Maybe Thornburg didn’t say what you think he said…

MLB: MAR 01 Spring Training - Red Sox at Orioles

SARASOTA, FL – MARCH 01: Tyler Thornburg (47) of the Red Sox delivers a pitch to the plate during the spring training game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles on March 01, 2017 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
Photographer: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Red Sox middle reliever Tyler Thornburg developed discomfort in his throwing shoulder at the end of February and it looks like he will start the season on the DL for rotator cuff “impingement” (which really means inflammation of his rotator cuff). The pitcher made comments earlier this month that his shoulder was bothering him after shoulder strengthening exercises. When local reporters suggested that the club’s shoulder program was to blame for the reliever’s throwing arm woes, John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski both expressed frustration, blaming the media for creating the story.

My opinion on this story isn’t ground-breaking. It’s not sensational…doesn’t stir the pot. In fact, it’s down right boring.

I think we may be over-reacting a bit. We need to chill.

This is what Tyler Thornburg told the Herald’s Mike Silverman on March 11th:

“I came in, and bullpens and live (batting practice) felt great, and it was one of those things where I’ve had a shoulder program for quite awhile, but I hadn’t done new things,” Thornburg said at the time. “They were saying new muscles were activating, muscles I wasn’t using, so they started to get fired up and with also the increased throwing in the game and increased throwing program, those muscles started getting a little tired after starting to firing for once.”

“My arm wasn’t used to the type of exercises and the amount of them.”

Wednesday, Thornburg addressed the issue again.

“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.”

I just don’t see the drama here. A pitcher came to Boston from another team. It sounds like the Sox have a somewhat unique (there’s that word again) throwing program that I would assume is meant to make sure that pitcher have maximal muscle strength and flexibility balance. This program would ideally prepare them for a long season and protect them from injuries that can result from poor mechanics caused by muscle imbalance. Programs like this absolutely can lead to short-term discomfort as mechanics are tweaked and muscle balance is achieved. Rotator cuff tendonitis/impingement could be an unintentional side effect of working toward a bigger long-term goal of preventing more disastrous injuries.

I don’t read Thornburg’s words and hear “Aha! The damn throwing program is to blame!” I do, however, hear a 28 year-old pitcher with a history of elbow issues who is frustrated because he’s starting the season with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He says he’s never had shoulder issues before and the only thing that has changed is this new throwing program.  He said it was an adjustment. He hinted that the team’s analysis was that his mechanics were off “they were saying new muscles were activating, muscles I wasn’t using…” and the team was trying to fix them.

It’s impossible to say that the program didn’t contribute to Thornburg’s current issue. It makes a lot of sense that it did and the player and his manager both mentioned that it was a tough acclimation for him. But this is not the finger-pointing, player-vs-club story that it has turned into. Look, I have my frustrations with the team when it comes to this story, the top 2 being

  1. It’s ridiculous that Dombrowski and Farrell took exception to the suggestion that the shoulder program had something to do with Thornburg’s injury this week, after Farrell himself said it may have earlier in the month and then blamed it on the media
  2. The early “upper trapezius strain”, definitely-not-the-shoulder, team-generated reports were misleading

But I would suggest that there is not actually any drama between the player and the team. It seems like the Red Sox have their pitcher’s best interest in mind. Nothing Thornburg said was antagonistic or finger-pointing. In fact, I’d say that he credited the medical staff for identifying some mechanical issues that need to be fixed.

I know it doesn’t make for a good story, but that’s how I see it.

Note: I have no inside info here. This is 100% opinion.

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