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  • Nolasco and Injury Culture

    Ricky Nolasco, 31, was pulled after two innings and 42 pitches on Sunday after giving up six earned runs to the New York Yankees. That start pushed Nolascoís earned run average to a career-worst 5.90. Just six of his 18 starts have been quality starts. Over his past 11 starts he has posted a 10.64 ERA in the first inning. He held opponents scoreless in the first inning over his first seven starts.

    After signing the richest free agent contract in franchise history, itís no secret that Ricky Nolasco has been a huge disappointment. His 5.90 ERA is more than 1.5 runs higher than his career mark entering 2014. He is striking out fewer batters, walking more, and giving up more home runs than his track record would suggest that he should. Heís leading the league in hits allowed. His deal has been one of the biggest disappointments from free agency this past winter.



    After seeing these facts or simply watching him pitch a few times, itís evident heís not the same guy heís been for the majority of his solid big league career. No one should be overly surprised that heís been pitching hurt.

    Ok, so heís hurt, and that sucks, but at least thereís an explanation of why heís been so underwhelming. Seems like a pretty straightforward story, right? Thatís where this starts to get interesting. Pioneer Press Twins beat reporter Mike Berardino, who does great work covering the Twins night in night out, tweeted this out not long after his story was posted:

    @MikeBerardino: I asked Gardy if he wants his pitchers to tell him when they're sore. He suggested he did not want to know until it rose to a certain level.
    I like to picture Gardy volunteering this small look into his philosophy in the clubhouse, in between giving Eddie Escobar a quick instructional on the art of the sacrifice bunt and watching an episode of M*A*S*H on his tube RCA TV that Tom Kelly bought new in 1986. Try harder to sound like the game has passed you by Gardy. He sounds to me like someoneís dad talking Twins at a bar:

    Mauerís soft, Nolascoís soft. Theyíre all soft these days! Unless youíre really hurt, you go out there when you see your name on that galdang lineup card! Every time. Period. Gotta try to go the distance and get the win! Bartender, gimme another Busch Light!

    Seriously, this kind of tough guy, suck it up, youíre not injured youíre hurt BS is so outdated in todayís game. What exactly is that ďcertain levelĒ Gardy? Because itís evident to me that Nolasco reached that certain arbitrary level of injured a while ago.

    If this is the kind of mindset that Gardy wants his players to have, a 1980s bite-the-bullet, grit it out approach, then he is no longer a viable option. Berardinoís article says explicitly that only after some coaxing could the Twins brass get Nolasco to admit his arm has been tight since spring training and that he hasnít been right all year.

    I have never set foot in the Twins clubhouse, so I donít feel comfortable making these broad generalizations about a company I have no internal knowledge of, but it certainly screams cultural problem to me. Why else would Nolasco, a very good and most durable pitcher whom the Twins have a lot invested in, feel compelled to hide an injury and pitch ineffectively for months on end rather than feel comfortable admitting he isnít right and needs some time before heíll be able to get out on the mound and pitch to his talent level and perform up to the expectations of his contract?

    There is no point to playing injured or feeling like you should have to hide an injury. I realize that itís a long season and no one is 100% as the season wears on, but there is a difference between sore/hurt and injured. And as it stands, Ricky Nolasco at whatever percent he was pitching at isnít a very good pitcher. Had he felt comfortable going to Gardy and saying, ďHey, Iím not right, I need some time, put me on the DL,Ē the Twins could have easily gone to the minor leagues and gotten someone who could have helped the team more than an injured Nolasco has for the past couple months. Trevor May or Alex Meyer potentially could have come up and helped the club. I have no knowledge of the internal workings of any other clubs either (again, shocker), but I imagine smart teams do their best to make sure their players feel more than comfortable disclosing injuries and getting treatment.

    Instead of that approach, the Twins Twinsíd and Nolasco toughed it out for more than a handful of starts, being ineffective and possibly further injuring himself and hurting the clubís investment in him. I do realize this is a culture problem with layers upon layers upon layers. I ripped up my shoulder in high school and didnít tell a soul until months after it happened, afraid of what answer I would get. Who knows if I hurt it worse by continuing to play baseball while eating Advil like they were Skittles.

    No one wants to admit theyíre hurt or to miss any time. Itís incredibly frustrating. So I get that this is not all the Twinsí fault. Nolasco has probably been conditioned to go out there every fifth day, no matter how he feels, for upwards of a couple decades. That being said, Iíve become less and less enamored over the past few years with how the Twins do business. I hope Iím wrong, but Iím pretty sure Iím not.

    Originally posted at troywilliamsonshands.blogspot.com
    Comments 71 Comments
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Very good article. There is so much to this. First, there is the player. Has Ricky Nolasco pitched through worse tightness and pain than he was pitching with this season? I wouldn't doubt it. Since he has had elbow tightness all season, when would be the proper time to report the injury? Granted, Nolasco has the security of a long-term contract, but he is new to the Twins, with a rep of being durable, taking the ball every five days. That particular trait probably made him millions of dollars, separating him from many, many other hurlers with similar stuff.

      The manager--I don't think it's his role to ask 25 players about their nicks and aches. It is true that he appreciates gamers and guys that he can count on. You can hear the eye roll when he says "Joe needs another day" or "NuŮez couldn't go today" and disruptions to the rotation have always troubled him. The double standard has been there for a long time--play with an injury but once the injury is reported, treat it with kid gloves or ultimate caution. Different players are different. I believe Suzuki has played through bumps and aches that would have sidelined Mauer, for instance. Some are purebreds and some are standardbreds.

      The team, like every other major league team, spews spin all the time. They relish how tough players are and turn on their heel and excuse substandard play because of injuries. Certainly the club wants their players healthy and playing.

      Finally, the medical staff. The goal is to get and keep your best talent on the field. I don't know if the trainers are trying to help players or not, I do know they work for the team. Certainly, relative value matters. Would the club risk Mauer's career for him to play in September of a losing year? Would they do the same for Chris Colabello or Matt Guerrier?

      I do know that we have had two veteran pitchers pitch ineffectively and only after prodding was it revealed that they had injuries holding them back. I see a lot of problems and not many clear-cut solutions.
    1. LewFordLives's Avatar
      LewFordLives -
      I echo the sentiments of others that we should wait to see if he's actually hurt. This could be just some kind of face saving measure. All pitchers sometimes can't get loose. It's just part of the trade.

      I disagree slightly with those who would be relieved if he is actually hurt. I understand where they're coming from, but man what a blow that would be. We have $50 million invested in this guy. What if he needed surgery that was going to force him to sit out a year or more? I'd rather his poor play was caused by crappy mechanics and pitch selection. At least then there would be a chance he could work things out and still help this club.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by drjim View Post
      I have a couple of thoughts:

      1. Does anyone here have any sense of how other team's operate? There is a lot of raging against the Twins and that they have some unique culture that leads to these outcomes, but I suspect pretty much every team deals with the exact same situations. Players don't report dings and management doesn't go out of its way to find injuries.

      2. Does anyone here have any insight at all into the mindset of an elite athlete? Or even a college athlete? Players hide injuries from management all the time. It is so gray preciously because it is such a fine line. He wasn't injured enough not to pitch, just injured enough not to pitch at peak performance. How does a team respond to that?

      3. I thought Gardy's comments to Berardino were spot on (all the comments in addition to the one you shared). If I was an athlete, I don't want a coach questioning me about injuries unless it is clear that I can't play - it wasn't clear Nolasco couldn't pitch, in fact he could pitch. If I had a bad stretch and the coach asked if I was hurt I would probably punch him.

      I thought the article was well written, but your conclusions were terrible. There is absolutely no context from other teams or what it might be like to be an athlete and how the interaction between athlete and coach happens in the real world.

      The idea that this will have any impact on future free agents or that there is some especially terrible culture here regarding injuries is laughable. This sort of thing plays out all the time across the league. Roughly 50% of pitchers and a got percentage of hitters spend time on the DL every year.
      Great take! I can't be quite as forgiving of the Twins, though. There is a thin line and I think the Twins have missed the mark, for whatever reason, too often. I think losing changes things, too.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      There is a difference in being sore or hurt and being injured. No one would ask a player, especially a pitcher, to play injured. But, players play sore and even a little hurt all year long.
      Agreed. I would be surprised if there was a Twins pitcher who didn't have a sore elbow, or any pro athlete that didn't regularly experience some level of soreness.

      Obviously, Nolasco's soreness could be indicative of injury, but I am always extra-skeptical when a struggling player makes a point to retroactively blame bad performances on injury.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      1) Very well written, well articulated, article. Thank you
      2) I don't think this issue is a Gardy issue as much as it is MLB/MiLB and professional sports in general. Players of all sports are under immense pressure to perform.
      3) That doesn't excuse the Twins FO and Manager. The "whistleblower" for those of us in the corporate world is the comparable. Progressive and successful organizations welcome and promote the open communication culture. Conversely the majority of organizations do not and end up being forced to get with the times.
    1. CharacterGroove's Avatar
      CharacterGroove -
      I'm rarely the one coming to Gardenhire's defense, but I find the criticism over his comment (as presented in that tweet) to be quite unfair.

      In a game where soreness and manageable pain is the norm, it's hardly controversial for a manager to say that he's not interested in hearing every detail. The "certain level" he's referring to is when it's outside the norm, i.e., when it's reached the point of potentially affecting performance.

      It's on the player to bring this up, and particularly when that player is a veteran. In fact, it's incumbent on the player to raise the issue, and be honest if someone else raises it first.

      If there's truly any evidence that Gardenhire is ambivalent to his players experiencing pain, or if there's legitimate evidence that he's furthering a "culture" that encourages players to suppress their injuries, then this type of criticism is warranted. But that tweet suggests neither.

      Indeed, to put the blame anywhere other than on Nolasco on his whole 2014 debacle is absurd.
    1. Twins Twerp's Avatar
      Twins Twerp -
      This article would not have been written if the Twins were still above .500. Gardy cannot be blamed for a pitcher having a tight elbow. Of course he doesnt want to hear when guys are "sore." Guys are sore everyday. Hell I woke up sore this morning from watching the Twins game at an odd angle last night.

      That is one thing that is bad about the constant news cycle. We nitpick every quote without the context. I think we get whiny and need instant gratification #wussificationofamerica
    1. Gernzy's Avatar
      Gernzy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Twerp View Post
      This article would not have been written if the Twins were still above .500. Gardy cannot be blamed for a pitcher having a tight elbow. Of course he doesnt want to hear when guys are "sore." Guys are sore everyday. Hell I woke up sore this morning from watching the Twins game at an odd angle last night.

      That is one thing that is bad about the constant news cycle. We nitpick every quote without the context. I think we get whiny and need instant gratification #wussificationofamerica
      Completely agree with this. Beat Writers cant post on thing on Twitter without people blowing up over it. I don't see that changing anytime soon.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Monkeypaws View Post
      I share iTwins sentiment that if this explains why Nolasco has been awful, it is good news, regardless of the how the Twins handled it.
      I don't know. Certainly, identifying the reason should help Nolasco eventually reverse course, either through rest or surgery.

      But, from a front office perspective, the Twins made their biggest FA splash ever, on a career 94 ERA+ pitcher whose primary value appeared to be his health and durability. This is a pretty big whiff so far.
    1. curt1965's Avatar
      curt1965 -
      I have to wonder if this culture and atmosphere hasn't been present in the Twins organization for years. I have felt that most uneducated fans and even some followers of TD have expressed their feelings that certain players are not tough enough. Two examples come to mind, but they are not related. The "bilateral leg weakness" issue with Mauer seemed to cause the media, fans, and yes, even Gardy, to question whether Joe was really hurt. None of us will ever know, but I often wondered why a great player, with possible HOF credentials, would not want to play to enhance his stats. How anyone could question his toughness, after years of catching when a player is continually hurt, is beyond my thinking.
      The other situation-that has nothing to do with toughness-relates to the Neshek situation. I followed his early career: Minnesota connection, unexpected success for a relative unknown, his interesting blog about life as a big leaguer. Then came the elbow tear. I don't remember the exact timeline, but the Twins wanted him to rest it, to see if he could forego TJ surgery.(I'm sure there must be cases when this has worked-I just don't know of any.) It obviously did not work for him, and he missed large portions of TWO years dealing with this issue. I don't know if a player has a right to say "I want the TJ surgery now," but this reluctance on the Twins part to deal with this issue in terms of a player's shelf life, has always bothered me.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      I'm not bothered by this either. Why is it Gardy's job to babysit players and ask if they're hurt? Players have to have some kind of ability to know if they are battling something they can play through or they need to rest. There should be a standard of toughness. What we don't see is if there is ridicule when a player does ask for some rest. This isn't the first player to come out and say they didn't want to say anything, nor the first to play poorly because of it. These guys should be expected to be in the training room weekly to stay healthy and feeling right.
    1. toosweet64's Avatar
      toosweet64 -
      @Seth Stohs

      "I don't get people being upset at Gardenhire. I think he's right. Unless he's told or aware that there is an injury, what can he do? He's seen so much bad pitching the last few years that he can't just ask guys if they're hurt all the time."

      For some reason, players aren't reporting injuries or soreness. The fact of the matter is that Rick Anderson and Bobby Cuellar are responsible for the pitchers and their health. If Gardy isn't hearing about soreness or injuries, then Rick Anderson and Cuellar aren't doing their jobs well enough to find out why their guys are struggling. And that's on Gardenhire's watch and, in my opinion, a fire-able offense. Better managers, like Terry Francona, have been fired for less.
    1. wabene's Avatar
      wabene -
      I just want to chime in that many on the internet are calling for FO heads, but what about Ricky? If he is hurting it is his responsibility to report it. I don't get why he wouldn't with a long term deal already inked. Can't see how any blame can be laid at the staff except maybe a shorter leash before sitting him down and prying it out of him. Pelf too. I suspect he didn't want to lose his spot.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      In all honesty, I was surprised when this all blew up a bit on Twitter last night.

      For me, this says more about Nolasco than anything else. He had just signed the largest free agent contract that this club had issued (or one of the largest). He knew that he was expected to lead this staff -- certainly by eating innings consistently. And, although I don't feel like i've "gotten to know" Nolasco, from what I have seen on Twitter, he seems to have a bit of a "machismo" thing going (the fight stuff, etc.).

      I'm not discounting the concerns about the culture but frankly, Gardenhire shouldn't want to know every times someone has a minor boo boo. By this point in the season, most guys are probably playing through something. The question is whether guys feel comfortable reporting to the trainers, etc. and working on preventative maintenance as well as early response to injuries.

      I just don't think Nolasco is a very good test case. I'd want to go back and see if we are seeing this as a true pattern.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Nolasco is a highly paid professional. It is a part of a pro athlete's job to know his body and to make the right decisions for him and his team. If he was dealing with an injury or soreness that was impeding his performance, it's his job to make the coaches and training staff aware of it.

      I've seen a lot of talk about "injury culture" here and elsewhere, and it mostly strikes me as reactionary frustration with a team that just has a lot of things going wrong. As drjim astutely pointed out, this is the same kind of stuff teams across the league face, because athletes are trained over their lifetimes to tough it out and play through pain when they can.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by drjim View Post
      I have a couple of thoughts:

      1. Does anyone here have any sense of how other team's operate? There is a lot of raging against the Twins and that they have some unique culture that leads to these outcomes, but I suspect pretty much every team deals with the exact same situations. Players don't report dings and management doesn't go out of its way to find injuries.

      2. Does anyone here have any insight at all into the mindset of an elite athlete? Or even a college athlete? Players hide injuries from management all the time. It is so gray preciously because it is such a fine line. He wasn't injured enough not to pitch, just injured enough not to pitch at peak performance. How does a team respond to that?

      3. I thought Gardy's comments to Berardino were spot on (all the comments in addition to the one you shared). If I was an athlete, I don't want a coach questioning me about injuries unless it is clear that I can't play - it wasn't clear Nolasco couldn't pitch, in fact he could pitch. If I had a bad stretch and the coach asked if I was hurt I would probably punch him.

      I thought the article was well written, but your conclusions were terrible. There is absolutely no context from other teams or what it might be like to be an athlete and how the interaction between athlete and coach happens in the real world.

      The idea that this will have any impact on future free agents or that there is some especially terrible culture here regarding injuries is laughable. This sort of thing plays out all the time across the league. Roughly 50% of pitchers and a got percentage of hitters spend time on the DL every year.
      I have taken care of enough guys who thought a problem would go away if you ignore it long enough. How many people go to work sick. How many people stay home with a sniffle. There is a range there. Athletes and injuries are no different. There is a range of behaviors.
    1. MileHighTwinsFan's Avatar
      MileHighTwinsFan -
      At the risk of making a very poor analogy - I wonder why a team with such a huge investment in a player would not be acutely attuned to his physical conditioning. Like a NASCAR team that wants a car to be operating at peak efficiency, shouldn't the team be constantly checking on their investment in Nolasco? Beyond basic mechanics - shouldn't the team be regularly checking elbows, shoulders and forearms to make sure they are able to perform?

      I know the analogy breaks down when you consider that for a car all that might be needed is a turn of a wrench or the replacement of a part, but it seems like monitoring and treatment is warranted on all players.

      This should be particularly the case for a player who will be counted on for 4 years. The last thing we want is an injury that costs the team a full season or more.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by MileHighTwinsFan View Post
      The last thing we want is an injury that costs the team a full season or more.
      But that's where the dilemma comes in. To use your race car analogy, the team owner doesn't want the car constantly in the shop on race day, only to find out the mechanics were working on the cup holders or cigarette lighter. Needlessly not being available for competition is at least the second to last thing they want. And so you have these two competing aims, of maintaining the perspective to know whether it's a cup holder or an oil pressure problem - and unlike with cars, it's not quite as easy to plug in the computer and find out what code the Check Engine light is trying to tell you.

      / wait, you've never pulled over due to a Check Engine light only to discover it was for "CHA - Cup Holder Ajar"?
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Scenario I:


      I wish I knew more about Nolasco's contract. If he had proclaimed that he's "injury free" and completely "ready to pitch"--and if he wasn't--could his contract be voided? IDK major league contracts (or others for that matter), but if there was a possibility that it could be voided for fraud, I definately would understand why Nolasco would try to "pitch through it". If things got worse, well it is reasonable to conclude that the injury occurred after he started pitching for the Twins.

      Scenario II

      As posted earlier in this thread--this "injury" wasn't disclosed by Nolasco until after Gardenhire trashed him. How convienent.

      Scenario III

      Maybe nobody really has enough facts about Nolasco's elbow (yet) but it's clear something has to be done now. Placing Nolasco in the IR List buys time to fully ascertain "what's up"--and fix it--as well as permitting someone else to replace Nolasco in the rotation until "it's fixed". Given the article about Worley I can definately believe the Twins want to solve the "Nolasco problem" themselves. It would be a PR nightmare if this issue continued to plauge the Twins, Nolasco was traded to another team (for a bus transfer), and this other team "fixed Nolasco" and returned him to a functional major league pitcher.
    1. naobermiller's Avatar
      naobermiller -
      For those who are concerned about managment not making another move until Nolasco's contract is off the books, know that Ryan pursued Matt Garza to the last second, and offered him more annual money than Milwaukee did, after they had signed Nolasco and Hughes. They were ready to add more payroll, and don't see Ricky's injury deterring them from adding payroll
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