Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When the bone is the weakest link

Want to see a man break his arm throwing a pitch? Really? Then click here.

Dan Winkler is 26. The Braves took him as a Rule 5 selection two offseasons ago but he basically missed 2015 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. On Sunday he fractured his elbow while pitching to the St. Louis Cardinals. It wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't pitch again this year; it wouldn't surprise me if he never pitches again.

Pitchers don't often fracture a bone by throwing, but I can name a handful who have: John Smiley, Tom Browning, Tony Saunders, Joel Zumaya, Dave Dravecky. Dravecky, as you may remember if you're old enough to remember Dravecky. had bone cancer, so his injury, while horrific, was readily understandable. (Dravecky's arm was ultimately amputated.)

But the others ... think of the pitching motion as a chain of events. Chains famously break at their weakest link. Often that's the small muscles of the shoulder. Sometimes it's the ulnar collateral ligament, the UCL of Tommy John surgery fame -- which, obviously, already broke once for Winkler.

It's incredible to me to imagine the weak link being a bone. Man, pitching is rough work.

Browning returned from his injury to pitch in two more games before retiring. Smiley (who pitched for the Twins in 1992), Zumaya, Dravecky and Saunders never pitched again in the majors. So the track record of returning from this kind of thing isn't good.

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