Danny Hultzen And Dealing With Pitchers
People like to think of collegiate draft picks as safer draft picks. Picks who have a good chance of getting to the majors, and picks who have a good chance of sticking around for a while, even if they fall short of being stars. Comes up every year. The safe catcher the Mariners picked in 2005 is presently a triple-A first baseman with more games at DH. The safe pitcher they picked in 2006 is presently hurt, hoping to avoid surgery, and his results have never really matched his stuff. The safe reliever they picked in 2008 is presently a mediocre reliever for baseball’s worst team. The safe, can’t-miss infielder they picked in 2009 might be in the process of figuring things out, but he’s been more of a bust than a non-bust. And the safe pitcher they picked in 2011 might have problems with his labrum.
The 2013 season has been lost for Danny Hultzen and the Seattle Mariners.
On Tuesday afternoon at Safeco Field, general manager Jack Zdruriencik announced that their prized pitching prospect will head to Birmingham, Ala., to see noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion on his ailing throwing shoulder.
“Ed saw him and quite frankly he doesn’t like what he sees,” Zduriencik said. “He saw some damage that he was unhappy with. It’s not the rotator cuff. It’s the tendon area, labrum area.”
This isn’t Hultzen’s first shoulder problem of the year, but it’s the first indication that the labrum might be involved. That’s the bad part. This all began with Hultzen not being able to get loose, and nobody seemed too concerned, but shoulder issues are always concerning, and the Mariners altered Hultzen’s mechanics. Now he might have a labrum thing, which might be the worst problem for a shoulder short of just not having one. The Mariners selected Danny Hultzen, with his health and delivery. Now he has worse health and a different delivery. We don’t know much yet about what’s really wrong, but the whispers are enough to make you wince.
Granted, all these picks could’ve worked out. Some of them might still. Who knows how they would’ve done under different circumstances, maybe in different organizations? What if Clement were drafted by the, I don’t know, Giants? Everybody agreed he was an excellent player. Maybe the Mariners have just gotten unlucky. But the point’s pretty obvious: there’s no such thing as a safe draft pick. Especially if you’re talking about a pitcher. There are safer and riskier draft picks, but only relatively speaking — you should bet against just about all of them. They’re all capable of great disappointment. Think of draft picks like pitchers hitting — with a better-hitting pitcher, announcers will say “this guy’s a good hitter,” when what they mean is “this guy’s a good hitter, for a pitcher,” which means he still sucks. The best-hitting pitchers hit kind of a lot like Brendan Ryan.
Obviously, we don’t want to panic yet, before we have official word on the matter with Hultzen’s body. That should come soonish, and with it, a prognosis. Even in the various worse-case scenarios, Hultzen will have decent chances of getting back. Pitcher careers have survived torn labrums. The medicine’s always improving, and surgeons know more about shoulders than they used to. Unless they find terminal cancer in there, Hultzen’s going to remain a Mariners pitching prospect, and he’s going to keep trying to make the majors. Maybe he’ll ultimately be greatly successful. But this is just how things can go. Give a hug to your nearest Felix Hernandez.
With pitchers, you can go one of two ways. You can distance yourself, emotionally, protecting yourself from getting hurt. That’s perfectly sensible, I suppose, because no one likes being let down, and pitchers let you down all the time. They don’t mean to; they’re diseased. But I think the better route is to keep celebrating pitchers, to keep embracing them, to try to appreciate the now. To delight in what you see pitchers do, because you don’t know if each one will keep doing it. I love Felix to death, in large part because of his durability, but I’m not fool. I know what could happen, and I think that’s a part of the way that I feel — you better appreciate what Felix is, because that guy’s not lasting forever. Mike Trout’s a risk, but he’s not the same kind of risk. I love the King’s Court, because each Felix start is an occasion. Those are people, actively appreciating. They’re open to being hurt, because that’s how you love.
Healthy pitchers are fun. Healthy pitchers become unhealthy pitchers. I think the answer to how to deal with pitchers is trying to live more in the moment. You’re aware from the beginning there are only so many moments, and you don’t know when each moment reservoir will run dry. The answer can’t be less love. That’s cold and rational, and that doesn’t belong in the fan landscape. By rooting for a baseball team, you’re already opening yourself up to bitter defeat and despondence. Within that framework, why give yourself minor protections, if it means you have less fun? Have as much fun as you can because one day you’ll be dead. You. You, the reader. You will fertilize the earth. Loved ones will speak of you in the past tense.
Hopefully, Hultzen will be okay. Right now, Felix is okay. He’ll probably be okay for his next and last start of the season. Let the love in, and accept what it gives you. If you didn’t already agree to being disappointed by uniformed strangers, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.