Friday, February 17, 2006

Balancing the burden of a season

After a game in which Doc Gooden struggled in early 1986, I shuffled back to the player's lounge to grab a beer. Keith Hernandez' locker was on the corner where he and Ray Knight spoke in hushed tones. Hernandez didn't have to get his own beers as a small cooler in his locker held Michelobs. I didn't linger and the only line I overheard was from Hernandez.
"Our ace in the hole is struggling, Ray."
Number one starters, especially the dominant ones, are a team's lifeline through struggles and mediocrity. Losing one during the season is similar to a football team losing its starting quarterback. Pedro Martinez is this for the Mets.
We learned early on as athletic trainers to call a big toe the great toe. How appropriate. One's great toe serves a significant role in that with it we balance our weight. The metaphor it offers is telling. The balance of a season is placed upon the right great toe of Pedro Martinez.
This is on Martinez' drive foot, and any pitcher's toe here goes through significant hell during a career. By design baseball cleats are thin and give little cushion to the bottom or sides. Pitchers cleats or spikes are usually delivered with extra glossing of a hard plastic near the great toe as friction here is indescribable. Shoes easily wear out and pitchers might go through several pair during the season. This sort of harsh, repeptitive friction causes hot spots and often blisters. n a Solid buildup of calluse occurs as well. And age old product called pinch pads are probably still applied directly to the side of a pitchers foot before they even put socks on. Stress isn't limited to the skin though and it often goes deeper as it does for Martinez. Here's where the problem lies as its affecting the joint at the base of his great toe.
The 1970s witnessed the introduction of what was then known as Astro Turf, now artificial turf. Sports medicine noted an increased occuarance of turf toe, which is a sprain at the base of the great toe. The rigidity of the surface and the high speed of the sport-particularly football - marked the beginning of its recognition. Its a most often a chronic condition with onset being rather insidious. Long term symptoms are quite similar to what Martinez has been experiencing. And experiencing over the last three seasons.
Aside from pain, symptoms include joint laxity, arthritic changes and hypertrophy. Joint laxity is unwelcome instability of the joint, arthritic changes infers the wearing down of the joint itself, and hypertrophy means a build-up of scar tissue. This hypertrophy is what reporters observed this week in the Mets' clubhouse. These symptoms, coupled with what is described in the above paragraph, is troubling.
Its not good new that Martinez had to stop running this week because of pain in his toe. This is significantly less stress than will be placed on his toe when pitching. Running represents normal gait and extension. Pitching will apply a unique force from the outside as Martinez follows through during delivery.
I'm certain the athletic training staffs of both the Red Sox and Mets have thrown the training room at Martinez over the last three seasons. Every imaginable treatment, tape job and padding technique has been applied. The discription of whats been attempted as cushioning, leads me to believe its more of a problem with friction and pressure than instability. This might be where the good news exists.
But some problems can come upthough as if Martinez is unable to run for conditioning. He can use other options as a stationary bike, but he should be wary though of developing an imbalance between the quads and hamstrings. During one late 1980's season, the Cubs' Rick Sutcliffe attempetd to get his conditioning in this manner and suffered a hamstring tear. Consistently being unable to throw off the mound between starts can cause a loss of velocity and perhaps even command.
You can be sure both Ray Ramirez and Mike Herbst are well aware of this. Here's to hoping that taking the cleat away from directly under the toe will relieve significant pressure. Yet circumstances cannot be controled and its not helpful that symptoms have lingered from the previous campaign and are present at the beginning of camp.
Don't be mistaking its a question of pain tolerance either. Martinez has proved his mettle here many times over and he knows what he means to the team. Putting him on the mound with a pianful toe would most assuredly alter his delivery and put both his shoulder and elbow in peril.
Martinez is behind a bit this spring, but its not really a problem. How he'll do in Grapefruit League games isn't important either, though the call from his country to pitch in March may have an affect. But as its been three seasons and its here again, we see that never has the act of crossing one's fingers made so much noise.


At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this article really insightful! Thanks for sharing,



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