Yesterday it was announced that left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, after experiencing pain and weakness in his throwing shoulder, was being shut down indefinitely.
Manager Scott Servais’ comments could not be construed as anything but ominous:
“I think he’s in a tough spot,’’ Servais said. “He’s gone through so much. I really feel for him, knowing he’s a very talented guy. The cards the game deals you every once in a while are not always fair.”
Hultzen was drafted second overall in the 2011 draft. Seen as a young talent who could rise quickly through the organization to be a middle of the rotation pitcher, his progress was derailed by serious shoulder issues in the 2013 season. Rotator cuff and labrum repair have left Hultzen unable to compete, allowing Hultzen to throw only eight innings in 2015 before being shut down.
While Hultzen will certainly do whatever he can to get himself out on the pitcher’s mound, it’s hard not to see this as a career that likely ended too soon. Ten years ago we were having similar conversations about Ryan “the Little Unit” Anderson, a towering high school pitcher drafted in the first round of 1997 amateur draft. At 6′ 10″ the Mariners believed Anderson could be the second coming of Randy Johnson. Wild as the Hall of Fame left hander, the young lefty from Southfield, Michigan, progressed through the Mariners farm system to Tacoma in 2000 only to watch his career disintegrate through a series of shoulder injuries that left him without a job in 2005. Last heard, Anderson was in culinary school.
As a fan I take so much of what players do for granted. More and more we read about the analytics suggesting players on the other side of 30 are subject to decline and serious injury. I’ve questioned how much longer Felix can continue to be the dominant pitcher he has been. The King is 29 and has 2,262.1 major league innings. Danny Hultzen is 26 and has thrown only 187 minor league innings.
It’s just a reminder of how fragile pitchers really are, and with all the big bucks going out to Zach Greinke and David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardjia, there are lots more who end up broken on their way up.
The next time you’re looking at photos of your favorite pitchers, be sure to look at the action shots, with their elbows and wrists bent at those inhuman angles. You know, the ones needed to snap off a slider or generate a 90+ mph fastball, pitches that can be thrown by .01 percent of human beings. And then remember Danny Hultzen who probably had the talent to be one of those guys if his body had let him.