06/29/09 7:25 PM ET
Red Sox being patient with Matsuzaka
Boston's Dice-K strategy can apply to everyone
By Gary Gillis / Special to MLB.com
It's not really a fair question. First, we can't be absolutely positive that Dice-K would not have had some sort of arm problem if he had chosen not to pitch. Second, not pitching wasn't really an option for him; he is a national icon in Japan, and in a country where they take honor quite seriously, excuses don't fly. That is true even when citizens of another small nation suggest there are 50 million reasons to the contrary. Which may be why, in the wake of Matsuzaka's most recent troubling performance, he told reporters he has "no regrets" about participating in the World Baseball Classic.
"I knew going in that this season I'd have to work hard through the [World Baseball Classic] and throughout the regular season as well," he told the press. "And that's the mentality I had going into the offseason as I was ramping up in my training. It's really my fault that I wasn't able to do that effectively."
Fifty years ago players had offseason jobs and used Spring Training as a time to get in shape. These days baseball is a full-time job. Training never stops but there are longer periods of rest in the offseason before the resumption of workouts that are specifically designed to maximize strength and minimize the risk of fatigue and injury over the course of a six-month season.
"I think it's fair to say that as the season progresses, the risk of injury or pain increases," says Dr. Arun Ramappa, chief of sports medicine in the department of orthopedic surgery at beth israel deaconess medical center. "That's especially true for pitchers because we weren't built to throw 90-plus mile-an-hour fastballs or to snap off a curveball. That puts tremendous pressure on the shoulder and elbow."
Of course we are not even half way through this season, and Matsuzaka only pitched three games (14 2/3 innings) in the tournament plus a tuneup appearance of less than two innings against Australia. That's not really heavy lifting is it?
"Pitching at the Major League level is so complex," says Dr. Ramappa. "When a pitcher tires his mechanics break down. If the mechanics break down there's a greater risk of injury because proper mechanics offer some protection. Then, of course, you have to consider the fact that the margin of error is so slim when we are talking about locating pitches. Fixing all that can take some time."
Which is why manager Terry Francona has suggested that Matsuzaka's stay on the DL will likely be longer than 15 days. The Sox are thinking long term and anticipating a good return on their investment rather than a quick return to the lineup. It's an approach that might work for you and me, too.
"We don't have to prepare for a 162-game season, we have to think about preparing for a lifetime," Dr. Ramappa explains. "Whether that is going to be an enjoyable, active lifetime depends to a good degree on our level of personal fitness. The best exercise program is one that you're going to stick with, and sets reasonable goals.
"And I'm not just talking about getting your heart in shape. Strength training -- weights or some other kind of resistance training increases muscle and bone mass. It is as important as aerobic exercise."
In other words:
Don't expect to lose 15 pounds and develop 6-pack abs in a week.
Starting with fewer weights is less embarrassing than asking a stranger to help you lift the bar off your chest.
And, if you are planning to run a marathon don't begin your training with a 10K race.
These pearls of wisdom come not from Dr. Ramappa, but from the personal experience of someone who shall remain nameless.
Is it frustrating to have a guy you were counting on go down? Of course, but as Francona pointed out, Dice-K is 30 years old, has won 33 regular-season games and 3 postseason games in the past two seasons.
They want to get him straightened out for the long run. And you want to be around to see it, don't you?
Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.