JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- Mitch Harris, who just last year was the story of the season, has been conspicuously absent from headlines this spring. After appearing on the mound early in camp, the 30-year-old has been out of action for weeks under the mysterious shroud of “soreness.”
Little else was said about what he was dealing with, because little else was known.
“Almost an extreme soreness. It’s kinda hard to put into words. I think that was the confusion with myself and trying to get across to everyone. Extreme soreness, borderline pain, but it also had some nerve feel,” Harris said. “We couldn’t figure out if it was dead arm or what was going on.”
The problem surfaced after his second live batting practice session. Not only was he having trouble finishing pitches, his arm was not responding to the work the way it had all offseason.
“There was not a bounce back. Man, it was still there the next day. Kind of the way I described it was it was almost as if I had thrown six or seven innings and I really only threw one,” he said.
Any time a pitcher’s arm is failing him, the mind can wander to the most pessimistic of places. Harris is locker neighbors with Jordan Walden, whose rotator cuff cut his 2015 short and made this year a major question mark. A couple spots down is Jaime Garcia, a lefty who has been under the knife three times for different ailments. One over from him is Adam Wainwright, a veteran with two arm-based surgical notches on his belt. So Harris started comparing notes.
“Anytime you feel something you ask the questions of, ‘Hey have you felt this before? Have you felt that?’ You want to know, especially as a pitcher, you always want to know worst case,” he said. “But I don’t think I ever felt that serious because of where it was bothering me. It was in a better area because it was toward the back side and not in the areas that cause serious concern.”
But he remained compromised, and the medical team was still searching for the source of the problem. The issue was with the back of his arm in the triceps area, so doctors first loOKed at the elbow. When that came back clean, they looked at the neck to see if the trouble started higher. That, too was clear.
After multiple MRIs and a couple different doctors, Harris believes they finally have found the source.
“Now it’s a matter of upper shoulder area, where the nerves and the muscles kind of are in together,” he said, describing treatment as “a matter of just alleviating pressure on some nerves and getting those muscles stretched back out and opened back up. That will help the feeling in the arm.”
He wouldn’t elaborate further on the diagnosis, as it hasn’t yet been confirmed. That will hopefully come Friday when he has another exam. All the work thus far has shown no structural problems, and if Harris’ optimism is proved valid, he believes recovery will come sooner than initially seemed possible.
“We have a couple more things to test to kind of pinpoint that, then we’ll be right where we need to be. The positive thing is I don’t think it’s going to be extensive time,” he said. “It’s more, let’s make sure things are right first and then we can slowly ramp up the innings and throwing. Be right back to where I felt like I was during the offseason.”
If Friday’s test- which will be conducted in Jupiter- pinpoints the problem, the plan is to treat with a stretching program, mechanical adjustments and perhaps an injection to reduce inflammation in the area. He would then enter a throwing program, meaning his season would begin on the disabled list.
As for a root cause, that’s murkier. Harris did tweak his mechanics from last season to this season in a search to be more efficient, which could have caused an adverse reaction as he ratcheted up the intensity of his work this spring.
“It’s still a few years into it for me so there’s some things I want to get better at. Talking to some veteran guys, there’s some things we looked at during the season last year that have helped, and will help down the line,” he said. “Staying more square, getting more toward the plate. Really, being the most effective with my mechanics as I can be. Who knows if that had a little part in it? Any time you make mechanical adjustments, your body is going to react.”
The fortunate thing for Harris, and the Cardinals, is the early April schedule allows the team to keep a smaller amount of pitchers on the roster thanks to several off days. That allows time for pitchers who may contribute as relievers in the big leagues to recoup time lost in camp without shortchanging the bullpen. Harris was one of a handful of pitchers competing to break camp with the team, and given his success in 2015, figures to get the opportunity to pitch meaningful innings this season. He just needs to get back to work, which is something he has been eagerly been awaiting for weeks.
“I wanted to know how quickly I could get back and today definitely gave me a little jump in my step to say, ‘It’s ok, we’ll be out there maybe a little quicker than initially thought,” he said. “It’s a small hiccup. I’ve managed a few obstacles in my career thus far, so I think I can manage this one.”