This is a tale about a couple of pitchers and how differently they faced the adversity that inevitably catches up with everyone who practices that craft.
Pitching is not a natural activity. The team physician for the New York Mets was once asked about the stress and strain throwing the baseball that fast that many times puts on an individual’s arm. “The human arm,’’ he explained, “is not constructed for pitching.’’
That explains why pitchers break down, and when they do, what happens to them next. The problem is complicated when the breakdown is accompanied by stubborn refusal to accept reality.
Francisco Rodriguez understands this. Matt Harvey does not.
They are a study in contrasts with how they have faced a turning point in their careers, one embracing the challenge to reinvent himself, the other refusing to even consider that option.
Rodriguez once was baseball’s best relief pitcher, equipped with a single season record 62 saves and 437 saves in 15 seasons. That seems like a lifetime ago. He has drifted through a number of teams the last few seasons, Milwaukee and Detroit among them, before finally being cut by the Philadelphia Phillies in training camp this spring.
He will pitch this summer for the Long Island Ducks, an Independent League team that is about as far removed from the major leagues as a player can be. K-Rod will try and figure out the mystery of his line of work in the land of bus trips on the road and meals in fast food restaurants. He is embracing the opportunity.
That life was not for Matt Harvey. And that explains why, when and if Harvey pitches a Major League game again, it won’t be for the New York Mets.
Harvey’s refusal to face the reality of a diminished arsenal of pitches and a fastball that tops out at 92 or 93 mph instead of 97 or 98, led the Mets to drop him from their starting rotation and into the bullpen. He made it clear that he was not pleased with that turn of events and pitched like it, resembling an accident waiting to happen. That’s when they asked him to go to consider a trip to the minor leagues.
No way said the man who, loved the bright lights and was a regular on the tabloid gossip pages. The current edition of Harvey is light years removed from being the dominating pitcher who once was the face of the franchise. And so, they designated him for assignment, punching his ticket out of Citi Field.
Both K-Rod and Harvey were sidetracked by injuries. Rodriguez was hurt his hamstring and groin in that foolishness called the World Baseball Classic and tried to pitch through it, complicating his effectiveness. Harvey had a litany of serious injuries, first Tommy John surgery, then thoracic outlet syndrome, removing a rib, and then a stress fracture in his scapula.
At issue here, however, is a less obvious injury. It is that quality called pride. One of them is willing to swallow it and is trying to start back up the baseball ladder at the game’s lowest level. The other has so much of it that he refuses to try and do the very same thing.