May 9, 2011
Justin Verlander, DET (No injury)
It has been documented before that there is a velocity jump toward the end of no-hitters. History is at stake, and the crowd is hanging on every pitch. The pitcher is alone on the end of the bench in between innings, and endorphins are flowing and keeping the pitcher amped up. These same endorphins play a part in the fight-or-flight response in humans, leading to benefits–such as tunnel vision and releasing of energy stores to combat fatigue and allow stronger-than-normal muscular contractions–while also making pain less noticeable.
That is great if you are being chased by a carnivorous beast and the important thing is absolute survival, especially if your chances of needing that flood of endorphins again quickly are minimal. It's not so great if you are a pitcher and you are expected to be out on the bump again in another four days. By masking this pain and soreness and continuing to push through fatigue, the pitcher increases the chance of injury.
Pitchers often are less effective over their next several starts following a no-hitter, as their pitch counts and pitcher abuse points (PAP) are higher. Coming down off the physical and emotional high, performance suffers as the body copes with the stresses that were placed upon it. That's not to say that we're suggesting removing a pitcher in the seventh during a potential no-hitter. Throwing a no-hitter at any level is impressive, but at the major-league level, it's a part of history that no one can take away in the future. Throwing multiple no-hitters is an even rarer feat, but appropriate measures should be taken following such a start.
By starting the pitcher as scheduled following a no-hitter, clubs let themselves in for the likelihood of both decreased performance and increased risk of injury. One approach would be to have objective strength and range-of-motion measurements, and then compare a baseline measurement after starts—similar to concussions. That is not exactly practical in major-league baseball. The season is so long that the player’s normal strength and range-of-motion values actually change—in many cases, a baseline measurement in mid-March is not going to be very useful in the middle of July.
The next-best thing would be to measure one day before each start and compare it to the previous measurement. That would allow the staffs to see a general trend, but it would also be impractical, because it would necessitate too many adjustments to the rotation for which other pitchers would have to bear the burden. Extra days of rest could be built in, but should it be one, two, or eight days following a no-hitter?
The best choice would likely be one that combines all three, while also keeping the PAP concept in mind. There should absolutely be a baseline measurement toward the end of spring training for everyone available, and ideally there would be measurements prior to each start. Then, following the starts, another measurement could be taken, and in combination with the number of pitches thrown, an algorithm could be used to determine an appropriate number of days of rest to be added. Some teams are using a method similar to this and have been successful in doing so.
Nelson Cruz, TEX (Strained right quad)
Cruz began having issues with his legs last year, but they primarily affected his hamstring and his other leg. The quadriceps is a group of four muscles, but only one of them crosses the hip and knee joints, unlike the hamstring, where all three cross the joint. This is one of the reasons that quadriceps injuries occur less frequently than hamstring injuries, but if anything, losing the probability game should just upset Cruz more. Depending on the respective rehabilitation efforts of both Hamilton and Cruz, they could end up returning around the same time.
Marco Scutaro, BOS (Strained left oblique)
Jed Lowrie, who has essentially been the primary shortstop since he hit his way into the gig in April, will remain in that role, but Boston's top positional prospect, Jose Iglesias, expects to get at least some playing time while Scutaro is away. Terry Francona said that Scutaro may end up missing only the minimum, though with the way Scutaro was hitting (a below-replacement level .225 True Average) and the way Iglesias fields (the Cuban import plays the position like he invented it), the Sox may be better off in the short term.
Clay Hensley, FLA (Left rib contusion)
Of course, there is a chance of a hairline crack that didn't show on initial images, but if the pain and discomfort continue, repeat images should reveal the reason. Let’s just hope this doesn’t turn into the kind of season-long back-and-forth the Red Sox and Jacoby Ellsbury went through last year as a result of his rib issues.
Roy Oswalt, PHI (Low back inflammation)
In 2008 and 2009, Oswalt started missing some time because of disc issues, but he remained healthy enough in 2010 from a low back point of view to make his starts. His recent pain and soreness could very well be an aggravation of those injuries first suffered in 2008, but we will see how quickly he responds to rest this time.
Flesh Wounds: Carlos Ruiz was placed on the disabled list with low back tightness after missing over a week already. Chooch can eat all the ice cream he can handle in his extra time off... Esmil Rogers strained his right latissimus dorsi and joined his teammates on the disabled list in Colorado... Rick Ankiel sprained his right wrist diving for a couple balls in the outfield last week... Nick Hundley strained his right oblique and was placed on the disabled list in sunny San Diego... Brandon Lyon had an anti-inflammatory injection for his troublesome shoulder recently and reports good progress. This puts the immediate concerns for surgery to bed (unlike his opposing batsmen this year), but he still isn't out there on the mound as of yet....Daisuke Matsuzaka has shown no ill effects of the elbow tightness that saw him removed from his April 30 start after struggles with his command, showing up in relief last Thursday morning and pitching six innings with just two walks on Sunday… Corey Dawkins almost broke his kneecap in three places coming down the stairs last weekend during a move closer to Boston. After stumbling around like a college senior after finals, he now appears normal again (or at least his closest approximation of normal).