let's begin in the present day --- st louis post-dispatch, june 24, 2006:
Head trainer Barry Weinberg said Mulder is expected to recover without surgery but refrained from estimating when he might next pitch. Mulder will not pick up a ball for at least another week and is scheduled to be re-examined by Paletta next Friday during the club's home stand.
"It's not good news because he's missing time," Weinberg said. "But identifying it is important. It's not a situation where it's an operative condition. It's one we can treat conservatively" with rest and anti-inflammatory medication.
let mark mulder serve as an example -- a case study in how conservative treatment can prevent a minor problem from flaring up into something major. . . . .
mulder's saga dates back to may 3, the day he left the team in houston and returned to st louis to see team doctor george paletta. matt leach picks up the story:
but mulder kept pitching.
he tossed quality starts in his next four games and won three of them, but he was laboring; only once did he go more than 6 1/3 innings (he exceeded that total 4 times in his first 6 starts). on may 28, at san diego, the first sign of real trouble surfaced: mulder gave up three homers and 8 runs in the span of 10 batters, blowing a 6-2 lead and sending st louis on its way to a 10-8 defeat. after mulder's next start, a 2d successive pummeling (at home vs chicago), some guy calling himself "no dribble" (a tobacco juice ref'nce, perhaps) posted the following keen observations at bernie miklasz' chat room:
But the thing that troubles me is that his arm speed was really slow--too many times lagging behind the rest of his body when delivering the ball, which would contribute to the number of pitches that were up in the zone. I remember he's had back issues this season, which can really screw up your mechanics. It's not uncommon for a pitcher who has back issues to alter his motion to compensate, which unfortunately often puts unusual strain on the arm--the shoulder especially--and creates a secondary injury, which at least in part, looked to be the case today with the slow arm speed.
whoever this guy is, he knew then what we all know now: mulder's shoulder was unsound. duncan, la russa, weisberg, jocketty -- somebody had to have seen what "no dribble" saw and reached the same conclusions. we can guess that they did, because two days later, on june 6, mulder's health status came into question --- as noted right here, in this post:
Update [2006-6-6 11:36:9 by lboros]: they've updated the site as of 10:30 a.m. CDT -- mulder is now listed as saturday's starter, meaning he's going on 7 days' rest. marquis remains listed as friday's starter, which means he essentially is hop-frogging mulder in the rotation.
reyes continued to mow 'em down at memphis.
after mulder's next start, a 5-inning slog (9 hits, 4 runs, 2 homers) vs the pirates, duncan offered this upbeat assessment: "It's a step forward. As long as he keeps making steps forward, he'll get back to where we need him to be."
and then came the comiskey collapse, after which la russa explained:
Asked if he wondered if the pending free agent is physically diminished, La Russa said, "There's no reason why he would hide it."
Pitching coach Dave Duncan believes Mulder to be sound physically but admitted he feels "borderline helpless" in addressing the pitcher's current woes. "We've tried just about everything I can think of," he said.
La Russa described some of the lefthander's side sessions as "electric," and like Duncan, he struggles to account for his inability to translate his side sessions to games.
i don't think tony and dave missed anything. i think they knew mulder was hurt but thought that he could grit it out, just as they thought rolen could grit out his sore shoulder last season. i think they kept sending mulder out there, impaired, because -- to quote la russa from directly above -- "we need him so much." they needed him so much that they decided to pretend he wasn't hurt; they decided to pretend that mulder had been improving and that his side sessions had been electric.
they kept sending him out there, and all along they had reyes available down in memphis.
it doesn't really matter whether you agree that their handling of mulder has been fundamentally dishonest. if the mistake was an honest one, so much the worse: it means tony and dave were the last ones to see what had become plain to fans, reporters, and ev'yone else. if it was an honest mistake, then it was also a grossly incompetent one; and these two men have had too much success for me to believe they were guilty of such.
i can believe, though, that they would take a reckless chance with a player's health and then plead ignorance when it backfires.
all of this might have been avoided if the cardinals had applied (ahem) conservative treatment in may, when mulder's back problem becamde serious enough to require an emergency trip to the team doctor. the shoulder almost surely got hurt as a result of mulder's pitching through the back pain; as "no dribble" described, mulder likely favored the back, changed his delivery, and put more stress on the joint. those compensatory measures worked for a few starts, but they ultimately turned a manageable problem -- back pain -- into a far more serious injury to mulder's pitching arm.
could any of this have been foreseen? am i just 2d-guessing here? no, i'm not just 2d-guessing. on may 8 i outlined a plan to leverage two off-days in mid-may into a 14-day respite for mulder, while keeping ev'ybody else on normal rest:
|8 v colo
|9 v colo
|10 v colo
|11 open||12 v ari
|13 v ari
|14 v ari
|15 open||16 v nym
|17 v nym
|18 v nym
|19 at kc
|20 at kc
|21 at kc
ponson would get 10 days off between starts; mulder (the more important pitcher) would get 14; and reyes could get another taste of the bigs -- pitching at home, against a team that's not well equipped to exploit reyes' hr vulnerability (arizona ranks 10th in the league in homers). it's just an option; i doubt the cardinals will take it. and maybe it isn't necessary; maybe mulder's back is coming along. i just figure, why push it when you don't have to?
whatever the outcome for mark mulder going forward, la russa and duncan will have to answer for it.