Take it from Arns­berg: el­bow surgery’s a pain

De­ci­sion to put Litsch un­der knife evokes sym­pa­thy from pitch­ing coach — he’s been there


ARLINGTON, TEXAS— When the de­ci­sion was made this week to pro­ceed with surgery on Jesse Litsch’s right el­bow, Blue Jays pitch­ing coach Brad Arns­berg was on the phone to his hard-luck 24-year-old starter.

Twenty years ago, Arns­berg suf­fered the same fate: re­con­struc­tive surgery on the el­bow lig­a­ment, oth­er­wise known as Tommy John surgery. There was sym­pa­thy and em­pa­thy for Litsch, but mostly a piece of sober­ing ad­vice.

“It’s an eye-opener, it’s tough, but the thing he needs to do is turn the page and get hell bent on re­hab,” Arns­berg said here last night as the skies opened up on Rangers Ball­park in Arlington, dump­ing a del­uge that forced the can­cel­la­tion of the Jays-Rangers game.

The game will be made up Sept. 1 as part of a dou­ble­header when the Jays next travel to Arlington.

Arns­berg was a pop­u­lar man here yes­ter­day, with his 18-year-old son, Kyle — a 6-foot-4, 205-pound catcher-first base­man — await­ing word on where he would be se­lected on day two of the three-day ma­jor-league draft.

The elder Arns­berg con­tin­ued with his daily reg­i­men of run­ning the Jay pitch­ing staff, but he was gen­uinely emo­tional about Litsch. The right-han­der’s surgery, sched­uled for to­day, should keep the sopho­more on the side­lines for at least a year, if not longer. That’s the part that is both­er­some to Arns­berg and the Jays. Litsch was slot­ted in as the No. 2 starter in spring train­ing, and was com­ing off a13-win sea­son and a 3.58 ERA that was 13th low­est in the Amer­i­can League in 2008.

“This is a busi­ness and it can be a ruth­less busi­ness, and I tell them (pitchers) that when you get the op­por­tu­nity (for a big con­tract), go for what you can be­cause it can all end on one pitch,” Arns­berg said.

Arns­berg dis­cov­ered that him­self in a sit­u­a­tion dreaded by all pitchers. As a starter with the Yan­kees in 1988, he ex­pe­ri­enced a sharp pain in his right el­bow.

Arns­berg was big and tough — he can still squat 500 pounds — so the thought of giv­ing in to the pain was buried as deep as he could place it in the back of his mind. But as Arns­berg toughed it out, his el­bow lig­a­ment de­te­ri­o­rated.

“I guess I con­sid­ered my­self tough, but I couldn’t pitch with the pain any more. . . . When they fi­nally (op­er­ated), the lig­a­ment had long since sep­a­rated from the bone, and gan­grene had set in,” Arns­berg re­called.

Arns­berg’s surgery was per­formed by Dr. Frank Jobe, and the post-op re­hab came un­der dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent stan­dards than it does to­day.

“I was back throw­ing in two months. . . . They said if you have flex­ion and ex­ten­sion in your arm, go ahead and throw,” Arns­berg said.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it dif­fer­ently. I would have taken more time, be­cause the way I did it, it led to other surg­eries in my ca­reer for bone chips.”

Arns­berg joined the Rangers in the off-sea­son and was ready for open­ing day in 1989. His re­hab fell well short of the year to 18 months now pre­scribed for such surgery.

Litsch is the fifth Jays pitcher to un­dergo the pro­ce­dure. Brian Tal­let and Scott Downs have both come back suc­cess­fully from the surgery. Ja­son Fra­sor has had it twice. And Sean Mar­cum is cur­rently on re­hab.

“I’ve gone through the pa­per­work on all of them,” Arns­berg said. “And I can’t see any­thing that would have pre­vented it. Some arms can take it, some can’t. I take this very per­son­ally, and I’ve gone over it a lot, and I wouldn’t do any­thing dif­fer­ently with any of them, or with the 100 or so starters I’ve had at the ma­jor­league level.”

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