Taijuan Walker Isn’t Dying
It doesn’t literally exist in any tangible form, but there is a list of things we would and would not want to read about Taijuan Walker. Let’s examine the very bottom of that list:
- Elbow problems. But at least it’s not his shoulder
- Viral encephalitis. But his shoulder is ok?
- Traded but if nothing else, hey, trade return
- Prison sentence
- Shoulder problems
Nothing more terrifying for a pitcher than undiagnosed shoulder discomfort. At least, nothing more terrifying for a fan of a pitcher. Early in Mariners camp, Taijuan Walker came down with undiagnosed shoulder discomfort. That was a problem, although the Mariners insisted it wasn’t a big deal. Walker began his recovery, and now, there’s a setback. Walker’s going to take some time off from throwing, having been given a diagnosis of inflammation. More specifically, bursa inflammation, or bursitis. Again, the Mariners insist it isn’t a big deal, and Lloyd McClendon doesn’t sound too worried. I think he means to be reassuring, but when it comes to shoulders, you can’t easily reassure.
As Danny Hultzen reminded us of. Hultzen’s shoulder problems were no big deal until they were the biggest of deals, and he’s not going to pitch this whole season. The rest of his career is up in the air, not that it wasn’t always, but now things are even more uncertain. At first, Hultzen just couldn’t get loose. He was basically day-to-day. Then he got cut open and important shoulder bits got patched up. Doctors have been optimistic, but that’s how you can damn a pitching career with faint praise.
The good news is this could really be almost nothing. Simple bursitis. You treat it with anti-inflammatories. Walker’s back to throwing in a week. Maybe he’s somehow still ready to go come Opening Day. Bursitis can be chronic, but if you want to be encouraged, you need look no further than Felix Hernandez. In June 2005, when Felix was 19 years old, he was diagnosed with bursitis. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt the symptoms. First, he was expected to miss one start. Then, he was held out of another. The Mariners, understandably, acted with caution. Felix didn’t start for something like a month, then for a brief time he worked out of the bullpen. Once he was fully back to normal, he was promoted from Tacoma and pitched like the perfect major-league pitcher. Since then he’s been Felix Hernandez. His shoulder hasn’t bothered him since. Bursitis isn’t a death sentence, if that’s all that there is. It can be no more worrisome than a moderate bruise.
Here’s the problem, even if this might seem a little irrational. Is bursitis all that there is? Walker’s second opinion confirmed the diagnosis, and MRI exams revealed no structural damage. The issue is that, oftentimes, MRI exams fail to identify structural damage. The only way for a doctor to know for sure what’s going on in a shoulder is to actually get into it. Imaging can tell you a lot, but it can’t tell you everything. It feels like a whole bunch of times I’ve read that a surgeon went in for a simple clean-up and was surprised to find a disaster zone. More significant shoulder problems can hide themselves, which is the root cause of all the worry. As long as a shoulder doesn’t feel right, that’s bad. You can get a diagnosis, complete with imaging, but that occupies a level in between facts and a guess. We can be pretty certain that Taijuan Walker has an inflamed bursa. Is that all? Sure hope so.
It’s easy to get carried away with worry, but then, worry is legitimate when you have a talented pitcher whose shoulder feels off. Walker, to our knowledge, isn’t broken, and he could be throwing normally again soon, but until that’s actually happening…look, we’re a nervous bunch, but I think we’ve earned it. And I might rather be worry-prone than over-confident. It’s a feeling, at least, and all we’re really here for is to feel.
Meantime, expect even more rumors about the Mariners looking to trade Nick Franklin for a starting pitcher. Already those rumors were going to dominate the spring, but given the Mariners’ 2014 plans and given the question marks they have in the rotation, there could be an even greater sense of urgency. It’s been reported that the Mets will be watching. It’s been reported that the Rays will be watching. Others, too, will call or get called, and though Taijuan Walker isn’t the reason Franklin will presumably get dealt, this isn’t lowering the odds. This front office can’t chance a bad season, and Franklin isn’t in position to make much of a difference, directly.