Commentary

Peavy's injury a harsh reality

A team built on strong starting pitching lost one of its principal parts

Updated: July 8, 2010, 12:32 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Before the season began, the expectations placed on the White Sox's starting staff bordered on Mark Prior and Kerry Wood circa 2004.

Five men, five Cy Youngs?

Well, not quite, but not far off. Freddy Garcia was the only wild card coming in, and he's been a pleasant surprise.

And after a disjointed start that could have ended in a housecleaning of this expensive team, the Sox's rotation has pitched to form the past month, and concurrently, the White Sox have rocketed back to relevance, a real threat to win the division.

[+] EnlargeJake Peavy
AP Photo/Paul BeatyJake Peavy, the highest paid player on the White Sox, may miss the rest of the season.

There was no question this team would go as far as the veteran starting rotation would take them. Now the question is can they survive a season-ending injury to one of their ranks?

"We think of ourselves as a pretty tight group, us five," John Danks said. "It's actually ironic, we were talking two days earlier about how we'd like to be the only staff to go with five guys all throughout the year. Hopefully, we didn't jinx him."

"Him" would be Jake Peavy, and Peavy is very likely done for the season, done in by a rogue latissimus dorsi. Now instead of the Fab Five, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, Garcia and Danks will have to carry the load for a team with October dreams.

Peavy's season likely ended when he walked off the mound awkwardly on Tuesday night after delivering a pitch in the second inning. He immediately clutched his right side, which turned out to be a completely detached latissimus dorsi, the largest and most powerful muscle in the back that moves from the lower back into the armpit and extends to the shoulder. It's a significant muscle for a pitcher, as you might guess. Brad Penny strained his right latissimus dorsi muscle on May 22 and hasn't returned. He tried pitching Tuesday, but shut himself down with pain. Ben Sheets tore his dorsi in late August 2005 and was still on the DL at the beginning of the next season.

Needless to say, don't expect to see Peavy again this season. Fulfilling the fears of general managers when he was on the market last year, Peavy hasn't been able to stay healthy since coming over to his new team last season. Last year, it was his bum ankle. This year, it's much worse.

"Obviously, I didn't want to say too much last night," Peavy said Wednesday after some bad MRI results showed a detachment of the muscle, rather than a bad strain. "But I knew something was wrong when I walked off the field. I told you guys from the get-go, if [you] see me not taking the post or starting to walk off the field, like I did last night when it happened, you know obviously it's not good news."

The injury is considered rare. The Sox's medical staff has never seen it. A strain of that muscle can mean a month or two. A completely tear?

"While lat strains are common in pitchers complete detachment is highly unusual," ESPN injury guru Stephania Bell said in a video on this site. "I wouldn't be surprised if Peavy needed surgery to repair this, which could take six months of recovery afterward."

"Obviously, surgery looks the way we probably have to go," Peavy said.

Peavy said the Sox's medical staff was hoping his MRI would show at least the slightest attachment. But that wasn't the case. Now, instead of going home to Alabama to relax during the All-Star break, he'll be visiting famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. They will consult with Los Angeles-based Dr. Lewis Yocum, also an expert on shoulder and back injuries.

If you're a Cubs fan, you know these names well. Prior led the league in doctor appointments. And it's pretty obvious, when you have to see a Dream Team of doctors, it's a bad sign.

"We're going to see a couple doctors, and that's advised by our doctors because our doctor simply hasn't seen a lot of this," Peavy said. "He hasn't really seen this at all. I'm going to see Dr. Andrews in Birmingham and consult with Yocum and get a lot of opinions to get the best way to handle this.

"It's a tough situation," Peavy admitted. "If you do something major, you'd like for it to be something in the way of, 'If you have Tommy John surgery, you know this is what you do, this is how you fix it, this is the recovery time, and most guys do this after they're done.' That's obviously not the case here."

[+] EnlargeJake Peavy
AP Photo/Alex BrandonAfter a slow start to the season, Jake Peavy had a breakout June, posting a 1.75 ERA in June.

Peavy said he'll "bust it in rehab," but that isn't the question. Would Peavy have been better off if he would've gone on the DL a couple weeks ago when they found fluid in his shoulder?

That's a scenario that will have Sox fans angry and looking to point fingers. Peavy said he felt "OK, but not great" leading up to last night.

"Obviously, the bruising in my arm showed there was some fluid, some blood leaking from somewhere so I'm sure it all tied in," Peavy said.

Ozzie Guillen, who argued for Peavy to get a two-week break, said "nobody should feel guilty or responsible for what happened to him."

Peavy looked great after skipping a start, instead of going on the DL. He threw a complete game shutout in Washington on June 19 and seven more shutout innings in a win over the Cubs on June 25. He pitched six mostly strong innings in a losing cause against the Royals on June 30.

"We rode it until it bucked," Peavy said.

Peavy will rarely disable himself, so he wasn't hard to convince. Guillen was unsure, but all signs pointed to Peavy being able to go, according to the club.

"No, no. I argued my point for two hours," Guillen said of the decision not to disable Peavy. "Our general manager and our pitching coach was on the top of that. We addressed the problem. If this problem was in Washington, then I will say, 'Wow, what did we do.' He was throwing the ball very well. It just happened."

Maybe Peavy was just destined to be injured. Two weeks of rest could have just delayed the problem, not eliminated it. Peavy did his shoulder work, he was in shape and in the right frame of mind.

"I guess hindsight is 20/20," Peavy said. "We certainly would have shut it down even before Pittsburgh. Like I said, it was moving it around, this was almost in an area different than the other ones. So, I don't think anybody made any bad choices here. We did all we thought we could do. I talked to the doctor on Monday in just trying to make sure we were making wise choices. I don't think anyone is at fault here -- myself for wanting to be out there or the team for letting me be out there. It's just part of sports."

For this team at this juncture, there's time later for recriminations and second-guessing.

Now they have to fill Peavy's spot in a rotation of a playoff contender. A trade is certainly an option, especially with Kenny Williams at the helm. For now, the prospective fill-in is 23-year-old Daniel Hudson, the White Sox's top prospect who nearly made the club out of camp.

Hudson, 11-4 with a 3.47 ERA at homer-friendly Triple-A Charlotte, is expected to come up Saturday and take Peavy's spot. Guillen, never one to pump the tires of a rookie, isn't putting too much pressure on the young pitcher.

"If you are a bad fifth starter, you are a bad fifth starter when first, second, third and fourth are bad," Guillen said. "When they are pitching well, the fifth starter can be the guy who gives you innings and gives your team an opportunity to win."

Peavy is a major loss for a contending team at the break. That's a given. And in a few months, we might be talking about how Peavy's injury preceded the Sox's fall.

For now, it's business as usual.

"We shouldn't be making any excuses," Guillen said. "We still have a good ballclub. Whoever comes here, we are going to treat him as another starter. Hopefully, whoever comes in, just pitch the way he pitch and see what happens."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.