The recent rash of elbow injuries leading to Tommy John surgery has produced more questions than good answers. What's the cause? What needs to change? How, if at all, can it be avoided?
No one seems to know how to answer any of those questions, because there's no set pattern to watch for or timeline to follow when anticipating these serious elbow injuries. Every case is different because every arm is different in some way. The amount of mileage on the arm, mechanics, size, strength. All of those things vary, which makes it impossible to pinpoint specific causes.
That brings us to Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez, who on Friday became the 34th major or minor league pitcher since Feb. 18 to undergo the infamous elbow ligament replacement. His injury — along with that of New York Mets ace Matt Harvey last season — has drawn the most attention and raised the most questions given his age and status, and it's led his attorney, Ralph Fernandez, to speculate that a recent thigh injury suffered on a comeback line drive may have started the chain of events.
Fernandez says his client wasn't one-hundred percent, but continued pitching through the injury for the good of the Marlins. He says to do that, Fernandez was forced to alter his mechanics, which he believes is a potential cause. He further added that his client was concerned about his arm going into the San Diego game on May 9, which is when the tear is believed to have occurred.
“Jose was concerned about his arm,” Ralph Fernandez (no relation to the pitcher) said in the statement. “Despite many exchanges on the subject in the days that followed he felt that with the Marlins regaining first place in the division, he could not let his team down. Apparently the injury was worse than he believed.”
Apparently those exchanges didn't come with the Marlins coaching staff directly, because the team claims to have no knowledge that Fernandez was concerned or even dealing with possible discomfort.
“If it was bothering him [before the San Diego game], then he should have said something and we would have obviously shut him down,” Redmond said. “If the arm wasn’t feeling good, or he had any discomfort at all, the right person to tell would be me, the trainer or [pitching coach Chuck Hernandez]. If that was the case, we could have taken care of it at that time.”
Redmond also argued that Fernandez's delivery looked the same in his starts following the thigh injury, so he seems to have dismissed that theory all together.
“I don’t think it affected his delivery,” Redmond said of the line drive. “He looked the same to me in that game after that.”
Two Marlins pitchers who asked to remain anonymous said they didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary in Fernandez’s delivery after being struck by the line drive.
“Looked the same to me,” said one. “It [the arm injury] just happened.”
That seems to be the common sentiment in all of these situations. It just happened, because it was time for it happen. Nothing exacerbated it. Nothing could have stopped it, it just happened.
But maybe if pitchers were a little more honest when they first feel discomfort or have some concern, they might be able to take a break and rehab to strengthen ligament. Sure, it may only delay the inevitable, but it might also give us a new perspective on how to deal with the issue. If we continue hearing that pitchers felt something different in their elbow before the injury, or if we continue seeing drops in velocity leading up to the injury, we know they weren't being completely honest with themselves or their teams, and that ultimately helps no one.
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