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Baseball’s pitchers hit by vicious injury epidemic

Just when you thought it was safe to walk out to the mound...

Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

“Hooray, baseball is back!” we said in April.

Now it’s June. Everybody’s dead.

Dead to the world, that is. Some of baseball’s top arms have been hurried off the field and placed in containment while our nation’s top scientists determine the best course of action for their various ailments.

What happened? It was spring time, the butterflies were flapping, the lightning bugs were blinking, and Clayton Kershaw was inspiring pure poetry from Vin Scully’s lips. This is simply the nature of baseball, though; over the course of a 162-game season, these players get eaten alive, and with the repeated motions of pitching, even the strongest hurlers take that long walk from the mound to the clubhouse with a trainer muttering in their ear.

Let’s review the heartbreaking list of pitchers who we may not see for a bit.

Zack Greinke

Ailment: Left oblique tightness

What? They got Greinke, too? The NL West was supposed to be the new wild frontier of pitching, with the Diamondbacks snaring Greinke, Kershaw in Dodger blue, and the Giants once again piecing together a rotation out of sunshine and farts.

Before leaving last night’s start against the Phillies with oblique tightness before the third inning, Greinke had been firing away at the top of the Arizona starters’ brigade, easily leading the team in innings pitched with 109.1 and throwing 91 strikeouts to only 21 walks. This had all resulted in a 3.62 ERA, which was of note on a team with starting pitchers who have trouble tunneling under that pesky 4.00 threshold. In six starts over the last four weeks, Greinke has trimmed that number down to an even sexier 1.63.

So the D-Backs are losing him right when he was bouncing back, which, as any baseball analyst will tell you, “sucks.” The injury bug has been hanging out in Arizona for weeks now, repeatedly stinging the Diamondbacks to the point that they’ve lost everybody from A.J. Pollock to Rubby de la Rosa to Socrates Brito for significant stretches of time already. With the fall of Greinke, you’d think it would have its fill of Diamondback blood by now.

Clayton Kershaw

Ailment: Lower back soreness

The Dodgers smuggled their ace out of Milwaukee and put him on a plane home to L.A. the other day, and the world couldn’t have reacted more rationally.

It wasn’t enough that we had our highly touted Kershaw/Stephen Strasburg prime time match-up canceled the other week over Strasburg’s lower back concerns; now Kershaw, one of the most efficient, talented pitchers in the game today, has some kinks he needs worked out by a team of doctors.

The soreness in his lower back after hurling six innings on Sunday night was enough concern to the Dodgers to send their ace away, leading to manager Dave Roberts to list Kershaw “day to day” and explaining that he’d been dealing with stiffness in that region for the “last few weeks.” Kershaw had not requested the field trip himself, and Roberts seemed confident in leaving the matter in the hands of the medics waiting for his ace in L.A.

Kershaw is scheduled to pitch against the Rockies this Friday, and Los Angeles seems convinced he’ll be able to make it. Which makes sense; you tend to miss a guy who can pitch to a 2.36 ERA when your lineup can only squeeze out zero to two runs and then spend the rest of the night shrugging at you.

In the mean time, as the ranks thin, the Dodgers are being forced to rethink some of their longer term strategies.

Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz

Ailment: Bone spurs?

So bad are bone spurs, one of the Mets pitchers refuses to admit that he has them.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson spoke on the issue facing two of his starting pitchers the other day, revealing that Matz intends to “manage” the bone spur in his elbow during his start on Thursday (this is after skipping Wednesday’s scheduled start). Syndergaard, on the other hand, denied he even had a bone spur, only for Alderson to back off on that theory just a tad, according to ESPN’s Adam Rubin.

Alderson described Syndergaard's bone spur as "very small" and suggested 90 percent of major league pitchers have something comparable.

It’s just a little bone spur; he’s still good, he’s still good.

But these things aren’t always as manageable as one hopes. You know how your body has the correct amount of bones in it, and those bones tend to be the correct shape for the part of your body in which they reside? Well, a spur screws that whole situation up by being a weird lump of bone that pops up somewhere in response to (surprise, surprise) repetitive friction as the body tries to repair itself. The type of friction that, say, someone who throws a baseball 90-100 times every few days might experience.

In other words, that really sounds unpleasant for Syndergaard and Matz, and hopefully they are able to pitch around it. Though all of baseball will be scrutinizing each missed location and drop in velocity from here on out.

Phil Hughes

Ailment: Thoracic outlet syndrome

Poor, poor Phil Hughes.

He made 11 starts this year. Appeared in 12 games. Threw 59 innings. He got pretty much lit up the whole time.

Back in the day, Hughes was pitching in the playoffs for a Yankees team that would get him a World Series ring. Did he accumulate a 9.00 ERA in the ALDS against the Twins in 2009? Yes he did. But that’s not the point. Did that increase to 16.20 in the World Series against the Phillies? Again, yes. Why are we talking about this.

In 2014, as a fresh face on the Twins, he logged the greatest SO/W ratio the sport had ever seen at 11.63. And then it all unraveled: His velocity dipped. Injuries piled up. J.T. Realmuto fractured his knee with a liner. Now, he’s having his body taken apart by surgeons. From Twinkie Town:

The operation is supposed to alleviate something called thoracic outlet syndrome, and actually involves removing part of one of Hughes’ rib (!). “It’s an injury that I think explains maybe a little bit of his issue,” Terry Ryan told the Pioneer Press.

This particular problem exists somewhere between the neck and armpit, where something is pushing nerves and blood vessels together tightly enough that nothing can get through. Naturally, Hughes’ season is over. Get well soon, Phil.