TORONTO – Over the course of seven years in professional baseball, Tim Mayza has never seen a pitcher blow out his elbow in the ghastly on-mound fashion he tore his ulnar-collateral ligament over the weekend.
“You hear about it, though,” says the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander, who is headed for Tommy John surgery and will miss all of 2020 recovering. “The first time I met (Ryan) Borucki in 2013 was when he was going through it, that was the first time I was really exposed to that kind of surgery.”
Mayza’s own experience looms, and it offers a reminder of the perils pitchers face in repeatedly pronating their wrists and torquing their arms to produce as much velocity and movement on a baseball as possible.
At the big-league level, at least, the Blue Jays haven’t been through this all that often lately, especially compared to a troubling run that started in 2007 with B.J. Ryan, Shaun Marcum (2008), Jesse Litsch (2009), Kyle Drabek (2012), Drew Hutchison (2012) and Luis Perez (2012) all underwent Tommy John after that, a spate of injuries that changed the trajectory of individual careers and the franchise as a whole.
Memorably, Ramon Ortiz whipped his glove to the ground and crouched down by the mound, overcome by grief after partially tearing his UCL on a 2013 pitch. Since then, up-and-down relievers Neil Wagner, Bo Schultz, Matt Dermody and Mark Leiter Jr., were the only big-league Blue Jays to need Tommy John until Mayza, although several players had it while in the minors, Borucki, Roberto Osuna, Jordan Romano and Travis Bergen among them.
While Mayza said he didn’t experience any abnormal symptoms before the fateful pitch, what made the injury all the more surprising was that he’s as diligent a pitcher the Blue Jays have in terms of arm maintenance.
The 27-year-old missed 10 days on the injured list May 23 to June 3 with ulnar neuritis, an inflammation of the ulnar nerve in the arm, but “following that I felt strong, I felt pretty good until the other day,” says Mayza.
“Both talking to the training staff and talking to pitching coaches, we did everything we could to prevent something from happening,” he says. “We had a lighter days, we were tracking workload, tracking grip strength, making sure there were no imbalances there. We had workload being light, medium or heavy, really varying it rather than being full-go all the time. I’d have a day where I would just lightly toss and usually Sundays were my no-throw days, so I won’t pick up a ball until they call down, and then I’d play to catch to warm up for the game. We had taken the precautions to prevent things from happening.”
Mayza logged 51.1 innings over 68 appearances in the team’s 148 games to that point, pitching on consecutive days 19 times and with one day of rest 24 times. Friday’s outing was only his fourth of September and 14th of the season with two days of rest.
“The pitch was a normal two-seamer, trying to go in,” he says. “I tried to get on it a little bit, tried to really throw it with some conviction and try to blow it by him. I just felt it go. I didn’t hear a pop or anything, but I just felt my elbow give out on me.”
A long and tedious rehab awaits Mayza, who’d avoided serious injury until now. This surgery will be his first.
“I’m more at peace knowing I did everything I could to prevent it and it’s just something I have go through,” he says. “I have to work hard to get back but I’m fully capable and fully confident that I’m going to be all right.”
GRICHUK’S CONTRARY SEASON: Randal Grichuk readily describes his 2019 season as a down year, yet with career-bests of 28 homers, 34 walks and 581 plate appearances, plus a new high of 153 strikeouts and full-season low OPS of .739, it’s a campaign of contradictions for the right-fielder, too.
He doesn’t need to chase for his power, which is good, but his Weighted Runs Created Plus (a metric that measures how many runs above or below the league average of 100 a player creates in a similar number of plate appearances) is only 90 this season, compared to 115 a year ago. His career wRC+ is 105.
“I wasn’t as consistent as I wanted to be offensively at the plate quality at-bats wise,” Grichuk says in trying to make some sense of his season. “That’s something I can work on next year and hopefully get off to a better start, maybe get the ball rolling there. Getting career highs in all that stuff is mostly due to getting more at-bats.”
The quality of his contact this year is down across the board, too.
Per Baseball Savant, Grichuk is only barrelling up balls (contact with the ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle) at a rate of 7.9 per cent, compared to 14.4 per cent last year, when he was in the top four per cent of the majors. His launch angle is down three degrees, from 18.5 to 15.5, hit hard-hit ball percentage dropped from 43.1 to 39.7, and his expected slugging percentage (a projection based on how he’s hitting the ball) went from .485 to .401.
Thirteen of his 28 homers have come since the all-star break and over the course of the season, Grichuk’s often talked about working to find the right feel at the plate. He locked it down upon returning from an early-season injury and carried it through a strong finish, but hasn’t been able to replicate that this year.
“I’ve got to go to the plate with a confident attitude, an attitude of letting the ball come to me rather than me going to get the ball,” says Grichuk. “Guys might try to get the ball a little too much early in the year, trying to do too much. You don’t feel like that’s the case, but with guys’ movements and swings and fakes, that could be a thing. Hopefully next year come in mechanically sound, feeling good and just allow the ball to come to me and stay within my base, stay within my swing and allow my hands to work.”
ROOKIE DRESS UP: A lot of young players meant a lot of costumes for Blue Jays veterans to buy for the rookie dress-up party the club enjoyed Sunday night ahead of Monday’s off-day, 17 of them in fact, with no real rhyme or reason to the selections.
“There are a lot of costumes,” says Grichuk. “We had a few we picked out. A couple guys we couldn’t decide, so we went with something different. We all brainstormed and came up with it.”
Highlights included Bo Bichette as Macho Man Randy Savage, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., as MC Hammer and Trent Thornton and Thomas Pannone as the male-male figure skating duo of Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy from Blades of Glory.
The @BlueJays' rookies rocked some epic costumes for dress up day.
Which was your favourite? pic.twitter.com/IvOitDF5RW
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 16, 2019