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‘Double-edged sword’ cuts Neshek’s season short

As of this morning, Twins pitcher Pat Neshek still hadn’t brought himself to update his popular blog, about the latest development in his brief major-league life — the partially torn ligament in his right elbow injury that, in all likelihood, ended his season.

“I’m still depressed,” he said Sunday.

No doubt. The ulnar collateral ligament is the one replaced during so-called Tommy John surgery, which Neshek discovered to his dismay when he clicked on this Wikipedia entry.

Before the results of Neshek’s magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test came back Friday, Twins team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dan Buss prepared Neshek for the worst. Buss explained the particulars of the procedure, how surgeons take a tendon from the opposite forearm and transplant it in the elbow to replace the damaged ligament. Buss did such a thorough job that Neshek figured surgery was inevitable.

“Dr. Buss, he’s kind of a no BS kind of guy,” Neshek said. “Last year when I hurt my shoulder, he said he didn’t think there was anything wrong. So the other day when he said they were going to do an MRI, I was like, ‘Oh man.’ ” And when the prognosis proved less dire? “I was surprised when he gave me the news,” Neshek said.

On the advice of his agent, Barry Meister, Neshek said he will probably ask the Twins to send the MRI results to noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Buss recommended three months of rest and treatment in lieu of surgery. Because Neshek can’t begin playing catch until early August, manager Ron Gardenhire said he won’t count on Neshek returning before spring training.

Ever since pitching coach Rick Anderson first laid eyes on Neshek’s whippy sidearm motion, he wondered whether something like this might happen. Neshek’s style puts tremendous stress on the elbow, but Anderson said Neshek never complained about elbow problems until hurting himself pitching Thursday against the White Sox in Chicago.

“That’s was Andy’s biggest fear, Neshek blowing out his elbow,” Gardenhire said. “You’re always susceptible. And there’s nothing you can do about. That’s who he is.”

Major-league pitching coaches are reluctant to fiddle with a pitcher’s style as long as he throws strikes. Former Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who developed Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz into potential Hall of Famers, told me this back when I covered the Mets. Mazzone made a rare exception for someone with horrible mechanics. Francisco Liriano, whose violent delivery led to his elbow problems, fits that category.

In Neshek’s case, his arm slot and release point may have been problematic, but they were also the reasons Neshek’s delivery was so deceptive and his pitches moved so much. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Anderson said. “If you change a guy, maybe he can’t get me out.” 

For years, Neshek has heard and read people predicting future arm problems because he pitched like this — a style he adopted after suffering, curiously, an arm injury in high school. Neshek never felt any more at risk than a conventional thrower, and the Wikipedia list of players who have undergone Tommy John surgery includes plenty of those.

“When you look around our clubhouse and count who’s had surgery, it’s about half the guys,” Neshek said. “People have said that all my career, and I sit and laugh at them. It happens every day.”

Twins notes

Along with his obvious baseball talent, Carlos Gomez has a couple of curious habits. Some of you already have noticed he smells his bat as he walks from the on-deck circle to home plate. “I sniff it. I kiss it. Sometimes I talk to it,” Gomez said. “I go, ‘C’mon, keep it going.’ ” And why does he do this? “I don’t know,” he said.

Gomez also bites his nails, a habit he claims he is trying to break. For proof on Sunday, he showed off slivers of white above his pink cuticles.  “I try not to do it anymore, but it’s hard,” he said. “Sometimes it hurts. Two weeks ago I couldn’t hold a bat because it was so painful.”  

Craig Monroe, who homered twice
and drove in four runs against Boston on Sunday night with a pink bat, hopes to use it again tonight. He may have to hide it. The bat, and all other pink gear used around the majors on Sunday to raise breast cancer awareness, will be auctioned off to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Then again, maybe all the Twins should keep ’em. They’ve hit seven homers with pink bats the last two years, three on Sunday night and four last Mother’s Day against Detroit. Before Sunday night, the Twins were last in the majors with 17 homers, and had not hit more than one in any game.

Monroe, by the way, is 7-for-21 (.333) with three home runs off Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who took the 9-8 loss Sunday. Monroe’s secret? “I pretend I’m in the backyard, playing Wiffle ball,” Monroe said. Curiously, Monroe had a Wiffle ball set in his locker, still in its plastic, a giveaway on the last homestand.

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