Pitchers get their elbows fixed all the time. Tommy John surgery is like getting your oil changed these days. Get a new ligament, rehab a while and you’re just like new.
But shoulders offer no such guarantees. Any time a pitcher goes in for shoulder surgery, he doesn’t know whether he will be the same when he gets out. Just ask Mark Prior.
For Chien-Ming Wang, a series of events in Houston last June 15 led to one step that may have changed his entire life. For the Yankees, it could change how Brian Cashman approaches the coming trade deadline and building the team for next season.
Wang did not get a proper bunt down and ended up on first base with two outs in the sixth inning. A grounder to shortstop should have ended the inning, but Miguel Tejada tossed it away. Then Derek Jeter singled and Wang headed to the plate to score his first run in the majors.
The funny part? Wang actually took a nice secondary lead off second base and broke just when Jeter hit the ball. His teammates were laughing in the dugout, watching the pitcher run the bases. Then, about 10 feet from the plate, Wang started to limp. He had torn a tendon and ligament in his right foot.
Robinson Cano, one of Wang’s closest friends in baseball, had to help him to the dugout. Wang spent the next two months in a cast.
Nothing has been the same since. Wang pitched so poorly to start the season that the Yankees put him on the disabled list with what they said were weak hip muscles. He came back and pitched better, but was never really himself. Then, on July 4, he felt pain in his shoulder that never went away. Now today he’ll undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his capsule.
Did the foot injury change cause a subtle change in Wang’s mechanics that led to the shoulder injury? We’ll never know for sure, but that seems like a logical place to start.
For Wang, 2010 is his final season before free agency. But instead of coming off another 19-win season, he’ll be coming off an injury. Instead of a $12 million contract and financial security for his young family, he could be looking for a make-good deal with a new team.
For the Yankees, losing Wang means there is a hole to fill now and next season. The Yankees could sneak by with Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves this season. But what about 2010?
Cashman figured he had Wang, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain locked up as starters. If he had to replace anybody, it was Andy Pettitte.
Now there could be two spots to fill. Phil Hughes will get one. The other? It could be anybody.
If there is any justice, Wang will bounce back well and be somebody the Yankees can count on again. One step shouldn’t have so much impact.
Tyler Kepner has a good take on Wang over on Bats.