This is a couple days later that I wanted to post it, but luckily Doc is back and killing it. And televised games start next week! Baseball is back, folks - and very few people are as happy about that as Danny Hultzen. Being able to throw again without pain must be a wonderful relief.
How's he going about his business? There's a little video and an article over here:
The Mariners have set no expectations on Hultzen, knowing he's still got a long way to go after throwing just 35 innings over the last two injury-plagued years. Hultzen is taking the same long-range view. For now he's just pleased with his progress, having thrown five bullpens prior to camp and backing that up with Sunday's showing."It feels completely normal," he said. "I feel like I'm back. I have no idea what a game will be like. I haven't been in a full-game situation in a long time. But as far as how my arm feels and letting it go without thinking about it, I'm definitely back to before."The biggest difference for Hultzen is he's throwing with a more direct delivery now, eliminating the across-the-body motion he transitioned to after being drafted as the second overall choice in 2011."I looked at film from college with Gary Wheelock, who is the rehab coordinator here," he said. "I was stepping a lot straighter then and I'm trying to get back to that point. I'm not doing the whole crossfire thing anymore. It's just one of those things that I guess took a little stress off my arm and made my arm feel a little better to throw like that, but obviously it didn't work."
Let's unpack that a bit. Hultzen seems to think that the mechanical change is what caused the injury. It's my opinion that the injury caused a mechanical change, before the full catostrophic nature of that injury reached its end point.
Here's how it tends to work in the shoulder. You have two types of injury possibilities. The first is acute, which basically means you did it all at once and right now. Falling down and breaking your wrist is this kind. The second is chronic, which in medical terms just means "ongoing and developing over a period of time." Carpal tunnel would be this kind.
Hulzen didn't wrench his shoulder out of socket while being dragged down the road by an unruly llama. What he did was throw, and throw, and throw some more. And as he threw, the lining in his shoulder started to fray like an old sock. As some of the threads on the top came free, he found that it caused him a little less discomfort to throw more crossfire. That's (likely) because the fibers being pulled on with the new motion were still attached and performing their function better.
Once those frayed as well, his shoulder was done and he had to have both his rotator cuff and his labrum repaired. That's not the surgery you want your top pitching prospect to have, because so few people have come back from it. That said, people HAVE come back from it now, and they're getting much better at it. 20 years ago his career is probably over. 10 years ago it's a coin flip, but now? Guys are finally starting to return to career norms after this kind of surgery, which wasn't happening before. We don't know what Danny's career norms are exactly, and every surgery is different, but there are reasons to feel good - and chief amongst them is that HE feels good.
Now to the questions:
1) So what's the prognosis? I agree with what Doc has been saying: if Danny has been throwing without pain, and at high velocity, then he's got the same injury risk as most pitchers. His motion is a bit violent, and at some point he might wind up in the pen even if his shoulder holds up, but if this surgery hadn't been successful at least in large part then he would already know. Yes, the wrong pitch could always tear some things again, but that's true for most any pitcher. At this point I don't feel significantly worse about his health than I do about Walker or Paxton. Strong-armed, young pitchers are risks. Deal with it.
2) What are the pitfalls? The labrum may still cause him an issue, but they've been better at fixing those the last 5 years or so. It's a tricky thing; the labrum is the gasket that creates a tight fit in the joint, and in a shoulder is much narrower than one in, say, your hip, because you want more range-of-motion in the shoulder. It's called a "modified" ball-and-socket joint for a reason. So dislocations happen, and when they do you tend to tear the labrum on the way out. And because of a lack of blood supply, they don't heal themselves. You have to have the surgery to fix them, and it's not always successful - and it can recur regardless. Former Mariner Bobby Madritsch had this same sort of thing happen. Twice, actually. He ripped up his shoulder worse than Hulzen did, got a surgery that wasn't as technically precise, and got 4 or 5 more years out of his arm, some of those in AAA and the bigs producing at a very high level. That second dislocation essentially ended his career, but at this point - with Danny having passed the first few hurdles of his recovery - that's a moderately downside outcome. Pen arm would be another possible downside if he can't throw enough innings to start, but the arm itself should still have plenty of life.
3) Is changing his motion back to his college one going to cause more problems, if that's what started all this nonsense in the first place? I wouldn't worry about it much. Pitchers get injured. It's in their nature to do so. For every Felix-level horse, there are another 4 or 5 arms held together with chewing gum and rubber bands. If the team wants to tell Danny that it's better to go back to the motion his body knows best, that's fine with me. Going back to the most comfortable way for him to throw is probably the fastest way to get him back to the top if the surgery really WAS successful. Why mess with new motions at this point? Beavan stayed healthy but wasn't an impact arm once his motion was changed, and Hultzen basically just went through a chassis rebuilt to let his body handle the torque of that motion anyway. Just return to the motion that got him drafted so highly and proved so effective. It's not like the crossfire motion was more biomechanically efficient or injury-resistent - he just happened to fall into that motion much the way someone with a pulled hamstring changes his stride.
The Mariners could spend some time reworking Danny's motion, but really: what's the point? Either his shoulder is okay or it isn't. Gil Meche didn't alter his motion all that much and had a pretty long career. If Hultzen's arm falls off in 6 years, well, he's not a Mariner problem at that point. His first contract with us will likely be his last.
4) Is that fair? Maybe not. But the Ms are looking at getting him back on the field ASAP and getting the best results out of him for as long as it is possible to achieve them. In doing so, they're probably giving the kid a magic feather, a la Dumbo. "Well, you gotta use a lot of'chology. You know, psychology."
Danny is worried about being good. You show him a lot of film of him in college when he was great and dominating. You explain that all he has to do is go back to that motion, just a couple of comfortable tweaks, and he'll be healthy and happy for a good long while. The evil crossfire motion that possessed him was the cause of his ills, but now that it has been exorcised he should be fine.
90% of the game is confidence and execution. Ask Moyer. We don't know how Danny will hold up over a game, or in multiple games, or across a season or a career. But we do know that he feels good, is throwing hard, and is returning to the motion that got him drafted over an All-Star-type batter like Rendon (grumble, grumble). The Ms viewed his ceiling as sky-high while others put him in the "safe" category. Those who thought he was a safe pick were obviously wrong - so I'm keeping the faith that those who saw such enormous potential in him were correct.
Danny Hultzen: roaring back into top prospect status in 2015. Don't you love March optimism?