Pitchers are getting hurt throughout the major and minor leagues. And nobody seems to have a handle on why.
“I think we should send them down to Dr. [James] Andrews as soon as we sign them and get it [Tommy John surgery] over with,” said one National League scout.
Theories abound concerning the rash of injuries, from pitchers throwing too hard and putting too much stress on their shoulders and elbows, to the notion that pitchers are being brought along too quickly, throwing too much.
And then there’s the old-school types who think pitchers aren’t throwing enough.
Gone are the days when pitchers ran long distances to build up their legs. Now, leg strength is built in the weight room and by interval running.
Not only are young pitchers needing Tommy John (four this spring, including Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Jarrod Parker, and Bruce Rondon), some, including Medlen and Beachy, are having the surgery for a second time.
Some old-timers blame weightlifting.
“In the old days, nobody lifted weights over 8 pounds,” recalled former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. “And never over your head.”
Now, you see pitchers bench pressing significant weight.
“I think pitchers are getting abused at a younger age,” Hall of Famer Tom Glavine said. “Most of them are max-effort guys, so it reaches the point where the stress finally causes a breaking point.”
Glavine won 305 games and didn’t go on the disabled list until he was 42, and that wasn’t related to his shoulder and elbow. Glavine’s Braves teammate Greg Maddux also was not a max-effort guy, and he spent little time on the DL.
Jake Peavy recalled that Maddux resisted the new training methods and kept doing it his way, while the others adopted a weightlifting regimen, but Peavy said, “Greg finally came around.”
Agent Scott Boras, who has his share of Tommy John clients, including Stephen Strasburg, feels teams are asking too much of pitchers at a young age.
“Bodies of young men before age 25 are not full strength,” Boras said. “We’re doing more studies. But the adjustment to major league demands is creating stress for multiple reasons. We need 27-man rosters to reduce innings for young starters.”
It seems that most pitchers now are power pitchers, so when you get that young flamethrower, be prepared for him missing a year to have surgery.
“I have no argument for the injuries. They’re definitely there,” said Peavy, who has never had an arm or elbow surgery. “But I think the training methods are moving in the right direction. Look at what guys are doing with their bodies. We used to have one or two guys throwing 100, now it seems teams have full teams who throw 95-100.”
The old way of training was throw, throw, throw. That’s how pitchers built arm strength.
An American League scout who specializes in finding pitching pointed out that pitchers don’t run enough, don’t throw enough, and spend too much time in the weight room.
He also mentioned that the Luis Tiants and Nolan Ryans of the world used to pitch through injuries. Of course, some of today’s medical procedures — Tommy John surgery, especially — were not available to them, so they had little choice but to pitch through injuries.
Ryan and Roger Clemens resemble most the modern-day power pitcher. Clemens ran for miles along the Charles River between starts, and also played golf before he pitched. He endured tendinitis in his shoulder and forearm, but he never had surgery on his elbow. Ryan also dealt with a sore arm, but his workout regimen was legendary and included moving his arm around in a barrel of rice, which Clemens later adopted.
Other non-max-effort pitchers, such as former Red Sox Bronson Arroyo and Derek Lowe, never had surgeries or arm problems. They were also long-distance runners, and Lowe was big on running the stadium steps.
Joakim Soria, Joe Nathan, Chris Capuano, and Brian Wilson are among those who have returned from two Tommy John surgeries. There have been about 40 pitchers with multiple Tommy John surgeries, according to data kept by one American League team.
Red Sox manager John Farrell also had two, but he was never the same. Farrell, who was pitching for the Indians at the time, recalled that he hadn’t fully recovered from his first Tommy John before needing a second, which is why he now encourages his son, Luke, who pitches in the Royals organization, to continue with the Next Generation Velocity Program, which involves using weighted balls of various sizes to simulate the throwing motion, which is supposed to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder and keep the forearm in top shape.
Rick Peterson’s program also has been successful. It’s based on testing that finds the proper delivery for each pitcher to alleviate stress on the shoulder and elbow. Peterson is the director of pitching for the Orioles, but the program couldn’t prevent top prospect Dylan Bundy from needing Tommy John surgery.
According to statistics kept by one AL team, one third of all pitchers will eventually need Tommy John surgery. It’s an epidemic. And right now, the science of stopping it is running behind.
Trade kick-started Tigers’ amazing run
Reid Creager, now a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C., was the beat writer for the Oakland (Mich.) Press covering Tigers spring training 30 years ago. He recalls March 24, 1984, the day that changed Detroit baseball.
“I remember it well. When I got the news, I was in the bullpen area near the Tigers’ clubhouse in Lakeland,” Creager said. “Glenn Wilson, who had been quietly ripping Sparky [Anderson, the manager] for days while lobbing a ball against the clubhouse wall, and John Wockenfuss were scrambling to get their belongings packed after learning they had been traded to Philadelphia for a relatively unknown first baseman named Dave Bergman and a more unknown reliever named Willie Hernandez.
“Rick Leach was walking around stunned, in tears, and saying his goodbyes following his release that was linked to the trade. Truly a historic trade — maybe the most historic in the franchise’s history — with a lot of interesting sidelights. One was that this was actually a three-team deal, back in a time these were exceedingly rare. Bill Lajoie arranged for the Phillies to trade him Bergman if Philly could get him from the Giants, which they did in exchange for a minor league outfielder (Alejandro Sanchez). The rest is a magic carpet ride we all remember, starting out 35-5 and going from there.”
That year, the Tigers produced their most recent championship. The World Series victory set off a dangerous scene in downtown Detroit, where cars were overturned and burned.
The Tigers won 104 games, led by Anderson and with a great job done by general manager Lajoie, who later became an adviser to Theo Epstein in Boston and engineered the Josh Beckett-Mike Lowell deal that helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series.
Hernandez, who was 9-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 32 saves in 80 appearances, won both the AL Cy Young and MVP. Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox won 19, 18, and 17 games, respectively.
Kirk Gibson hit 27 homers and drove in 91 runs. Lance Parish hit 33 homers and knocked in 98. Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell had stellar years. Chet Lemon hit 20 homers as the center fielder. Darrell Evans hit 16 homers as the DH. They had great role players such as Ruppert Jones, Rusty Kuntz, and Barbaro Garbey.
Forgotten in Hernandez’s performance was setup man Aurelio Lopez, who went 10-1 with 14 saves. Also, righthanded reliever Doug Bair threw 93⅔ innings. The Tigers scored 829 runs and allowed just 643.
The terrifying post-celebration events certainly dampened the title.
According to police and media reports, three women were raped, a man waiting in his car for a friend was shot to death, and numerous fires were set.
Apropos of nothing
1. “Is this really the end? Anyway you’d change your mind?” I asked Derek Jeter. “Nope. This is it,” he said. “It took a long time to reach this decision and nothing’s going to change my mind. It’s time. I think everyone knows when it’s time. And this is my time.”
2. The similarities of the stories of the Yankees’ Brett Gardner and the Red Sox’ Daniel Nava are amazing. Two guys who couldn’t make their college teams. Nava hung around as a clubhouse guy who did laundry and picked up after the players. Gardner was cut as a walk-on at the College of Charleston, but kept coming back and told the coach he just wanted to hang around. Both players got another chance and never looked back.
3. Those of us who spend a lot of time at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., would love to see a third team come to town. That team could be the Braves, who may soon exit their lease at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Braves president John Schuerholz has a home in nearby Naples and once ran the Royals, who trained in Fort Myers before moving to Baseball City in Haines City, Fla.
4. The players he has helped over the years have a great appreciation for White Sox trainer Herm Schneider. Look at the injury rate of the White Sox compared with other major league teams. Far fewer. “And Herm has evolved over time,” said former White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy. “He’s part old school, but he’s evolved into the new training methods. He’s outstanding.”
5. David Ortiz says he receives texts from old buddy Manny Ramirez almost every day. Ramirez, 41, is staying ready for a comeback attempt.
6. Here’s a fun book to get your hands on: “Idiots Revisited,” a retrospective of the 2004 Red Sox written by MLB.com Red Sox reporter Ian Browne and published by Tilbury House. It contains recent in-depth interviews with Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Keith Foulke, Dave Roberts, Orlando Cabrera, Mark Bellhorn, Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller, Trot Nixon, Gabe Kapler, Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, and more.
Updates on nine
1. Joel Hanrahan, RHP, free agent — Boston’s closer briefly in 2013, Hanrahan has shifted his training base to Tampa, moving toward his first showcase for teams, which should happen shortly. Hanrahan was acquired from the Pirates in a six-player deal but was limited to nine games, while Mark Melancon, who went to the Pirates, had an All-Star season as a setup man/closer. The Red Sox have some interest in bringing back Hanrahan, but there are enough teams (Tigers, Orioles, Yankees) in need of back-end relievers that he likely wouldn’t go that route.
2. Stephen Drew, SS, free agent — While the Tigers are downplaying the possibility of acquiring Drew, agent Scott Boras is not ruling out the Tigers or anyone, including the Red Sox. The feeling is that the Tigers’ alternatives (including Andrew Romine, acquired from the Angels on Friday) are not nearly as good as signing Drew, except that the money would be higher. The Mets still say they’re sticking with Ruben Tejada. The Red Sox have pretty much committed to Xander Bogaerts.
3. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds — Hamilton may fall under the “you can’t steal first” category, but the fastest man in baseball will be a concern when he reaches base. Those of us spoiled by Jacoby Ellsbury’s base stealing ability haven’t seen anything yet. “He’s Vince Coleman, Rickey Henderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, and maybe better as a base stealer,” a longtime scout said of Hamilton. “He’s got to bunt more, hit the ball on the ground more. Too many fly balls.” Two years ago, Hamilton stole 155 bases in the minors. Nobody knows which way Hamilton will go, which is why the Reds tried to sign Grady Sizemore.
4. Rich Hill, LHP, Red Sox — Hill has an opt-out clause in his contract he can exercise on Tuesday. He’s pitched well in camp from a slightly lower than three-quarters delivery, after missing time following the death of his infant son. But there’s no room at the inn on the Red Sox roster, so he’d have to go back to Pawtucket. On Friday, Hill indicated he had no inkling as to which way he was going to go. Lefthanded relievers are in demand, so he might have a major league opportunity if he opts out.
5. Justin Masterson, RHP, Indians — Masterson is going to fall into the James Shields and possibly Jon Lester category of pitchers who will be available in free agency. It would appear that all three would keep their teams in the race by the trading deadline, which means three No. 1s will be out there this offseason. The Indians have gone around and around with Masterson, but the negotiations haven’t yielded a deal. Ditto Shields with the Royals. The Red Sox have kept their talks on Lester quiet, but there has been ongoing dialogue.
6. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP, Mets — Matsuzaka has found a second wind in New York. Whether he’ll ever be a big winner remains to be seen, but for the moment he’s winning the No. 5 job in the rotation, topping out at 94 miles per hour with a 90-m.p.h. two-seamer. He’s also picked up his tempo, though he slows considerably on occasion.
7. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets — The Mets do not anticipate a deal involving Davis. They want both of their first basemen (Lucas Duda the other) to get healthy first. They were both back on the field for the first time in weeks on Friday against the Twins. There have been inquiries on Davis but nothing that has knocked the Mets’ socks off. The Orioles remain interested.
8. Vance Worley, RHP, Twins — Worley, who is out of options, was placed on waivers Friday, then outrighted to Triple A when he cleared. The Twins acquired him in the Ben Revere deal with the Phillies. Worley was 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 2011, but couldn’t get out of his own way last season. The Twins may still deal Worley, and a return to the Phillies would not be out of the question.
9. Adam Dunn, DH/1B/LF, White Sox — The White Sox would love to move Dunn with their logjam of first base/DH types with Paul Konerko and Jose Abreu also on the roster. Dunn hit 34 homers and knocked in 86 runs last season but hit just .219. He’s in the final year of his deal and will earn $15 million this season.
From the Bill Chuck files — “There were 13,655 extra-base hits hit in 2013, the fewest since 1997, the year before Arizona and Tampa Bay joined the majors and 330 fewer games were played, when 13,527 were hit.” . . . Also, “Ichiro Suzuki, Juan Pierre, Rajai Davis, and Michael Bourn are the only players to steal 20-plus bases each of the last six seasons.” . . . Wish a happy birthday to Mike Brown (55) and Bruce Hurst (56) on Monday.