Danny Hultzen has made just five starts this season, and there is a good chance that is all he’ll get in 2013.
Here’s the latest.
Hultzen is throwing now, though he’s not “pitching” and he’s not throwing from a mound. For the most part, he’s throwing for a few days, then taking a day off. There is no timetable for his return to active duty, but despite the left-hander’s, and the organization’s, hope that he can pitch again before the end of the season, it’s likely the most they can get out of him before the minor league season ends is some innings in Arizona building arm strength.
It’s August 3 and he’s yet to do regular mound work. That will have to take place, including game simulations, before he can pitch in any actual games. The Tacoma Rainiers’ season ends September 2, barring a turnaround to their playoff hunt.
That’s the bad news, but there is good news. The organization simply does not believe the shoulder problems Hultzen has experienced this summer to be anything that should lead to a serious injury or surgery that could knock him out for 2014 or threaten his career in any manner. Some might ask why the seemingly over-cautious approach?
You don’t mess with shoulder soreness and stiffness, because they can, and often do, have such a negative impact. The soreness and stiffness has fully subsided.
“I’m feeling good,” he said Friday from the Rainiers dugout just minutes after completing another throwing session with pitching coordinator Rick Waits and the club trainer. “I’m feeling really good. The throwing program is going good. I just have to take it day by day and after the first few days of throwing I feel really strong.”
Hultzen has spent his time on the disabled list strengthening his shoulder.
“Lotta arm exercises,” Hultzen quipped with body language that suggests he means A LOT OF ARM EXERCISES. “They’ve kind of beat me to the ground with that.”
Strengthening his throwing shoulder isn’t the only objective at this point, however. The organization is working with Hultzen to rediscover his college mechanics.
“I’ve been kinda looking at film and seeing what kinds of things I was doing differently (in previous years) and maybe changed some things that put some stress on my arm. We kind of put together a plan of what we need to change and what we need to work on.”
The changes Hultzen is referring to is the exaggerated manner in which he throws across his body.
“There’s pictures of me in college and pictures of me in pro ball and in college I was maybe a couple of inches across my body and now I’m maybe a foot or 15 inches. Maybe that was putting a lot of (extra) stress on my shoulder. Maybe it wasn’t but I think that had a lot to do with it.”
The cross-body approach is not a bad thing for pitchers. A high percentage of pitchers in major league baseball do so, but Hultzen’s dragged a little too far for the club’s comfort.
There is no present plan to do anything different with Hultzen’s low three-quarters arm slot, nor the length of his stride to the plate.
It’s a bit of a lost season for the former No. 2 overall pick, but if the strengthening program works — and the M’s hve a track record of implementing effective such regimens; see Iwakuma, Hisashi — the adjustments to his delivery may make an immediate difference in his command and a long-term impact on his health. There is a silver lining here, albeit one that’s buried beneath some negative news.
Prior to his first DL stint, Hultzen was 89-93 mph with a 60-grade changeup and two useful breaking balls; a true curveball and a slider that he used to get inside on right-handed batters to keep them off the outer edge. he looked very good and was well on his way to the majors — no doubt in my mind.
There is no official word — and there won’t be anytime soon, I don’t believe — but it’s not likely he pitches in games above rookie ball again this season.
If all goes well over the fall and winter, he will, however, start spring training next February as a candidate for an early-season promotion. Right out of the gate seems like a long shot considering he’s logged just 28 2/3 innings this year.