As I watched Padres right-hander Chris Young lose the strike zone last weekend — at one point he walked four straight batters — I wondered to myself whether he might be hurt. I’m no expert on mechanics, but when a guy misses that badly, that often, it’s hard not to ask such questions.
Turns out Young had been trying to pitch through an inflamed right shoulder for several starts, and now he’s headed to the disabled list.
Shifting gears a little, I had knee surgery about a month ago. I’ve just started physical therapy, and I’m relearning how to walk.
Have you ever stopped to think about the mechanics of walking? I sure hadn’t. I’ve been walking longer than I can remember, but now that I haven’t done it in several weeks and not since the knee was repaired, I’m discovering that it’s a surprisingly complex activity. It goes roughly like this:
With feet at shoulder width, push off the ball of left foot and shift weight forward
Plant right foot — heel first, with a stiff leg — in front of and to right of left foot
While shifting weight forward, contact entire right foot with ground (i.e., land ball and toes), keeping the leg straight
While shifting weight forward, swing left leg ahead of right leg and plant the former in front of and to left of the latter as in Step 2
While shifting weight forward, bend the right leg at the knee; at the same time, contact ball and toes of left foot with ground and push off to repeat the process
That’s a poor description of walking, written by a layperson who is struggling to find words for it, but bear with me because there is a larger point: When you haven’t been walking for a while, it takes time, repetition, and careful attention to detail to get right. Bend the leg too soon and you lose stability. Bend it too late and your calf screams.
It is with this background, with a new appreciation for the “simple” act of walking, that I express my amazement at how a big-league pitcher can go out and repeat a much more difficult physical activity throughout the course of a single game, a season, a career. And when something goes out of whack, as in the case of Young, it boggles my mind to think of the effort required to fix it.
Speaking again from experience, when your mechanics break down due to injury, it’s unbelievably easy to compensate and hurt something else without even realizing it. Then one day you find yourself needing to fix that problem before going back and addressing the root issue.
How do you keep a pitcher’s mechanics in tune so that he doesn’t hurt himself? What do you do when he becomes fatigued or has a minor injury that causes him to alter his delivery in ways that affect other parts of his body? How do you fix a pitcher that can’t find his release point? Or one that has lost his “feel” for a particular pitch after coming back from surgery?
I have no idea. Then again, I’m still trying to figure out how to walk.