Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez has reportedly suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow that will require season-ending surgery. Fernandez threw five innings on Friday against San Diego and was touched up for 6 runs, which included two home runs. Fernandez saw well-renowned surgery Dr. Neal ElAttrache while in Los Angeles as the Marlins take on the Dodgers, where an MRI reportedly confirmed that Fernandez will miss the rest of the season. However, he will head back to Florida for a second opinion before he and the team makes a final decision.
One interesting stat from his start on Friday was that Fernandez’s fastball averaged 94.6 mph in the first four innings and 90.7 mph in the last two innings, which is out of the ordinary for a guy who thus far this season has thrown 7-8 innings on a consistent basis. And with no reported history of Fernandez ever being overused in any given season (or any given game for that matter), it’s tough to say exactly why this has happened. But that could have been the point where an injury occurred, as that sharp a drop in velocity is very atypical for a young guy like Fernandez.
Some point to mechanics being an issue, and not necessarily that there’s been any significant changes recently, but that he’s been showing signs of mechanical breakdown for the last couple of seasons. Chris O’Leary posted a great article a few weeks back talking about how certain mechanical flaws are popping up in young pitchers that could essentially become precursors into determining risk for elbow/shoulder issues. One guy he mentioned was Fernandez, who is an early pronator. What that means is that he turns his forearm palm-down too early, which not only limits the pitcher’s ability to extend the elbow properly, but leads to a world of timing issues as the pitching motion progresses. As the timing and rhythm of the throwing motion breaks down, it leads to increased stress placed on our shoulders and elbows. And when pitchers perform this motion every single day for a few seasons in a row, there will come a point in time where our bodies will rebel and say “enough is enough”.
Now, can we conclusively say that this is the reason Fernandez is in the spot he’s in? Not with 100% certainty, but with more research of common mechanical flaws and the eventual consequences of these flaws, we can hopefully start to pinpoint specific “warning signs” that place a person at risk for future injury. Just as the rest of our healthcare system needs to think prevention instead of reaction, the sports community needs to do the same. And that’s especially true in a sport like baseball, where guys make a living perform repetitive overhead motions in an effort to be noticed on the high school/collegiate level in addition to maintaining roster spots once they hit the bigs.
This rash of elbow injuries to start the 2014 season is unprecedented, as we’re already close to passing 2013’s total of UCL tears and it’s still May 13th. As fastball velocities continue to rise and little leaguers continue to throw year round during their developmental years, things may continue on this upward trajectory until we figure out how to put a stop to the madness. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies (think overuse across all levels of baseball, especially with our youth) and sometimes we’re just predisposed to having these types of injuries happen (mechanical flaws, genetics). But we can all agree that we should take a step back at this point and really think about what’s happening in the baseball world with this rash of injuries and what we can do to stop this from becoming a true epidemic.
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