If there are two things amateur practitioners of sports medicine hate to hear when it comes to pitchers, it’s biceps tendinitis and forearm tightness. Both can be precursors or symptoms of worse structural issues in the elbow, so hearing them gets everyone waxing diagnostic and potentially freaking out. That goes double when the player in question has an injury history or is important to the team.
In the case of Yu Darvish, it’s both, though the manner in which the Cubs rolled out the information didn’t help. That he was a late scratch from Sunday’s start due to forearm tightness was bad enough, but then it came out that he’d been dealing with it for five weeks. To top things off, Darvish refused to talk to reporters about the matter.
As John Lackey would say, “Fun!”
But Darvish is still penciled in to start this Saturday in Milwaukee and the Cubs insist that this is just a matter of controlling his workload after throwing only 46 innings between Chicago and South Bend last season. As odd as it sounds, the fact that he was allowed to pitch through the soreness for a while might actually lend credence that.
If the Cubs have been monitoring Darvish the whole time and had no fears of structural issues, and if we was not too uncomfortable to pitch effectively, the pain could have just been a natural byproduct of his increased usage over last season. That might also help to explain why Joe Maddon pulled the starter early a few times. Though Darvish’s velocity was down a little over the last handful of games, it wasn’t by enough to set off alarm bells.
In fact, most of his pitches actually ticked up a bit in his stellar effort against the Mets the other day. So while it’s always concerning when a pitcher can’t take the bump because of an arm issue, the Cubs maintain that it’s no big deal. Or at least that it isn’t a big deal right now.
“First of all, if a guy’s not well enough to pitch, he’s not well enough to pitch,” Maddon told reporters Monday. “You just don’t do that. But, second of all, the fact [is] that we have been concerned about [his] number of innings pitched from last year to this year jumping so dramatically.”
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy echoed those thoughts, saying it’s something the staff has been noodling on all season and that an expanded roster means more leeway. But no matter how much assurance they provide, the only thing that will set minds completely at ease is for Darvish to go out there and pitch well.
How many times did we hear last year that there were no structural issues in Darvish’s elbow, only to see him shut down due to soreness? It was at least three times, right? Same with Brandon Morrow, who was recently ruled out for the season after yet another procedure to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his elbow.
In at least Darvish’s case, and maybe in Morrow’s too, a stress reaction diagnosis wasn’t made until a more invasive imagine technique was used. I’m not even insinuating that the Cubs haven’t done their due diligence this time, or that there’s even anything there to merit additional investigation, only that you’ve got all the reason to be wary of talk prior to action.
For now, I’m going to remain optimistic and assume that any concerns will be completely mitigated by this weekend.