It’s never a good sign when the general manager shows up for a hastily called media briefing with a spiral-bound notebook. And that was the scenario again when Brian Cashman took a seat on the dugout bench before Thursday’s game at Steinbrenner Field, saying he had a few updates.
The headliner was Carlos Rodon, who has been shut down for the next week to 10 days — and will start the season on the injured list — because of what Cashman described as a “mild” muscle strain in his left (throwing) forearm. The notebook came in handy when Cashman spelled out the muscle in question, the “brachioradialis,” which apparently flexes the forearm at the . . . wait for it . . . elbow.
That’s when the sirens usually go off. Any time the words “pitcher” and “elbow” are mentioned in the same conversation, the UCL typically gets brought up soon after, and Cashman indeed was specifically asked about that. He said Wednesday’s MRI revealed no damage to the UCL — Rodon already had Tommy John surgery in 2019 — so there’s no immediate concern regarding that area.
As for Rodon, he didn’t sound all that worried, but at the same time, he didn’t do much to downplay the diagnosis. Unlike Cashman, he was very familiar with this particular muscle — it rolled off his tongue as he helped a reporter’s pronunciation — and there’s a reason for that.
Rodon said he dealt with the same issue twice last season, first in May and again in September, but pitched through it on both occasions for the Giants. He’s not exactly sure why the pain popped up or eventually disappeared, and he didn’t let it prevent him from making 31 starts — the most of his injury-riddled career — to help secure a six-year, $162 million contract from the Yankees in December.
The way Rodon remembers it, he received treatment, then went to bed hoping he’d wake up feeling OK to make his scheduled start the following day. In each of those instances, the discomfort vanished as mysteriously as it arrived. Still, he wasn’t making any promises this time around.
“With this thing, you know how injuries can be in forearms, and arms can be so finicky, so you never know what route it’s going to take,” Rodon said. “But I got lucky, you know?”
We’d agree. The IL is no place to be for a pending free agent, but it’s not so bad when you’re wrapped in the security blanket of a lucrative multiyear deal. And the Yankees shouldn’t be surprised that a pitcher with Rodon’s lengthy medical history got hurt after making his Grapefruit League debut.
Scratch that — during his live batting-practice sessions leading up to last Sunday’s start against Atlanta. Rodon figures that ratcheting up the intensity spurred the muscle flare-up, and this is only spring training.
“I’m hoping this goes by fairly quickly,” he said. “ . . . But you know how injuries go — you never know what happens down the road.”
Cashman does. Far too often, in fact. A day earlier, Frankie Montas — supposedly last year’s key deadline acquisition — was back in the clubhouse after shoulder surgery and revealed that he wasn’t 100% when the A’s traded him to the Yankees.
Not really a shocker when you consider that Montas was sidelined by — you guessed it — shoulder issues in the weeks leading up to the deal. What happened over the next seven months didn’t require a doctor to predict.
“I guess in hindsight, he clearly wasn’t right,” Cashman said. “The MRIs actually were good —surprisingly good for someone with a shoulder issue. Sometimes the MRIs don’t show everything, and that’s what we’ve learned in this case.”
The Yankees burned three pitching prospects to acquire Montas, and that trade got even worse Thursday when the other piece sent by the A’s, reliever Lou Trivino, also showed up in Cashman’s notebook because of an elbow strain “mild” enough to keep him out until May, at the minimum.
We realize the medical stuff is an inexact science. But when it comes to the Yankees’ injury estimates, it’s wise to take the over, and this is an ominous kickoff to Rodon’s pinstriped career.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that the two best (and healthiest) seasons of Rodon’s eight-year career happened to occur with money on the table, first to get a two-year, $44 million deal with the Giants and then to opt out of the back end for his $162 million payday from the Yankees.
Maybe this forearm/elbow thing truly is nothing serious and Rodon will wake up a week from now good as new, just as he did a year ago.
Still, he understands the optics of this setback are not ideal, which is why he ended the interview by saying he was sorry. Fortunately for him, there’s a whole season ahead to make amends, if he’s physically capable of doing so.
“I could go out there and perform, but am I performing at my best and how long am I going to last throughout the season if I continue down this road?” he said. “I’m not here to pitch till the All-Star break. I’m here to pitch well into October.”
The Yankees would sign up for that. But they’d like to get a few starts from Rodon before then, too.