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.”