Tag: jj putz

Why Back to Back?

wags-putz-back
Recent news funneling from Flushing and Port St. Lucie is that both Billy Wagner and J.J. Putz are on the mend and could be back in big league uniforms within the next few weeks.

Wagner is ahead of Putz, as he is throwing in actual games. Minor league games in Florida, but games nonetheless. Meanwhile, Putz is tossing bullpen sessions in New York.

One thing noted on MetsBlog was that Wagner would follow a schedule of pitching in a few games a week, and eventually move to a program that includes back-to-back days. It won’t be until he’s proven that he can throw on consecutive days that the Mets will consider adding him to the active 25-man roster.

My question is, why?

First of all, putting relievers into ballgames on back-to-back days is a large part of the reason these former flamethrowers were injured in the first place. The idea that a guy isn’t “ready” until he throw consecutive days is the typical cement-head logic poisoning pitchers throughout pro ball today. Incredibly, the same people who buy into this nonsense also think a starting pitcher can only throw 100 pitches once every five days. Is it me, or is there something screwy here?

Secondly, why would the Mets NEED Billy Wagner to throw on back-to-back days? How about exercising some restraint, and learning a thing or two about PROPER bullpen management? The Mets carry a dozen arms at any given moment, yet Brian Stokes and Tim Redding can go more than a week without getting into a ballgame. And this is termed “management”?

Here’s an idea: bring both Putz and Wags back when they’re capable of throwing 25 pitches in a true “game” situation, experience no pain, and can come back and do the same thing 48 hours later. Then, you use one of them on one day, and the other on another day. Cap each at one full inning. If you’re really lucky, you have yourself a dominant and fresh 8th-inning setup guy every day — what other MLB team can claim that?

This strategy would not put a strain on the bullpen, because a) you’re having one guy instead of two or three get three big outs; and b) you won’t be using 7 relievers every day.

If Jerry Manuel was using those 11th and 12th guys on the pitching staff, maybe I’d look at things differently. But as long as Manuel has to “find innings” for some pitchers to keep them fresh, it shouldn’t be an issue to have two relievers who can’t go back to back.

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What the Mets Do Next

Much of the Mets’ chances for success this year relied on the bat of Carlos Delgado, who is out until at least mid-July. But, Gary Sheffield stepped up and filled some of the void in the middle of the lineup — though, it wasn’t enough with Carlos Beltran suffering from a stomach bug and Ryan Church on the DL. Still, with Beltran healthy and Church on the way back, it looked as though the Mets could tread water while they waited for Jose Reyes to return to the lineup, which was reportedly “any day now”.

After an MRI revealed a tear in Reyes’ hamstring, that “day” may be in August. To compound matters, J.J. Putz may need elbow surgery — which could knock him out for the rest of the season.

There’s a real possibility we’ll next see Billy Wagner in a Mets uniform before Delgado, Reyes, or Putz.

What will the Mets do next?

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Elbows and Hamstrings

hamstring-musclesSorta sounds like a Dr. Seuss book, or a Rufus Wainwright song, no?

Elbows and hamstrings, finger strains and dislocations, groin pulls and labrum tears, and recently some stomach bugs …

I do not like them, Mets fan I am, I do not like them.

The latest news, if you haven’t heard, is that Jose Reyes will be out indefinitely with a right hamstring tear suffered during a rehab game in Florida. Strangely, this reportedly is not related to the right calf injury that originally put him in the disabled list. Not that it matters — point is, Reyes will be out a minimum of another month, probably longer.

Has it really been five years since Jose was struggling with hamstring injuries to the point that we questioned whether he’d ever be on the field long enough to make a difference? Wow, I just had a Kaz Matsui flashback.

In addition to Jose’s hamstring, J.J. Putz is experiencing pain in his right elbow when he throws his trademark split-finger fastball. You know, the pitch that makes him a dominating reliever, the kind you trade seven players for.

From the Daily News:

“It hurts like hell to yank it,” Putz said about finishing his splitter and two-seam fastball. “I’ve been trying to put it in another perspective. It would be like trying to tell Johan (Santana) to go out there and throw his changeup with two fingers, and not being able to roll his changeup. I just can’t physically do it.”

Who knows, this could be a blessing in disguise. Bobby Parnell now has the 8th inning all to himself, and may emerge as the next great setup man. Similarly, Wilson Valdez could take this opportunity to evolve into the next … hmm …. Rey Ordonez?

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What’s Wrong with JJ Putz

j-j-putz

What is wrong with J.J. Putz? Unfortunately, it isn’t a simple answer. Let’s review some of the issues, one by one.

Elbow

We know that J.J. Putz had an elbow injury last year, and we know that he has developed a bone spur on his elbow. We know he was given a cortisone shot to alleviate the inflammation caused by the spur, but we have no idea how / whether the bone spur is affecting Putz’s performance.

Typically, an elbow injury will cause pain, but not necessarily affect velocity. Often, elbow pain will result in control issues, as the pitcher will slightly alter his throwing mechanics, pitch grips, and/or release — note that these alterations could be intentional or unintentional.

For example, it’s possible Putz is using a different type of finger pressure at the point of release, due to the pain (again, intentionally or unintentionally). Or maybe he’s moved his thumb a little more beneath the ball on his fastball and/or splitfinger. Maybe he’s pronating his hand and wrist a little more than usual through the release. Point is, there are any of a number of possibilities regarding arm angle, grip, and release that, if changed in the slightest, will cause a noticeable effect on the flight of the baseball. Hence, the ball goes to locations other than what the pitcher intends.

Adrenaline

Putz has publicly stated that he does not have the same excitement pitching in the setup role:

“I’m still trying to get used to pitching in this eighth inning and trying to find some adrenaline because it’s not like pitching in the ninth, I’ll tell you that,” Putz said. “You just really don’t have that heart-pounding sensation. I was talking with a couple of the guys. I think that’s where those two or three miles an hour are, that adrenaline.”

There’s at least some credence to such a claim, though you don’t want to hear it from a professional athlete collecting $5M in salary.

Tipping Pitches

Putz engaged in a special bullpen session around 3pm on Monday afternoon to adjust his pitching mechanics. There has not been any official report (yet) as to what he was working on, but I’m guessing it had something to do with Putz tipping pitches (doing something that allowed opposing hitters to know what pitch was coming). I had noticed something a few weeks ago but chose not to report it — maybe I have a big head but who knows who might be reading this blog, and I’m not going to be responsible for letting all of MLB know of such an issue.

If indeed Putz was tipping pitches, it would explain why he was having problems getting outs over the past few weeks.

Tipping Pitches – Part Two

Whatever it was he was working on, the point is that Putz has made a conscious change to his motion, and he did apply it in the game last night, which means he’s thinking about it. When an athlete thinks about his movements in performing a task, he cannot move as naturally and quickly. It’s not unlike any other motor skill, such as typing. If you are thinking about where your fingers are, you can’t type as quickly as when you’re not. This is why batters on a hot streak are often termed “in a zone” — they are not thinking about anything, everything is just flowing naturally. Pitchers may focus on checkpoints in their motion and still have a fluid motion, because they are the same checkpoints all the time, to the point they barely think about it (i.e., keep the front shoulder closed, stay on top of the ball, snap the wrist, etc.). It appears to me that Putz has added something to think about that he hasn’t thought about before (his hands). It will take some time before he can process that thought as naturally as any other, to the point where his mechanics are again fluid. But while he’s thinking, he’s slowing down his body, which affects …

Velocity

Putz’s velocity is down this season, in comparison to 2008 and previous years. It could be due to the elbow problem, the lack of adrenaline, the new adjustment to his mechanics, overuse, age, or a combination of these issues. In any case, Putz’s peak speed is around 94 MPH, and working velocity around 92-93 or slower. He used to top out at 97-98 MPH, and work at around 95-96. That’s a MAJOR difference in speed, particularly at the MLB level, where most pitchers are working around 90-93. Putz is not a guy who paints the corners of the plate, he’s someone who rears back and throws, aiming somewhere around the middle of the plate. His sheer velocity and natural movement on his fastball is enough to blow away hitters when he’s in the mid- to upper-90s, but it’s pedestrian at lower speeds. The pitches he left in the middle of the plate on Monday night might have either zipped by the Bucs hitters, and/or had more movement down and in on their hands if the ball had 4-5 more MPH of velocity.

Bottom Line

Putz may pitch well in his next appearance, but it won’t mean he’ll pitch well for the rest of the season. At the same time, he may not pitch well in his next game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a lost cause. Depending on which of the above are the true issues, it will take some time for him to “get back” to being the guy the Mets traded for last December. Above all, he must be used more sparingly — his frequency of use should be more similar to that of a closer, as he is used to and shown effectiveness under that kind of workload.

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The Elbow History of J.J. Putz

Amazing what a few minutes on Google can reveal.

2006

September 8, 2006, from The Seattle Times:

Putz began his Mariners career mainly as a starter. He threw between 90 mph and 94 mph, threw a fastball and a slider and a split-finger fastball he had trouble locating. His arm motion put extra stress on his shoulder and elbow.

Concerns with durability are long gone now — the Mariners tweaked the motion to relieve stress — but there were enough then to switch Putz from future starter to present bullpen.

2007

March 12, 2007, from MLB.com:

Right-hander J.J. Putz, recovering from tightness in his right elbow, threw from 90 feet on Monday and will progress to long toss on Tuesday, followed by a bullpen session on Thursday.

March 16, 2007, from MLB.com:

“Everything was fine,” Putz said. “It was a little sore, as expected, but when I started doing my other [postgame work], it started to hurt a little more. It was in the same area of the elbow as before, and that’s why they decided to have the MRI.”

March 17, 2007, from USA Today:

Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz has a mild right elbow strain, and the team should have him back soon.

Putz got a scare after feeling some stiffness in the elbow following a bullpen session earlier in the week, but the 30-year-old right-hander was set to throw again on Tuesday.

“We were never really too worried about it. It was more of a precautionary thing, anyway,” Putz said on Saturday. “I felt fine throwing my bullpen Thursday; it was just a little achy afterward. The pain went away as the day went on.”

Tests showed that the injury was a strain and nothing more serious.

Also on March 17, 2007, from MLB.com:

The diagnosis, made in Seattle by Dr. E. Edward Khalfayan, was a “mild flexor pronator strain.” … The flexor is the muscle that rotates the wrist and helps generate velocity.

March 18, 2007, from The News Tribune (Byline: Darrin Beene):

Here’s all you need to know about the health of the Seattle Mariners closer: J.J. got an OK from his MRI. Medical director Edward Khalfayan in Seattle examined the pictures of J.J. Putz’s right elbow on Saturday and said Putz has a mild strain of the flexor pronator. Trainer Rick Griffin described the injury as common among pitchers in spring training and that two or three Mariners have already had the condition and recovered from it.

March 26, 2007, from The Seattle Times:

… the faces of Mariners officials were tense and the answers terse Thursday, when Putz went out for his bullpen session that initially seemed an unqualified success. He threw well and felt great — until 30 minutes after he finished. That’s when his elbow tightened. Again.

“It was kind of like an achy stiffness,” Putz explained Friday before hustling off to his MRI. “They made it sound like that’s a good thing, just because that it’s showing it’s getting fatigued and stressed. As the night went on and this morning, it’s kind of gone away, so that’s good.”

Is this a full-blown crisis, or merely a false alarm? The Mariners are leaning heavily toward the latter characterization, but when MRIs and elbows are involved, it’s hard to rest easily until the pitcher involved is throwing free and clear.

2008

June 11, 2008, from The Seattle Times:

McLaren said this was the first he’d heard of any elbow problem involving Putz this season. Putz was sidelined for much of 2007 spring training with a problematic elbow, but both the closer and manager say they have no idea whether this is similar. …

While the possibility of an injury has been speculated upon before, the team kept being reassured by the fact Putz’s velocity was rising. Putz was still hitting 95 mph in Wednesday’s affair before being pulled.

June 12, 2008, The Seattle Times:

The Seattle Mariners say closer J.J. Putz has a hyperextended pitching elbow, a swollen triceps tendon and nerve irritation in his right arm that will keep him from throwing at least through this weekend. …
Khalfayan’s diagnosis is triceps tendon inflammation and an irritated ulnar nerve.
Putz will not throw over the weekend. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.

June 13, 2008, from MLB.com:

A MRI exam taken on Thursday revealed that the Mariners closer hyperextended his right elbow, resulting in “triceps tendon inflammation and an irritated ulnar nerve.” The exam showed no damage to the ulnar collateral ligament or the flexor bundle in his right elbow.

“I went into (the exam) thinking of the worst,” Putz said prior to the Mariners’ Interleague series opener against the Nationals at Safeco Field. “Everybody I have talked to that has had Tommy John surgery told me the first thing they felt was numbness in their fingers. I had that feeling and (Thursday) was pretty miserable until I got the results. Knowing that I don’t have any structural damage is a big relief.”

June 14, 2008, from The Seattle Times:

J.J. Putz’s arm still hurt Friday, his elbow throbbing even as he leaned against a wall outside the Mariners clubhouse to answer a reporter’s question about his second trip to the disabled list this season.

The Mariners closer felt better in one important way, though, after finding out his elbow injury would not require anything more significant than rest to heal.

“I’m very relieved that it was nothing structural,” Putz said. “Just take a few days off and start throwing again.”

Putz said he experienced numbness in his fingers after throwing a split-fingered fastball on Wednesday in Toronto. He left the game after that and will now wait until he is re-evaluated Monday before throwing.

June 28, 2008, from MLB.com:

Putz was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Friday but will remain on the DL through the All-Star break, and perhaps deep into July.

He suffered a setback while playing catch in Atlanta prior to the Mariners’ second Interleague game against the Braves last weekend, saying he misunderstood the terminology of what he had been told by the training staff regarding the extension of his throwing arm.

He “snapped” his elbow when he threw, which aggravated the original injury, diagnosed back then as a hyperextended right elbow. The same pain he experienced on June 11, minus the tingling sensation in his fingers, returned last week and he said it didn’t subside until Thursday.

December 19, 2008, from the New York Post:

Putz said the elbow woes have healed completely and that he started throwing with no problems late last month. The bigger challenge, he admitted, will be adjusting to the high-pressure, high scrutiny atmosphere in New York after six years in laid-back Seattle.

2009

March 8, 2009, from SI:

Putz said he ramped up his workouts a couple of weeks earlier this winter to prepare for this competition. In fact, he said he’s throwing with the kind of intensity and polish he normally would not have until about two weeks later. He touched 95 mph against Canada and was clocked at 94 on his last three pitches to Bay.

“It definitely takes a toll on you,” Putz said. “I reached back, but the velocity wasn’t really there. That’s when you focus on locating your pitches.”

May 14, 2009 from the Daily News::

Putz had an MRI on Wednesday that revealed inflammation in the back of the elbow, which has caused a bone spur, Mets GM Omar Minaya said.

“He’s had this spur before, and guys sometimes play with it,” Minaya said.

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Manuel: You People Are Confused

manuel-ghandi-smIn case you missed it, I’m re-posting a pearl of wisdom from Jerry Manuel. It is for everyone who is “confused” and thinks that J.J. Putz was “overused” by pitching in 19 of the team’s first 33 ballgames (a pace that would have equaled 93 appearances over a 162-game season).

“… I don’t think anybody’s been overused. I think what happens is a lot of times, early in the season, because guys get in games, but people forget that there’s off days … you know there’s off days so they say ‘well he’s been in this many games and this many times and he’s gonna be worn out’ … But there are times like we’re in now, that you don’t have off days, so those are the days that people kind of get confused on that”

Hmm … strangely, I’m even more confused now than I was before.

FYI, below are the exact dates that Putz pitched:

April 6,8,10,13,15,17,18,21,24,27,29

May 1,2,4,5,8,10,12,13

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JJ Putz Kaputz

Earlier today, Mets GM Omar Minaya announced that J.J. Putz took an MRI that revealed inflammation in the back of his right elbow. Additionally, it was reported that Putz has a bone spur in that same elbow.

Per Minaya:

“He’s had this spur before, and guys sometimes play with it.”

According to Minaya, Putz does not need surgery and will get a cortisone shot, which will make him unavailable for at least the next two ballgames.

For those who forgot, last year there was another Mets pitcher who had an inflammation as well as a bone spur in his throwing arm, though it was the shoulder and not the elbow. The comments were similar though, in the early stages of the injury. Something to the effect that the pitcher could continue to throw, and would not cause any further damage. Also last year, there was a reliever with an elbow issue, but his problem was originally diagnosed as “forearm tightness”. He’s on track to return to the team in September, if all goes well.

In March, we reported concern about J.J. Putz’s velocity. Yesterday, Jerry Manuel suggested that Putz’s problem was likely due to not enough work in spring training:

“I think maybe for him, out of all the guys that the WBC might’ve hurt, it could be him,” Manuel said of Putz’s participation with Team USA during spring training. “He’s shown flashes of stuff, but he probably needed all of spring training to get right.”

(Or maybe he was damaged goods when he was acquired in December.)

More recently, we suggested that Putz might have been overused. Indeed, Putz himself admitted to feeling “fatigued” as well as “sore”.

However, Mets manager Jerry Manuel quickly dispelled such notions on WFAN yesterday. One of his direct quotes, in answer to Mike Francesa’s question, “Putz … has he been overused, is he a little sore, where is he right now?” :

“No, he’s in good shape. I don’t think anybody’s been overused. I think what happens is a lot of times, early in the season, because guys get in games, but people forget that there’s off days … you know there’s off days so they say ‘well he’s been in this many games and this many times and he’s gonna be wore’ … But there are times like we’re in now, that you don’t have off days, so those are the days that people kind of get confused on that.”

The Urban Dictionary has a fairly acceptable definition for kaputz. (Please note that you will encounter adult language by following that link.)

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Mets Game 23: Loss to Phillies

Phillies 6 Mets 5

It was another poor outing by Oliver Perez, and it appeared the Mets would eradicate it with their bats.

Perez allowed four runs on five hits and six walks before being removed from the game with one out in the third inning. Newest Met Ken Takahashi did his best Darren Oliver impression in relief, holding the fort until the sixth inning.

And for once, the Mets did not give up. The bats kept coming back, matching the score, and even took a brief lead in the top of the sixth.

However, their one-run lead lasted only minutes. Pedro Feliciano came on in relief of Takahashi in the bottom of the sixth and gave up a homer to a LH batter for the second time in as many days.

The two teams remained deadlocked through four more frames, with the Mets holding an apparent advantage — they still had closer Frankie Rodriguez at the ready, while the Phils burned through Brad Lidge in the top of the ninth.

Unfortunately, the Mets couldn’t leverage that advantage.

They mounted a rally in the tenth that was quickly extinguished by a stellar double-play turn, and then put the game in the hands of Sean Green. However, those hands proved to be below the challenge. Green got a quick groundout from Jimmy Rollins, but Pedro Feliz followed with his second cheap swinging-bunt hit in the game. Green then hit pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, induced a flyout from Greg Dobbs, and walked Chris Coste to load the bases for Shane Victorino. Victorino worked the count full before watching ball four drop below his knees, forcing in Feliz to end the game.

Game Notes

J.J. Putz was remarkably efficient, expending only 17 pitches in his scoreless, two-inning stint. Though he’s pitched in both games of this series, and three times in four days, he probably will be available if needed on Sunday.

Someone check Alex Cora’s Wheaties, because he’s hitting like Rod Carew lately.

Ryan Church ripped what could’ve been a key pinch-hit single to chase Alex Cora to third base in that tenth inning rally off Jack Taschner — who happens to be a lefthanded pitcher — but a double play grounder by Carlos Beltran killed the rally.

I was dead wrong on Raul Ibanez. The guy hits lefties and righties, is clutch, can run the bases well enough, and can play the field a lot better than advertised.

Brad Lidge is not nearly the lights-out closer we saw in 2008. His fastball was topping out at 92 MPH and his slider is missing its bite. It looks like he’s worried about that right knee and staying too stiff, not getting good push off the rubber nor good downward leverage / bend in the back.

Danny Murphy must love Citizen’s Bank Park. If it were his home field, he might have 15 homers by now.

Jerry Manuel’s rebuilt and vaunted bullpen has now lost six times in seven chances, and has blown two saves in the last three games.

Next Game

The series finale takes place at 1:35 PM in Philadelphia, with John Maine taking the mound against Joe Blanton.

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