Bailey: Having depth is great, needing it this badly is not -

Bailey: Having depth is great, needing it this badly is not

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By John Bailey By John Bailey
By John Bailey By John Bailey

(Baseball StL) -- While everyone is marveling at the depth of the Cardinals pitching and the wonderful minor league prospects, somebody should ask why the Cardinals have 6 pitchers on the disabled list.

Time on the DL is fairly common for a team’s pitching staff during the course of a long season and only pitchers with the very best arms and the very best mechanics avoid it.

But currently, the Redbirds have Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, and John Gast on the DL. That is just about an entire pitching staff; four starters, one long reliever and one closer.

Yes, it is a testament to the organization that they’ve been able to fill those spots with young arms.

But unless it is just the sudden confluence of incredibly bad luck, somebody better be exploring why six pitchers – two very young – have such significant arm problems. While certainly Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook have long-standing physiological issues and chronic elbow problems respectively, all 6 cannot be said to fall into that category.

One culprit could be mechanics, some flaw in their delivery that stresses a portion of their body. Many young pitchers have had shortened careers because of poor mechanics. (The Cubs’ Mark Pryor comes to mind.) It is possible but somewhat doubtful that all 6 were taught and fully utilized whatever flawed mechanics is causing all these arm issues.

The second possibility and one that has more credence than mechanics is a certain pitch that is stressing elbows and shoulders. For example, a slider is a notoriously damaging pitch on elbows and shoulders and many organizations discourage its use.  While announcers call all breaking balls “sliders,” a true slider is thrown with the velocity of a fastball and with significant pressure on one finger, which causes the ball to dart away, often on the same plane as a fastball.

A curveball is thrown with less speed and if thrown correctly, is easier on the stress points. Most teams, the Cardinals included, have gone away from sliders in favor of an off-speed pitch, usually the circle change, that is very effective if properly thrown and creates no additional arm stress.

If the Cardinals are comfortable with their pitchers’ mechanics and if no particularly stressful pitch is being taught in their system, then the next possibility is in training and conditioning. Is there anything they are doing in strength and conditioning sessions that is causing strain or imbalance? Pitchers condition year around under strict guidelines and often, under supervision. Is there any exercise, weight training, warm-up activity, throwing regimen or other off the field activity that could be causing these injuries?

If all three of the above are ruled out, then the search for a common cause moves to something fairly obscure, like the shoes they wear or the soil composition of the mounds they throw off.

Don’t laugh. Shoes are a major issue for an athlete and the wrong fit, the wrong arch support, the lack of cushioning, etc. can, over time, create issues that alter delivery. Soil composition is a long shot since everyone pretty much uses the same mix but an uneven mound height or landing area in the bullpen or practice facility can have significant impact over the course of hundreds of pitches.

The other thing the Cardinals should examine closely is their medical staff. Easy to point fingers, but clearly at the end of 2012, Carpenter was not himself and his condition worsened over the winter. Immediate attention might have avoided the long shot comeback. Rafael Furcal was prescribed rest and rehabilitation, as was Garcia, when both had suffered significant injuries that could only be repaired through surgery.

That’s a lot of money, talent and playing time wasted through what can charitably be described as questionable medical advice. 

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