Matt Harvey

The Long Sad History of Injured Pitchers

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There seems to be an impression out there that pitchers get hurt today more than they ever did before. It seems that every time a high profile pitcher gets hurt — the latest of these being Mets phenom Matt Harvey — that we get a rash of stories like this one from my friend Terry Moore, recommending some solution for this “epidemic of starters and relievers” who pitch well, then feel pain, then go the DL, then go under the knife. Terry’s recommendation is pitchers throw more, something I’ve heard from a lot of veteran baseball people (“Operation Long Toss”) and it’s a perfectly reasonable concept. I’m personally all for it.

But let’s be clear about something: I don’t believe for one minute that there’s some new epidemic of starters and relievers getting hurt. I think this is a story as old as baseball. I think that as long as pitchers throw baseballs as hard as they can, often mixing in various twists and turns and grips, elbow ligaments will burst and shoulders will pop and rotator cuffs will tear. And while there might be ways to protect pitcher’s arms, to limit the damage, to give pitchers their best chance to survive — long toss, limited innings, ice treatments, heat treatments, five man rotations, progressive inning increases, occasional skipped starts — the worldwide reality will not go away. Pitchers get hurt. A lot.

I think maybe we think of the old days different because when pitchers got hurt then, they were simply discarded and never heard from again. The code phrase for this was “He had arm fatigue” or “”he stopped being effective.” It’s actually pretty comical, if you think about it. You see those phrases, or something similar, scattered throughout baseball history.

Take Russ Ford. Have you ever heard of Russ Ford? In 1910, Ford at age 27 came to play for the New York Yankees and he went 26-6 with a 1.65 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 299 2/3 innings. He gave up just 194 hits, meaning the league hit roughly .188 against him, and he gave up four home runs all year. Yes, it was the Deadball Era, but this was a spectacular debut. Truth is, Russ Ford had invented something new — a pitch that would be called the “Emery Ball.” He had learned that if you scuff up a baseball you could make it move in unpredictable ways. Others would take the trick all the way to the Hall of Fame.

But the point is — Russ Ford soon suffered from, yep, “arm fatigue.” What’s that? His arm hurt. He had a good second year, but by his third he led the league in losses. They Yankees dumped him after the next year. He picked up with Buffalo in the Frontier League and had a good year, then a lousy one, then was out of baseball where he nursed a sore arm for pretty much the rest of his life.

You know the story of Mark Fidrych. Amazing in 1976 at age 21. The talk of baseball. One of the biggest sports personalities of my entire childhood. He went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and a ridiculous 24 complete games. The next year he blew out his rotator cuff. He pitched in the Majors again, but he never made it back. Arm fatigue. And he stopped being effective.

Tommy Thomas at age 27 won 19 games with a 2.98 ERA for the Chicago White Sox. He led all pitchers in WAR. Three years later, he blew out his elbow, suffered from ptomaine poisoning (pitchers had it seriously rough in those days) and spent the next eight years just struggling to hang on in the big leagues as the pain shot up and down his arm.

How about Bill James — the pitcher. In 1914 he went 26-7 with a 1.90 ERA. He was called Seattle Bill and he completely turned around the fortune of the Boston Braves, who went from 69-82 to World Series champions. The Miracle Braves, they were called, and Bill James was that miracle. The next year he came to camp with that dreaded “arm fatigue.” He won five games. He tried shoulder surgery after shoulder surgery. He never pitched another Major League game.

Remember Justin Thompson? He was 6-foot-4, left-handed, an exciting young pitcher. In 1997, age 24, he went 15-11 with a 152 ERA+ and a 151-66 strikeout-to-walk. He made the All-Star Team. Injuries ended his effectiveness.

Do we need to talk about Mark Prior? As a 22-year-old — 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts in 211 innings. Injuries. Never made it all the way back.

Herb Score? The common perception is that Score’s brilliant young career — as I’ve written before, he was Koufax before Koufax — was detailed by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald. That was the lead sentence of his obituary in the New York Times (which you might not be able to read right now because of the cyber attack), and it is partially true, though the full truth from many people around him seems to be that it was actually ARM troubles in his comeback that cost him what seemed sure to be a Hall of Fame career.

Ernie Broglio? Remembered for being on the wrong side of the Lou Brock trade, but Broglio at 24 went 21-9 with a 2.74 ERA, 188 strikeouts, and he led the league in WAR. What happened? “(The Cardinals) got a heckuva player; they gave up damaged goods,” Broglio told ESPN in 2011. “I think that they knew I had a bad arm.”

Cy Blanton led the National League in ERA in 1935 as a 26-year-old. He pitched reasonably well for pretty good Pirates teams the next three years before basically disappearing. Blanton was an alcoholic, and he died at age 37, and many blamed his ineffectiveness on alcohol. But, his fall as a pitcher traces directly to a serious arm injury he suffered in spring training 1939.

Gary Nolan was a phenom, only the second pitcher in baseball history to strike out 200 batters in a season before he turned 20 (the first was Bob Feller — Dwight Gooden became the third in 1984). He had so many arm issues that, at some point, the Reds sent him to a DENTIST and told him they had solved the problem (they thought it was all in his head).

Sparky Anderson predicted Don Gullett would be in the Hall of Fame the year Gullett turned 22 years old. Everybody thought so. He had 100 wins before his 27th birthday. He finished with 109 after blowing out his rotator cuff at 27.

How about Brandon Webb? Cy Young winner at 27, a 22-game winner at age 29, out of baseball at 30 after shoulder surgery.

Jon Matlack. Rookie of the Year. Three-time All-Star. Elbow Surgery at 29. One full season after that.

Dizzy Dean. Led league in strikeouts four straight seasons, won 30 and 28 games back to back. At age 27 he was hit in the toe with a line drive. This, legend has it, caused him to change his pitching motion, which led to him badly hurting his arm. It also could have been the 1,531 innings he had thrown the five previous years. It also could have been that pitching hurts arms. He tried to hang around on his name with junk pitches, but he did not win a game after age 30.

Schoolboy Rowe won 24 games as a 24-year-old and charmed everyone with his superstitions — they say he would carry around luck charms galore and would always wear his lucky tie. In 1937 and 1938 he suffered that all-encompassing arm fatigue and disappeared. He spent the next 10 years bouncing up and down, pitching well for stretches and then having completely lost seasons. He won 158 career games, so this made him one of the lucky ones with arm fatigue.

The late Dick Radatz was such an overpowering reliever from 1962-1964 that Mickey Mantle was known to call him “The Monster” which led to him being known as, yes, the Monster. Through his first four seasons, he went 49-32 with a 2.57 ERA and 608 strikeouts in 538 innings pitched. Then he had what was called a “puzzling drop in velocity.” That’s another code phrase. “Puzzling drop in velocity.” LIke it’s really puzzling. He was traded to Cleveland and won three games the rest of his career.

Craig McMurtry finished second to Darryl Strawberry in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1983 and was seventh in the Cy Young voting. Then: Elbow problems.

You can go like for much, much longer — though I sense we’ve gone on too long already. If you go down the list of pitchers who had early success in the big leagues, you come upon injury after injury after injury. And for many — Wilcy Moore, Buck O’Brien, Herman Pillette, Whitey Glazner, on and on — there’s no clear injury to talk about because pitchers just ascended and descended so quickly that nobody really bothered to keep track. And don’t even get started on the hundred, no, thousands of promising minor league pitchers through the years who have had their dreams crushed by injuries.

This, of course, is not to say that teams should stop trying to prevent injuries. They should absolutely keep trying, keep studying the arm, keep studying the mechanics of the windup, maybe get pitchers to throw more like Terry suggests. It’s more important now than ever with all the money and interest in the game.

But let’s not kid anybody. Pitchers get hurt, and there’s no solution for that. The Matt Harvey story is a tale as old as time. The thing that has changed, the miracle here, is that, with treatment and possibly surgery, Harvey will have the opportunity to come back and, we all hope, be as good or better than ever. That’s new. If he pitched 50 or 70 or 90 years ago, Matt Harvey might have a two paragraph Wikipedia item talking about how he was an exciting young pitcher until, inexplicably, arm fatigue caused him to have a puzzling drop in velocity. And he stopped being effective.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

Toronto Blue Jays Justin Smoak watches the flight of the ball after hitting a two run walk off home run off Texas Rangers pitcher Phil Klein during the tenth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 3, 2016 in Toronto.  (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
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I woke up at 3am today. In the past when that happened I’d post And That Happened at like 4:30AM or some dumb thing. I’m just not doing that anymore. I wrote a personal blog post about it this morning explaining why. It’s mostly part of an effort to not wake up at 3am anymore. If anyone has issues with that, maybe it’ll help. Or maybe you’ll be able to tell me that I’m deluded and my little plan to not wake up at 3am is doomed. I dunno. If you care, there’s a picture of one of my cats there too. She says hello to Kevin Kiermaier.

Anyway: Here are the scores. Here are the highlights.

Blue Jays 3, Rangers 1: Holy Smoak! Justin Smoak tied the game with a homer in the bottom of the ninth and then won the game with a walkoff homer in the 10th. They were his first two homers of the season. If any nerds in their mother’s basement so obsessed with his spreadsheets that he can’t be bothered to watch a dang ballgame is devising some Home Run Leverage Index — HeRLI, we’ll call it — Smoak definitely leads the league in that category.

Royals 7, Nationals 6: Down two in the ninth and the Royals rallied, first with a two-run single from Mike Moustakas to tie it up then with a walkoff single from Lorenzo Cain. Three runs and five hits in the ninth, all off of Jonathan PapelbonChien-Ming Wang got the win after pitching a scoreless top of the ninth. That’s his first win since 2013.

Indians 7, Tigers 3: Francisco Lindor hit a three-run homer, got two other hits and played his usual stellar defense. It’s a testament to how many great young players there are in the game right now that, when people are asked to list them, he’s usually fifth, at best, when they do so. It’s also something of an insult to him.

Brewers 5, Angels 4: Two homers for Chris Carter. He hit two homers on Sunday too. Former Brewer Khris Davis hit two homers on Monday and, if I remember correctly, hit two in a game multiple times last year too. Brewers should probably just get a whole lineup of Chrises at some point and see how it works. What do they have to lose?

Orioles 4, Yankees 1: Two homers for Mark Trumbo and a solid outing for Chris Tillman. Six straight losses for the Yankees and the bats are still moribund. It’s their worst start in 25 years. Oh, and A-Rod tweaked his hamstring so he’ll probably miss some time. I’ve been impressed with how little “If The Boss was still alive . . .” rumbling, but it’s starting:

Cubs 7, Pirates 1: Jake Arrieta allowed only two hits in seven shutout innings agains the team he handcuffed the last time he faced them too, in the 2015 NL Wild Card game. Kris Bryant had a couple of hits. The Cubs have a five-game lead already, and two of the teams trailing them are, like, good.

Giants 3, Reds 1: The Reds were up 1-0 in the eighth and blew it by giving up two runs. According to the good folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, the Reds pen has given up at least one run in each of the Reds’ last 21 games, which is the longest such streak in major league history. Congratulations, you guys. You did it.

Braves 3, Mets 0: The better Matt won. At least the better Matt on this day, as Wisler topped Harvey, tossing eight innings of one-hit ball. The Braves have somehow won three of five. Time to pop the champagne.

Marlins 7, Diamondbacks 4Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-run pinch-hit single to put Miami ahead. The old man is still an artist with the Thompson. He’s now at 2,947 for his major league career. Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich homered.

Dodgers 10, Rays 5Trayce Thompson, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig all homered. Puig’s was an absolute moon shot. Thompson drove in four. This is the Dodgers’ first trip to Tampa Bay since 2007. A change of scenery often helps people get out of a funk and this change of scenery helped the Dodgers’ bats wake up. No one said it had to be a change to good scenery to fix a funk.

White Sox 4, Red Sox 1: Sox win!

Astros 6, Twins 4Jason Castro and George Springer each hit homers. Castro’s barely cleared the fence and had to be confirmed via replay. Springer’s hit the dang train tracks high up in the outfield seats. They both counted for the same. At least once you adjusted for the fact that Castro was on base when Springer hit his. It’s all a very complicated set of operations to do that involving some fairly esoteric math so I won’t go too deeply into it.

Phillies 1, Cardinals 0: Aaron Nola threw seven shutout innings and Ryan Howard homered against his hometown team. He has always liked hitting in St. Louis. Guy has 12 homers and 40 RBI in 36 games in Busch Stadium. Remember a few years back when Buster Olney was peddling a rumor that the Cardinals and Phillies were gonna do a Pujols-Howard swap? Yeah, it probably had its genesis in some random “Howard sure would do well here” talk that got out of hand.

Mariners 8, Athletics 2Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Leonys Martin hit home runs. Hisashi Iwakuma pitched seven innings, allowing just one run. The M’s are 15-11.

Padres 6, Rockies 3: The Rockies built an early 3-0 lead off of Andrew Cashner, and if you get to him early you can get to him big. But he settled down, Matt Kemp and Brett Wallace hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to bring it closer and then the Padres scored three in the sixth and won going away.

Bronson Arroyo is throwing side-arm now

Washington Nationals pitcher Bronson Arroyo catches a pop fly during a drill at a spring training baseball workout, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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Nationals pitcher Bronson Arroyo has partial tears of tendons in his rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Considering he’s 39 years old, no one would fault him if he decided to call it quits. But he has one more idea, MASN’s Mark Zuckerman reports: Arroyo is going to throw side-arm, or at least three-quarters.

“It hurts when he gets on top [of the baseball],” manager Dusty Baker said. He continued, “So we’re taking our time. And if not, if nothing else, he’s a good guy to have in your organization.”

Arroyo missed the latter half of the 2014 season and the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Prior to that, he was known as a workhorse, racking up at least 199 innings in each of nine seasons between 2005-13.

Robbie Erlin needs Tommy John surgery

San Diego Padres' Robbie Erlin pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, April 12, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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Padres pitcher Robbie Erlin has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and he’ll need Tommy John surgery as a result, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Times reports. Erlin landed on the disabled list on April 21. Now he’ll miss the rest of the season and likely the beginning of the 2017 season as well.

Erlin, 25, posted a 4.02 ERA with a 13/3 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings spanning two starts and one relief appearance to begin the 2016 season.

Cesar Vargas moved into the rotation in Erlin’s absence and has pitched well thus far in two starts, yielding only one earned run with a 9/6 K/BB ratio over 10 1/3 innings.

The Reds’ bullpen set an ignominious record

CINCINNATI, OHIO - APRIL 08: Caleb Cotham #54 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the sixth inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on April 8, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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Reds reliever Caleb Cotham allowed a pair of runs in the top of the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Giants, setting a rather ignominious club record. It marks the 21st consecutive game in which the Reds’ bullpen has allowed a run, setting a new major league record, as C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer points out.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Reds’ bullpen had been by far the worst in the majors with a 6.54 ERA. The Padres’ bullpen, second-worst, is comparatively much better at 5.27.

The last time the Reds’ bullpen had a clean night was April 10 against the Pirates. That afternoon, Dan Straily, Jumbo Diaz, and Ross Ohlendorf combined for five scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory.