Liriano and Johnson: A tale of two surgeries

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As a Twins fan Francisco Liriano has made me well aware that coming
back as strong as ever from Tommy John elbow surgery is far from
guaranteed, but Josh Johnson of the Marlins is proving to be one of the
operation’s biggest success stories.

Johnson tossed a complete-game Sunday against the Blue Jays and is
tied for the NL lead with a dozen Quality Starts in 14 tries. He’s now
13-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts since returning from Tommy John
surgery in the middle of last season and has basically improved his
performance across the board since going under the knife:

                  IP    SO/9     BB/9     GB/FB      MPH
Pre-Surgery 169 7.6 4.1 1.35 91.8
Post-Surgery 185 7.8 2.4 1.65 94.2

Johnson was a really good pitcher before the surgery, nearly winning
the ERA title as a 22-year-old rookie in 2006, but since coming back
his strikeouts are up slightly, his walks are down 40 percent, he’s
inducing 20 percent more ground balls, and his fastball has picked up
another 2-3 miles per hour. Meanwhile, take a look at the same pre- and
post-surgery comparison for Liriano:

                  IP    SO/9     BB/9     GB/FB      MPH
Pre-Surgery 145 11.0 2.4 2.24 94.8
Post-Surgery 147 7.9 4.1 1.01 91.2

Liriano also nearly won the ERA title as a 22-year-old rookie and
was basically as good as a starting pitcher can be, going 11-3 with a
2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings while inducing over two
ground balls for every fly ball. However, since the surgery his
strikeouts are down 30 percent, his walks are up 70 percent, he’s
inducing as many fly balls as ground balls, and his fastball velocity
has dropped 3-4 mph.

Clay Buchholz apologized to the Phillies for getting injured

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MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports that starter Clay Buchholz is at Citizens Bank Park for Wednesday night’s game against the Marlins. The right-hander recently underwent surgery to repair a partial tear of his flexor pronator mass. The timetable for his recovery is three to five months, but most are expecting him to miss the rest of the season since the Phillies aren’t legitimate contenders.

According to Zolecki, Buchholz apologized to GM Matt Klentak “and others” — presumably other front office staff and/or his teammates — for getting injured. Buchholz hopes to return to pitch in September.

It’s saddening to me, and indicative of the general anti-labor culture in sports, that a player feels obligated to apologize for getting injured on the job. Injuries are nothing new for Buchholz, which might have factored into his decision to apologize. Red Sox fans got on his case quite a bit over the years for his propensity to land on the disabled list. But it wasn’t like Buchholz was taking unnecessary risks; he simply did his job, which entails doing a lot of unhealthy movement with his arm. Buchholz owes no one an apology.

Buchholz isn’t the only player to have apologized for getting injured. Outfielder Hideki Matsui apologized to the Yankees in 2006. Starter Masahiro Tanaka apologized in 2014. Twins reliever Glen Perkins apologized last year. Even Madison Bumgarner sort of apologized for suffering injuries riding a dirt bike on an off-day, saying “It’s definitely not the most responsible decision I’ve made.” Because god forbid an athlete has interests and hobbies outside of his vocation.

Players are brought up in a sports culture that allows exorbitantly wealthy owners to bilk the players — laborers — at every possible turn. They’re mostly underpaid and poorly taken care of in the minors. If and when they reach the major leagues, their salaries are intentionally depressed for six years and their service time is toyed with (just ask Kris Bryant). Buchholz endured that and then endured the criticism that comes with having been a hyped prospect who mostly failed to live up to expectations. He’s gone above and beyond what he needed to do to have a successful career as a professional baseball player, even if it wasn’t as much as fans or front office personnel would have liked.

Eric Thames leaves game with apparent injury

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Update (5:22 PM ET): Thames is dealing with left hamstring tightness. Manager Craig Counsell says it’s “not a big deal,” Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

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Brewers first baseman Eric Thames left Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Reds in the top of the eighth inning with an apparent injury. Thames took his position to start the inning, but was replaced by Jesus Aguilar. Thames had flied out weakly to center field to end the previous inning, so perhaps something happened while he ran that out.

The Brewers should provide an update shortly on the exact nature of Thames’ early exit. Needless to say, losing Thames to the disabled list would be a huge blow to the 11-11 Brewers, as he entered Wednesday leading all of baseball in runs (25), home runs (11), slugging percentage (.929), and OPS (1.411). Thames was 1-for-3 with a single, a pair of walks, and two runs scored before leaving.