and scored a run in his four innings.
It was the first time Ellsbury has played the field since suffering a partial dislocation of his right shoulder April 13.
Crawford, who has been out all season with left wrist and elbow injuries, is 2 for 14 in five GCL games. Ellsbury is 1 for 4 in two games.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge, a former Red Sox player, was angry after Cook baffled his team on Friday. “We were horrible,” Wedge told reporters. “We just stunk up the joint; nothing more to say. An 80-pitch complete game? Not taking anything away from that guy, but you can’t make it that easy for him. It was just brutal.” Through Friday, Seattle was hitting .197 with a .566 OPS at home and averaging 2.8 runs . . . The Red Sox were scheduled to leave for Oakland after Sunday afternoon’s game. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, and Franklin Morales are scheduled to start in that series.