clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Importance Of Being Hon-est

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros
“What’s an ice guy like you doing in a place like this?”
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The title refers to Oscar Wilde’s lesser known play, though if you use an affected enough accent it sounds quite a bit like his better known play. Yay, cucumber sandwiches for everyone!!!

As Wilde would undoubtedly say, to lose one starting pitcher may be regarded as misfortune but to lose two looks like carelessness. How about losing most of them? Downright...normal.

Yes, I’ve been reading Jeff Passan’s The Arm and if you don’t have time to read it the short version is:

  • Pitching is really bad for your arm.
  • The best way to avoid arm injuries is either not to be a pitcher or if you are a pitcher, not to pitch.
  • Nobody really understands anything about how to keep a pitcher’s arm healthy.
  • If you are a pitcher, you will probably get injured. And the best predictor of future injuries is your past injuries.

So basically you’re a freak of nature or you’re "everyone else"...Sean Manaea is among the many, many pitchers in the "everyone else" category. The A’s have so much invested in keeping Manaea healthy, yet despite their best efforts the Throwin’ Samoan has had two scares just this season. The first was — gasp — in his forearm and the second was last night’s back sprain in which we learned that our back has a rhomboid. Who knew?

In each instance, Manaea’s departure from the game was preceded by a drop in velocity. Next came a visit to the mound from Bob Melvin and one of the trainers, followed by Manaea indicating he was ok, fortunately followed by the A’s taking him out of the game anyway.

This brings me to my own bullet point list of truths around "checking on a pitcher":

  • If you have cause to go check on a pitcher, he isn’t ok.
  • If a pitcher isn’t ok, he will tell you that he’s fine.

This second truth is truly unfortunate, because while there is not concrete data to support it, common sense and anecdotal accounts confirm that pitches thrown by an arm that is hurting, or in any way not healthy, are exponentially more damaging than the rest.

What you want to impress upon your pitchers is, "Yes there is such a thing as ‘normal soreness’ but the moment you feel anything you believe to be pain, discomfort, or something out of the ordinary, YOU. NEED. TO. TELL. US. And if we ask, you need to be honest in your answers — honest with yourself and honest with us."

I wonder how many injuries could have been avoided had the pitcher shut it down the moment they knew something wasn’t right. Look at what a 15-day breather did for Manaea following the forearm scare. Let a barking arm, elbow, or shoulder calm down and if the issue is still only inflammation and not a tear you have a great chance to reset.

Remember: pain is the body’s way of telling you that what you are doing isn’t ok. Pain is one of the few vocabulary words in a body’s lexicon. You need to be fluent.

If a manager, or trainer, sees a drop in velocity and the pitcher insists he is fine, the appropriate response is, "Well it’s a relief to hear that you feel good. However, for whatever reason your velocity is down and that’s a signal that your arm needs a breather. You’re coming out." You don’t even need to be a baseball expert; anyone who speaks "arm" knows this is true.

While no one yet understands how to keep pitchers’ arms from breaking down like clockwork, if there’s one step that might be in the right direction it is to give more periodic rest — 2 months on, 2 weeks off — when possible, and always if a pitcher is feeling even the first signs of fatigue or pain.

There is a name for pitchers who heroically throw through fatigue, discomfort, and pain. It’s "the disabled list" — if not "Dr. James Andrews’ waiting room" — and because most pitchers simply don’t have the sense to admit when they can’t go it is incumbent upon managers and trainers to act quickly and decisively in shutting down any arm that shows signs of needing to stop throwing.

I believe that the difference between 0, 5, 10, and 20 pitches thrown in pain is enormous and I also suspect that very little "normal soreness" is actually normal. Typical, yes. Normal? Hmm...But that’s a piece for another day.

For today, I hope the A’s have been sufficiently cautious with Manaea, as well as with Sonny Gray and Jesse Hahn. The good news is that if you look at when they yanked Manaea each time, and how conservative they have been with Gray and Hahn, it appears the A’s have not allowed these pitchers to throw very many pitches under duress or question. Some, but not many. Keep up the good work.

And pitchers: remember the importance of being honest. You really don’t get any points for being a warrior when your pitching arm is immobilized because your body put out an S.O.S. and you wouldn’t take the call.