Red Sox: Tyler Thornburg injury may show serious team evaluation flaws

Mar 1, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tyler Thornburg (47) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tyler Thornburg (47) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have had a string of unfortunate arm injuries. Is this symptomatic of an evaluation and medical flaw?

The check is in the mail is an often used statement to avoid onerous bill collectors hounding you for money. Somehow that mail just gets delivered really slowly – a quality avoidance technique for those short on coin. For the Red Sox, the check is in the mail on Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg. Just when will they be ready? The Red Sox total now stands at seven pitchers on the disabled list. Bad luck?

Smith is in (hopefully) the final stages of recovery from Tommy John surgery. Reportedly, he is now in some type of exotic long toss rehabilitation process that has had a few minor – according to the Red Sox – setbacks. But TJ surgery is not necessarily a guarantee of success – just ask manager John Farrell, who went under the scalpel twice.

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Of more concern is Thornburg. The Red Sox sent Travis Shaw and two prospects to Milwaukee for Thornburg, who had a very accomplished 2016 season. I loved this deal since it strengthened the bullpen considerably, especially with the loss of Koji Uehara.

With the Brewers, the 28-year-old righty appeared in 67 games and what got my attention was a pitching “wash” that balanced out each other. I have an aversion to walks and Thornburg was rather generous in 2016 with a 3.4 BB/9 that was counterbalanced by a 5.1 H/9. They simply canceled out each other.

The expectations for me were rather clear – Thornburg most certainly would be a dynamic addition to the setup role for closer Craig Kimbrel. What apparently was a contributing factor for his injury(s) was the Red Sox proprietary program regarding pitchers and their shoulders.

Thornburg mentioned this towards the end of spring training and it may or may not have been an excuse – I will take Thornburg’s assessment as valid since he knows his shoulder better than anyone. Also based on the historical issues regarding the Red Sox medical and training staff I have to assume that there may be some issues to be eventually resolved between Thornburg and management.

"“If anything, it might have fatigued my arm a little bit before the first outing,” Thornburg said. “Or it possibly could’ve pointed out some weaknesses in my shoulder or something that wasn’t working properly. That’s all stuff we were figuring out in the last couple days. Really feel like we should work on certain areas of my arm to keep those a lot stronger and should help absolutely everything else.” -Tyler Thornburg via Boston Herald"

Thornburg’s injury is classified as a shoulder impingement – an item I am very familiar with. The latest is Thornburg is scheduled for some preliminary mound work, but also faces the potential transfer to the 60-day disabled list to make roster room for Kyle Kendrick.

I am skeptical about the entire situation surrounding Thornburg, the Red Sox medical approach and just the use of a program that may or may not have been responsible for an injury to Thornburg. The history is very clear on the Red Sox and players questioning the treatment they are or have received. They may not have ‘hidden” information such as the Padres, but situations seem to surface frequently.

Players are an investment. The Red Sox have apparently instituted programs to protect the serviceability of that investment, but is it functional? Have the Red Sox pitchers been more susceptible to injuries than those on other teams? Seems that Smith, Thornburg and David Price have created a lingering doubt for me.

The next issue is Dave Dombrowski and his ability to buy damaged goods. Is this just a string of unfortunate luck or symptomatic of a possible flaw in their medical and scouting departments?

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The return of Thornburg, Price, and Smith may not have an immediate positive impact as getting into a consistent game routine takes time and adjustment. Meanwhile, the question is just who will be next on the staff to succumb to injury?