As MLB players begin to flock south and report for Spring Training, we thought this would be the perfect time to evaluate some of professional baseball’s star pitchers and the injuries that affected their 2019 season.
First up, Corey Kluber (Texas Rangers, RHP)
The long time Cleveland Indian was recently traded to the Rangers after a plethora of injuries cut his 2019 campaign short. The two-time Cy Young winner was struck in his pitching arm during his seventh start of the season, suffering a fractured ulna.
If that wasn’t enough, during his attempt to return Kluber sustained a left oblique injury which called an end to the entire 2019 season. The Rangers have mentioned that they were not concerned about the fractured ulna or strained oblique, but more so worried about the pitcher’s nagging knee injury from 2012. So, with all of that hopefully behind him, can the former ace return to Cy Young caliber play?
We asked EXCEL Montvale Physical Therapist Dave Wegert, PT, DPT, ATC for his opinion on Kluber’s prognosis: “If it was a clean fracture with no soft tissue damage, recovery should be straight forward. It will (still) be important to strengthen the surrounding elbow musculature, rotator cuff, and scapular stabilizers to decrease stress on the elbow.” Mike Gaeta, PT, DPT, from EXCEL’s Westfield office chimed in, “The fractured ulna likely affected his throwing mechanics…ultimately leading to the left oblique strain.”
While it sounds like Kluber may have a lot to overcome, he has stated that this is the first time since his 2017 rock star season that he has felt like himself on the mound. Rangers fans can only hope that the former ace used his long time off to recover and practice pitching mechanics. Texans and Ohioans alike will be curious to see how this trade ends up playing out.
On deck, Chris Sale (Boston Red Sox, LHP)
Boston’s star pitcher missed the final six weeks of the 2019 season due to an elbow injury simply described as “inflammation.” Nicknamed “The Condor,” Sale is known for his funky side arm delivery (resembling, you guessed it, a condor). Our experts agree that it is quite possible that Sale’s throwing mechanics contributed to his ailment. Wegert affirms, “Side arm throwing can place additional stress on the medial (inside) elbow,” which is where the injury occurred.
Sale was sent to see one of MLB’s shoulder and elbow specialists, James Andrews, MD from the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, AL. Sale said he was never worried about his ailment, “I knew I was in good hands…I went and saw James Andrews and he just looks at it, he’s like Yeah, man. You’ll be alright. Throw some PRP in that thing…and we’ll be good to go.” Only time will tell if the platelet rich plasma did the job in catalyzing a healing response in The Condor’s elbow.
Despite having a recent bout of pneumonia, Sale says he feels good. While most professional athletes stress over taking a long period of time off, the pitcher credits the extended rest for how good his shoulder, forearm, and most importantly—the elbow—feel. Gaeta adds, “No one will really know for sure how he will perform this year until he is out on the mound throwing without elbow pain.”
But is it possible for a star pitcher to return from this kind of thing? Gaeta reminds us, “Other pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka were able to avoid elbow surgery with rest, recovery, and other conservative treatment…and bounce back just fine.” Bo Sox fans everywhere have their fingers crossed as the Boston pitching lineup this year is about as shallow as a baby pool.
Three-hole, Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels, RHP, DH)
The 2018 AL Rookie of the Year finished his first major league season with a 3.32 ERA and .285 batting average with 22 home runs (**insert mind blown emoji here**). Unfortunately, by the time the season ended, Ohtani continued to have elbow troubles and was scheduled for the infamous Tommy John surgery.
At the start of the 2019 season, Ohtani was not quite ready to retake the mound. Placed in a designated hitter role, Ohtani found himself the first Japanese-born player to hit a cycle. (I’d like to take this time to remind you that this guy is also a PITCHER **more mind blown emojis**.) However, come September, the Angels and Ohtani found themselves in a familiar position—having to decide on more surgery, this time on his knee to address a bipartite patella. Prevalent in 2-3% of population, bipartite patella occurs when the bones of the patella do not fuse together after birth and is usually asymptomatic. This was clearly not the case for Ohtani.
Unlike other pitchers who have returned from Tommy John surgery, Ohtani’s return to throwing protocol was delayed due to his knee surgery. But Wegert and Gaeta both believe that the extended rest could be very beneficial for Ohtana so long as, Wegert states, “he continues to focus on his mechanics.” Gaeta adds that Ohtani should have “been able increase his scapular dynamic stability and core strengthening…(putting) the arm in a better position during throwing motion and help(ing) reduce re-injury.”
Interestingly enough, a new “two-way player” rule could also help Ohtani in his return. The rule allows for a player to be placed on the injury reserve as a pitcher, while still maintaining their role as a position player. So, even if Ohtani finds himself still needing to take some rehab reps with his minor league team, he would be available as a DH for the Angels.
Ohtani seems to be taking his rehabilitation very professionally and showed up to Spring Training in the best shape we’ve ever seen him in. And thank goodness for Angels fans, because Mike Trout could use a little help getting that organization together.
About Our Experts
Mike Gaeta, PT, DPT played collegiate baseball at the University of Scranton for four years. While earning his Doctorate of Physical Therapy, the Cranford HS alum also spent time interning for the MLB San Francisco Giants.
Dave Wegert, PT, DPT, ATC spent time working with the football, wrestling and baseball teams from West Virginia University. Following his time at WVU, Wegert interned with the Athletic Training staff for the MLB Washington Nationals.
If you’re looking for someone with major league experience, make sure to schedule with one of our baseball experts! And even better, you don’t need a prescription to get started. It’s time to get healthy and PLAY BALL!
- Weckström, Maria et al. “Excision of painful bipartite patella: good long-term outcome in young adults.” Clinical orthopaedics and related research vol. 466,11 (2008): 2848-55. doi:10.1007/s11999-008-0367-4