I was at the St. Louis Cardinals camp today, where manager Tony La Russa chatted with his new hitting coach, a fellow by the name of Mark McGwire.
I got a chance to talk to two pitchers who overcame shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, as the Mariners’ Erik Bedard is attempting to do.
One is Chris Carpenter, who is held up as the shining example for all pitchers attempting to come back from torn labrums. After all, Carpenter had the surgery in 2002, won the Cy Young in 2005, and nearly won it again last year when he went 17-4 and won the National League ERA title (2.24).
The other is Blake Hawksworth, a Cardinal reliever who happens to be a local product, having attended Eastlake High School (where he was a teammate of future major leaguer Andy Sisco) and Bellevue Community College. Actually, he’s not completely a local product. Hawksworth was born in North Vancouver, B.C., and though he has lived in Sammamish since he was 5, he has maintained Canadian citizenship. Hawksworth, who turns 27 Monday, showed his colors by wearing a Team Canada t-shirt to camp today.
Hawksworth tore his labrum in 2004, had the operation by Dr. Lewis Yocum (the same surgeon who worked on Bedard) and came back to be a mainstay of the Cardinal bullpen last year after making his major-league debut on June 6. In 30 games, Hawksworth had a 2.03 earned-run-average (with four of the nine runs he allowed coming in his debut against Colorado). He’ll likely be back in the pen this year as one of Ryan Franklin’s setup men, though there has been some talk of making him a No. 5 starter candidate.
I guess the message I came away with regarding Bedard is the same one that was indicated in this blog post last month: the long-term outlook is probably brighter, frankly, than the short-term prognosis. Neither pitcher was successful in the season following their surgery.
Here’s what Carpenter said: “I had it in September of ’02, and then I had to have another (operation) in summer of ’03. I wasn’t back, really back – I mean, I was back pitching that next season in ’04, but I really didn’t start feeling good until the middle of ’04. In the first half of the season, I didn’t throw bullpens in between, my velocity was way down. But as the season went along, I recovered better, got stronger, my shoulder started feeling stronger, my velocity started going up, and from that point on, it got better.”
Added Carpenter: “It’s a lot of hard work. That’s it. Some people can do it, some people can’t. I think it’s a surgery that’s way different than Tommy John. With Tommy John, you know that 97 percent of the people come back. This is more a flip-the-coin type surgery. I just worked hard and tried to get back. I learned a lot about my shoulder, and taking care of my shoulder, through that process.”
Bedard, remember, had a previous shoulder surgery in September of 2008 to remove a cyst and also received a minor labral debridement, in which non-healthy tissue was removed. More shoulder issues ensued in 2009, when he was limited to 15 starts (same as ’08). He underwent surgery on Aug. 14, during which Dr. Yocum found and repaired the torn labrum, along with an inflamed bursa.
Bedard hopes to be back by May, perhaps June. The Mariners have said only that they expect him to pitch at some point during the season.
“I had it in September and was supposed to be back by that same June, July time frame,” Carpenter said. “I ended up having to have that second one. You’ll know. I knew from the first one, I knew it still wasn’t right. The second one, as soon as I started getting my strength back, I knew that I’d be OK.
“When I first started pitching, coming back, my velocity was lower, it was down. But it gradually went up as my arm strength got better. But I wouldn’t expect a whole lot from that point, if he’s coming back in July. I wouldn’t expect him to be himself. I’d expect him to be himself the following year. I don’t know how much you can expect after serious surgery like that.”
Hawksworth, after his surgery in July of 2004, had hoped to come back in 2005, but
after seven Class A starts in rehab, he was shut down due to continued discomfort in his shoulder. In 2006, however, he came back to pitch so well he was named the Cardinals’ minor league pitcher of the year. He has not had arm problems since.
“It’s tough,” Hawksworth said. “I know the shoulder is a very complex joint. There’s a lot more movement in it compared to the elbow. It just takes longer. It takes awhile. And everyone’s different. There’s no set time. It took me two years, and it’s still not normal. I had to reach a point where I said, ‘OK, it’s not going to be like it used to be. You’ve got to go out there and try to make it work.’
“I’m sure he’ll be fine. I don’t know how severe he tore it. I’ve definitely seen guys come back. Chris Carpenter in here has had multiple shoulder stuff, and he’s the best in the game. So there you go.”
There you go. Carpenter is definitely someone for Bedard to point to — if you ignore the fact it took him 19 months to return to a major-league mound.
“Obviously, I think with a lot of hard work, anybody can do anything,” Carpenter said. “I hope he’s fine.”