By: Holly Horning
Time to ride the injury rollercoaster once again this year. Today’s candidate? Jordan Zimmermann.
JZ had 2 rehab assignments in which he threw 50 – 78 pitches each but in only 4 innings. He consistently fell behind most of the hitters and his fastball speed and command were off. Yet, it was deemed he was ready to return to Detroit.
Why? Because he told the team he was pain-free.
But once back with the Tigers, he was warming up before his start last week and everyone noticed that there was something wrong. Dubee did. So did Salty. Presumably Ausmus, too. But no one said anything and he took the mound. Even when Brad and Kevin Rand noticed that something was amiss and visited him, he told them he was fine and stayed in the game – only to leave minutes later in the second inning after giving up 6 runs and putting the game effectively out of reach.
And now Zimmermann is once again on the DL with a re-aggravation of an older injury. And once again, it brings up that issue fans have been discussing since 2013 about how well the Tigers watch over and manage player injuries.
And it’s been a troubling pattern. For the past 4 years, the Tigers have never made the list of teams with the most official injuries. However, that’s because many of the players who are injured, don’t go on the DL. Where the Tigers do consistently rank is with injured players on the active roster.
We’ve watched Miggy hurt for what seemed like forever – watching him grimace and limp. And Victor, too – unable to hit because he couldn’t use his legs and literally had to drag them out of the batter’s box. JV also comes to mind when he rushed back from a rehab he didn’t want to do. And there are others – but you get the point.
I don’t know of another team that treats its most expensive players with such a cavalier attitude when it comes to injuries.
To be fair, this has been an issue that was seen during both the Leyland and Ausmus regimes as well as the Dombrowski and Avila eras. And yesterday, Brad responded that they took Zimm’s word that he was fine. Despite seeing otherwise.
And I’ve got a real problem with that. Not just with Ausmus, but with a whole host of support staff in the form of coaches, trainers and presumably medical staff. Everyone appeared to have signed off – at least those with the real decision-making power.
Interestingly, before JZ’s return to the DL, I was listening to a group of former players talk about injuries. All said that there is no one in baseball who will admit that they are injured. The norm is that they will play through injuries – minor and major because that is the culture. It’s also about keeping their jobs and maximizing new contracts when the time comes.
They talked about having injuries so severe that they should have been seeking treatment. Broken bone severe. Several of these players-turned-analysts shared stories of having injuries that were so visibly apparent yet routinely had the trainers tape them up. Trainers who turned a blind eye and did it despite the risks. Trainers who also didn’t tell managers.
Combine that with a report I read over the winter mentioning the issues created by the majority of ball players who don’t trust the team doctors and see their own independent doctors. Doctors who are required by their profession not to divulge medical information unless the patient allows it. And these athletes don’t share the information with their team for the most part. All in the name of protecting their careers and income.
In the case of Zimmermann, we’ll never know.
So the other question to ask is whether the Tigers also take risks in allowing injured players to stay off the DL. Do they do it because they are pushing to stay in the race? Was Zimmermann so desperately needed back in the rotation that they turned a blind eye to the apparent red flags? If the Tigers had landed another starter, would JZ still be in Toledo?
While it’s understandable that highly competitive athletes want back in the game, it’s the “team” game think that needs to take priority. When you play injured, you put both yourself and your team at risk. When you play injured, it’s about what you want. And when you play injured, you’re not thinking about what is really best for the team.
Maybe if someone had stopped Zimm from pitching, the Tigers may have had a better chance to win that game. And maybe he wouldn’t have ended up back on the DL.
So who’s at fault? The player or management? Or both?
It’s worrisome when any profession practices averting eyes when it comes to injuries. It’s part of an unenviable corporate culture when a string of decision-makers decide to ignore the long-term implications in favor of a much-wanted short-term gain.