Brendan Ryan put his shoes on today, sore left toe and all, and trotted back on to the field to engage in more throwing than he has all spring. Ryan is working to get back to playing shortstop again and wasn’t about to let something like fouling a Brandon League pitch off his left foot in Sunday’s intrasquad game stop him.
He says he would have if it was something serious. But he wasn’t about to allow a little pain and toenail discoloration to stop him from going out and resuming his throwing program in a bid to participate fully in all drills.
At this stage, Ryan is quickly growing tired of being constantly sidelined. He’s aware that it seems like he has a hard time staying on the field and wants to change that perception. But he also doesn’t want to rush things and suffer any setbacks that could impact his regular season.
“It’s a little embarrassing with all this stuff,” he said. “Like, geez, you don’t want to feel like a glass house or whatever, but you need to address the stuff. I don’t want this much attention.”
Part of the attention is coming from the nature of his injuries. He collided last summer with infielder Adam Kennedy while chasing down a popup and suffered a herniated disc in his back. That affected his neck to the point where he could barely turn his head. Also, his trapezius muscle, which has a big impact on his ability to throw.
“It was a big domino effect of things,” he said. “It came up the spine and the neck, down the trap and the shoulder.”
And pretty much ruined his second half.
Now, after a winter of working to condition his body and strengthen the shoulder and back area, he still has been slow to get on the field and throw. Still, he’s optimistic, even if he knows folks are beginning to wonder whether he’ll see the field.
“You’ve got the shoulder, then you’ve got the back, then you’ve got the shoulder thing,” he added. “It seems like you just keep adding on. But it’s got to be done.”
Ryan said he feels much better about his throwing today than he did two or three weeks ago when he arrived in camp early to work out. Back then, he said, his arm was still bothering him and he didn’t think he’d be this far along.
But today, he was out there doing extra long-toss sessions to warm up and then did a few more short tosses to second base than he was supposed to during drills. He was going to throw to first base as well, but decided to hold off.
“I got a lot more throws on the field today,” he said. “They were all double-play balls, but it felt good. I was throwing from different angles on double plays, too, so it was a little different kind of test.”
Ryan has thought a lot about what manager Eric Wedge said late last year about players needing to be more atuned to their bodies and doing what’s needed to be conditioned and stay out on the field. I asked Ryan whether he felt that applied to him.
“That’s a great question,” he said. “I’m asking myself that same thing. I think it’s good to play the game hard. It’s important. I think there are times when you might be doing the smart thing and it might not come off as you playing hard.
“I think fans or media can tend to get a little critical of guys who might not be hustling down the line. But there may be guys like (Dustin) Ackley, with a little bit of the hamstring at the end of the year there. He might not be doing his four (seconds) flat to first base, but it’s things like that. Knowing your body, knowing youself. And that’s something Wedge is really reminding us of every day. Knowing when to push yourself, knowing when to guard yourself.”
When I covered Orlando Hudson a decade ago, he used to dive for every ball hit within 20 feet of him whether it was catchable or not. Fans used to love the effort and the O-Dog rapidly became a favorite.
He also became a frequent visitor to the training room.
Eventually, not-so-subtly, it was hinted that he might want to spare his body when it came to making impossible plays. Hudson was eventually able to do that — to a point — and became a Gold Glove second baseman in the process.
Ryan right now is learning the fine art of how to stay on the field 150 games per season.
“It comes into play,” Wedge said. “That definitely comes into play but you’re not going to alter that. You play the way you play and he only knows how to play one way. With his throwing motion and how aggressive he is and how physically he plays the game. All of those are factors that are going to contribute.”
Wedge said Ryan’s done about as much as possible this winter to get stronger and in better shape.
“It’s a concern for us,” Wedge said of getting him on the field and keeping him there.
But for now, he added, all the team and Ryan can do is put in the “maintenance” work needed to make sure he doesn’ have a repeat of his injury.
Ryan plans to be on a pitcher’s throwing program all season, doing the same work hurlers do to keep their arms strong and ready. He bought a home downtown so he could be closer to Safeco Field and arrive early for the maintenance work he needs to do as well as his regular video-watching and indoor hitting.
After that, the team will cross its fingers. Ryan will try to throw more tomorrow and if it goes well, he’ll play shortstop in the intra-squad game on Wednesday.