PHOENIX– An epidemic is amongst us, and no, it’s not the zombie apocalypse. A plague, sweeping the MLB nation has already taken 19 causalities. And it’s only May!
The increasing amount of young, talented pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery to repair their Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) has many in the baseball community alarmed. Of the 19 players placed on the DL because of the injury, two are Diamondbacks pitchers; rising starter Patrick Corbin and bullpen stand out David Hernandez. This is in addition to Daniel Hudson and Matt Reynolds.
Theories have circulated to what may be causing the injury. Overthrowing, high pitch speed, even the height of the mound have thought to be the main culprit, but it’s hard to pin it on just one.
“It’s one of those things that kind of happens,” D-backs starting pitcher Chase Anderson said. “You look at [Jose] Fernandez his mechanics are good, [Matt] Harvey his are good, Corbin, their mechanics are really good.”
With an average age of 26 on the disabled list because of the need for the surgery, it seems the age is getting younger. Which leads to another question: Are kids playing too much baseball?
“I look at high schools now and they require only to play baseball because high schools are so competitive,” D-backs pitching coach Mike Harkey said.
Having undergone his first Tommy John Surgery in 2012, D-backs starting pitcher Daniel Hudson suggests kids take a break.
“I think that it can’t do anything but help,” Hudson said. “I know it’s a bit tougher for people living out here because it’s so nice out during the winter and they want to get out and play games year-around but sometimes you need to stop and think if it’s good for the kid.”
Which is why monitoring the amount of games kids play is advised.
“I think coaches need to put more into not playing so many games because of this risk,” Anderson said. “You need to monitor their pitch counts [and] how much they throw, all positions pitching, infield, outfield, they’re using their arms, they’re throwing so they need to be monitored.”
Even though the surgery has a fairly high success rate, four of the 19 players this season (Jarod Parker, Kris Medlen, Cory Luebke and Josh Johnson) had to undergo the surgery for a second time, something Hudson can relate to.
“The first time it happens you think I’ll get it fixed and miss a year and I’ll be back and be good to go for the rest of my career,” Hudson explained. “And you tear it again and you hit a rough spot there mentally for a while because you know the success rate was so good for so long and you think, ‘why did this happen to me?'”
When a rehabilitation treatment is implemented, standard recovery time from surgery ranges from eight months to a year.
“I think everyone uses the same outline,” Hudson said. “It’s different for everyone on how they respond to the treatment and the rehab process.”
Six-time Gold Glove winner Eric Chavez is looking for a change to the problem, “Something has to be done”.
Lowering the mound and even shortening the game to seven innings have been suggestions made by the public.
“We need to be proactive. Hopefully we see something where it has to start going on a decline.”