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Updated: June 24th, 2012 8:44pm
Mackey: How can Twins find solution to injured pitcher epidemic?

Mackey: How can Twins find solution to injured pitcher epidemic?

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins will probably never experience an injury barrage like the one that hit in 2011 when 15 players missed 30 days or more due to various ailments.

But 2012 hasn't exactly been an infomercial for vitality, especially for the pitching staff.

If, or when, closer Matt Capps' bum shoulder lands him on the 15-day disabled list this week, he will become the 12th Twins pitcher since the start of the 2010 season to be sidelined for at least two weeks with an injury related to arm, back or oblique.

Others in that group include Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, P.J. Walters, Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Jose Mijares, Kevin Slowey and Brian Fuentes.

Several of those pitchers have missed multiple 15-day chunks, or more.

The Twins have had 31 different pitchers throw at least 10 innings over that stretch -- a collection that has combined to miss a total of 811 days (in-season) due to arm, back or oblique issues according to injury data provided by Baseball Prospectus.

Think about that -- 811 days, in-season, due to arm, back or oblique issues.

That includes Nathan missing six months in 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Fuentes missing exactly 14 days in 2010 with back stiffness that followed him from Anaheim, Walters' recent bout with shoulder inflammation, and everything in between.

By comparison, the pitching staffs for the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers -- teams that, not coincidentally, have more wins since the beginning of 2010 than every American League franchise other than the New York Yankees -- have combined to miss only 518 and 364 days, respectively.

These totals do not account for Joel Zumaya, signed by the Twins, or Brandon Webb, signed by the Rangers, as both were obvious low-risk, high-reward free-agent signings that didn't work out.

Texas' staff has been bitten harder recently by the injury bug, but they've stockpiled good credit.

For the Rays, that 518-day total includes a 230-day chunk missed by right-hander J.P. Howell, who sat out the entire 2010 season and the first six weeks of 2011 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Perhaps even most impressively for the Rays is that only six of their 27 pitchers (22%) since April of 2010 have missed 15-plus days with arm, oblique or back troubles -- this compared to 12 of 31 (39%) for the Twins and 10 of 27 (37%) for the Rangers.

Why have Rays and Rangers pitchers stayed healthier than Twins pitchers over the last three seasons?

Is it luck?

A better approach by trainers and doctors?

Different organizational philosophies?

Or some combination of all of the above?

Whatever the reasons, the Twins' inability to maintain healthy pitchers has cost them a number of wins over the past two seasons, and it has caused the front office to summon replacement pitchers to the big leagues before they are ready in many cases.

Prior to being fired last fall, former Twins general manager Bill Smith acknowledged the Twins were behind the curve in a couple key health-related areas. "There are some areas that we're up at the front, there's some areas we're at the back, studying," Smith said in September. "Chiropractic, massage therapy, we've kind of come on in the last two years."

The problem with analyzing injury prevention is that answers are not always widely available. It's possible the Rays and Rangers have found innovative solutions -- a new "Moneyball," perhaps. It's also possible they're just lucky.

A Sports Illustrated column from April dug even deeper on the subject of pitcher injuries, finding the following:

• Sixty-six percent of 2011 Opening Day closers (20 of 30) are no longer closing for the same team 12 months later, with seven of them hurt.

• Fifty percent of all starting pitchers will go on the DL every year, as well as 34 percent of all relievers, according to research by Stan Conte, director of medical services for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The article went on to say: Walk into any major league clubhouse before a game and you will see all kinds of strength trainers, masseuses, massage therapists, doctors, whirlpools, hydrotherapy pools, hot tubs, cold tubs, weight rooms, gyms ... and injured pitchers.

"That means this method is not working," Conte said. "Injuries have not gone down. With all due respect to the medical professionals, and they're great, we're not putting a dent in it."

When asked about the subject of keeping arms healthy, one pitcher with direct knowledge of multiple major league clubhouses and training staffs recently pointed to one National League team as being "the best in baseball" when it comes to injury prevention.

The pitcher added, "Honestly, over the past (few) months I have never been sore where I can't pitch, and my arm has been ready to go every day."

An interesting opinion, except for the fact that this National League team has experienced 992 days worth of sidelined pitchers since the start of the 2010 season -- nearly 200 days more than the Twins over that same stretch.

The solutions might not be obvious for any team.

But the problems are glaring, as the Twins have found out.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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