LA Angels News

Los Angeles Angels lose two promising young arms in bullpen.

By David Rice
KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 14: Keynan Middleton
KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 14: Keynan Middleton /
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Stop me if you have heard this before.  The Los Angeles Angels place pitcher on the DL with UCL damage … .  Well it has happened again twice in the last two weeks with Keynan Middleton and Blake Wood.

It is a frustrating scenario to say the least for Los Angeles Angels fans.  Many fans cringe now anytime they hear that an Angel fan has gone on the disabled list or is having elbow issues. In the case of Keynan Middleton and Blake Wood both were placed on the disabled list in the past month and both injuries were not thought to be serious, but we know how that goes in Anaheim.

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Mike Scioscia said that Middeton’s arm was just “a little bit cranky” and that his 10-day DL stint should alleviate the problem.  Middleton was shut down down for a week and then started throwing and things seemed okay.  He went out on a rehab assignment and things went well and Middleton was activated.

Middleton had two clean outings on a Thursday and then again on a Saturday against the Twins two weeks ago.  His velocity looked good and he pitched two scoreless innings. But the third day was not the charm as Middleton was called upon to pitch in the eighth inning of a May 13th game against the Twins.

Things started out well as he retired his first two batters. However, after the 1-1 pitch to Eddie Rosario the training staff and manager Mike Scioscia headed to the mound and Middleton was removed from the game. The reason being his first two pitches which were fastballs to Rosario were clocked at 93 and 88 MPH compared to the 97 MPH fastball he used to retire Eduardo Escobar.

After an MRI was done the next day it was determined that Middleton had damage to his UCL in his right elbow and he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair it.

Less than a week later Blake Wood who went on the DL in late April with elbow inpringement on his right arm.  He was rested and then worked his way back to a rehab assignment for the Inland Empire 66’ers just over a week ago and pitched decently.  However, Wood’s arm was not bouncing back like it should and so an MRI was done.  The results, you guessed it damage to Wood’s UCL in his right elbow.  Wood will now be facing Tommy John surgery as well.

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The Angels have already had six pitchers in the past four seasons, now they can add Middleton and Wood to the list bringing that total to eight.  Many people question the Angels training staff, manager Mike Scioscia, pitching coach Charles Nagy or any other scapegoat they can think of.

How could one organization have such bad luck with injuries to their pitchers?  If you look closer though, Tyler Skaggs, Blake Wood, and Nick Tropeano and even Andrew Heaney only spent one season or less with the Angels before their injuries happened.

Could it be their previous organizations faults? Maybe.  However, I believe it goes a lot deeper than that.  The culprit I believe is overuse of their arms at a young age.  Many young baseball players play the sport year-round now which was not the way it used to be 30-40 years ago.

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Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s and even before that young athletes would play multiple sports depending on the sport that was in season.  There was no travel ball or fall ball, summer ball, etc.  Pitcher’s arms would get at least half of the year off at least from on field competition.  That is not the case now and it is a big reason why you are seeing so many elbow injuries.

I spoke to former Angel pitcher Clyde Wright a little over a year ago when Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano and Garrett Richards were all out with UCL injuries. Wright’s view on the epidemic of UCL tears was similar to what I have stated.

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Pitcher Blake Wood
ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Pitcher Blake Wood /

“If I knew the reason for all these injuries, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I would have an office somewhere and be making a whole lot of money to keep these guys healthy,” said Wright with a laugh. “Seriously though, I have two theories and this is my own opinion.  First of all is the weightlifting these guys do in the off-season. We never did that back when I played in the 60’s and 70’s. We you put muscle on top of muscle and then you try to throw a baseball 95 miles an hour sooner or later something’s got to give.”

“Secondly, I believe the kids just play too much baseball. They play little league, winter league, and travel ball and most of these guys only play one sport and they never get to take a break from baseball,” Wright said. “A lot of the old-timers played two or three sports in high school and even in college. That really helps because you use different muscles in each sport which helps keep your whole body in tune to stay in shape.”

So many of these injuries could be the result of things done well before these pitchers reached the major leagues or even the minor leagues.

The Angels are scrambling to reshape their bullpen after these two injuries.  Middleton had become the primary closer saving six out of seven games this season with a 2.03 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 17.2 innings.  Wood also pitched well pitching in 13 games throwing 11.2 innings with a 2.31 ERA as a 7th and 8th inning set-up man.

ANAHEIM, CA – APRIL 21: Relief pitcher Keynan Middleton
ANAHEIM, CA – APRIL 21: Relief pitcher Keynan Middleton /

I sat down with Middleton a day before his injury and he was pleased with what he had been able to do so far and said the time on the DL did he good.

“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this team.  I don’t really look at getting saves being any different than shutting a team down whatever inning I’m in there,” Middleton said. “I was just talking Justin (Anderson) the other day saying just two years ago we were in Single-A together and now we are up here in the majors which is pretty cool. My arm feels good and I’m ready to go if they need me tonight.”

Middleton said the thing that has made the Angels so successful this year is everyone being on the same page.

“We all help each other every day. We are a good team, we all like each other and are willing to help each other anyway we can,” Middleton added.

As it was in the past when Heaney, Tropeano, Richards, and Skaggs were on the shelf with UCL injuries it is very unfortunate. If there is one silver lining for Middleton and Wood at least they will have plenty of support from guys who have gone through the Tommy John process.

Next: Jose Alvarez is emerging as a force in Angel pen

Here’s to a swift and healthy return for Middleton and Wood as well as Alex Meyer and J.C. Ramirez who have already undergone Tommy John surgery earlier this year.

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