By: Holly Horning
Many fans thought about it. Wondered about it. And given the pattern and numerous examples over the years, came to believe in it.
And if you were looking for confirmation, you’ve come to the right place.
So what is it?
It’s the long-running hot topic about some of those who care for Tigers’ players when it comes to keeping them healthy. They may not be doing their jobs as well as they could be.
And you’d have plenty of proof even if you only looked at the history since 2012.
You could even ask Justin Verlander because he did an extensive interview that called out the Tigers’ staff for poor conditioning and “misdiagnosing” him over a period of 3 years.
If you haven’t read it by now, the writer starts by describing JV’s “scars” – both physical and mental – and his anger over that long journey to get healthy.
To understand the arduous, frustrating process, let’s explore the timeline and related information documented by both writer and JV in the article, sprinkled with a few bits of background information.
– In early 2013, JV’s arm started to hurt and the pain only grew worse as the year went on. Nothing was done to address the concern. (It is unclear how much the Tigers knew about the issue or when.)
– At the end of the 2013 season, JV hurt his groin doing a squat and an MRI was performed that also showed an undiagnosed core muscle injury. This had created the groin injury because he had a long-standing weakened core.
– Doctors, physical therapists and yoga/Pilates coaches will tell you that all strength and alignment of the body emanates from the core. A strong core keeps you healthy and flexible, while a weak one makes you susceptible to injury.
– JV and Miguel Cabrera both had identical core injury surgery within several weeks of each other.
– JV came back in 2014 but his arm was still hurting a year later. The pain increased and his performance and velocity declined.
– In August 2014, almost 2 seasons after the pain in his arm began, one of the Tigers’ coaches suggested he get an MRI for the first time.
– The MRI showed multiple signs of tendonitis and tendinosis but no structural damage.
– But he still had pain in his arm and there was no detail offered that suggested the next course of treatment.
– As JV explained, he listened to the Tigers’ trainers and believed that only the best of the best worked at the MLB level. He trusted their guidance, but in October, he had enough and sought outside professional help.
– Two years after the first signs, he saw a physical therapist in NY who told him it wasn’t his arm that was the culprit, but that the symptoms manifested in the arm because of problems elsewhere.
– It was the first time anyone had told him that his arm wasn’t the problem.
– During their very first meeting, the PT found the problem. JV couldn’t do a simple squat. Since his surgery a year earlier, he had done no squats while training and not a single trainer or coach noticed.
– The diagnosis? JV wasn’t flexible, not even the tiniest bit according to the PT – and it was the source of his pain and decline. Worst of all, it started years ago and eventually forced JV to compensate in his pitching style because his range of motion had decreased significantly.
– The PT looked at his videos and immediately saw what was going on. JV was over-rotating his hips and had no power in his legs and glutes. He was pitching almost exclusively with his arms. Neither his manager, pitching coach, trainers and presumably doctors saw any of it.
– JV described his body as a “disaster.”
– But before enough therapy could be completed, JV hurt his arm again and the Tigers’ trainers diagnosed a triceps strain. They told him an MRI wouldn’t be needed because it was so mild.
– Several weeks later, he got hurt again and this time an MRI was done to show a tear in his back.
– At this point, Verlander started to work almost exclusively with the NY PT according to the article.
– With his regular treatment, JV started to come around in July 2015 and returned to normal in 2016 when he finished a controversial second, instead of first, in the Cy Young voting.
The article was a summary of a three-year odyssey characterized by a lack of urgency, at least 1 “misdiagnosis” (according to JV) and failure to provide a well-rounded training and conditioning program.
And sadly, the examples appear to go beyond Justin.
Miggy, for example.
He has not had a healthy year since 2011. Fourteen different injuries and 4 major surgeries in just 6 years. Remember the back “tweak” he suffered during the WBC that the team said was minor? The same one that never went away during 2017 and contributed to his worst year of performance ever? The same tweak that turned out to be a double herniated disk problem?
The core injury from 2012 that wasn’t addressed for a full year before requiring surgery (at the same time Verlander had the identical surgery).
The ankle surgery that “surprised” everyone when they also found an unexpected broken bone in his foot that he had been playing on for a year?
The groin strains, hip flexor problems, back problems and the resulting core surgery that mimics many of the symptoms that JV had?
Let’s not forget the odyssey of Jordan Zimmermann. The perplexing initial injury with a diagnosis that kept changing. Again, fans were reassured it was a short DL stint. And two years later, he’s still being treated for it.
But like JV, JZ got frustrated with the treatment he was receiving. He ended up returning to his long-time doctor in Washington for help and solutions.
Sense a pattern here?
In all fairness, we don’t know how and when the players communicated with the team about their injuries in the beginning. And if there was only one player with these issues, we’d probably think it was a single example. But there are at least 3 that we currently know about – and potentially have an inkling about another. And that is a pattern.
We also know that this has nothing to do with the official number of players who go on the DL. Those stats are deceiving and don’t tell the whole story. Afterall, these 3 were on the DL 1-2 times over the span of multiple years (or decades) and instead, played through constant pain and injuries that significantly impacted performance.
It’s also not about players who sustain injuries from direct collisions with players, balls, sliding hard into home plate and walls during games.
It’s about those players who get injured from doing the simple things, getting repeatedly injured and having a difficult time fully recovering. It’s about the soft tissue injuries that involve the groins, backs, hammies, obliques, tendons and other bits. And when there’s a lot of that, it points to a weak link in the program.
The takeaway from the article on JV hints at:
1. A lack of proper conditioning and ignoring the importance of flexibility and developing strong cores.
2. A lack of urgency in addressing injuries.
3. “Misdiagnoses” (according to at least 1 player) that have sent 3 of the most expensive players on the team to seek outside help.
One would think that when you have 2 of MLB’s most highly-paid athletes, you would take extra care in protecting your assets. That you would even be proactive about it.
To miss 1 injury, maybe. But to miss multiple injuries on multiple players speaks to something else. And it’s not good.
And as many have questioned, a number of those who oversee the physical programs have been with the team since being hired by Dave Dombrowski for the Expos and the Marlins. The same staff that hasn’t won a single award for their work since 2006. One of that same staff who is now in charge of overseeing the entire Detroit Tigers’ athletic training for not just Detroit, but for all of their minor league affiliates.
JV may have apologized for disparaging a former colleague but he didn’t apologize for being wrong. And the fact that his own comments are missing from the latest articles, as well as his refusal to clarify his statements, speaks volumes.
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