No one said it would be easy for Matt Harvey, who had a rib removed in 2016 to help correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in the right side of his upper body. The moment he went under the knife he put himself on a rocky, unpredictable road that has not ended well for similar pitchers before him...
TOS is the compression of the nerves and blood vessels that run from the spinal cord in the neck, under the collarbone and down the arm. In most cases, initial symptoms include muscle atrophy, numbness, tingling in the arm, and a struggle to grip things, such as a baseball.
There is an additional stress put on this intersection of nerves when the arm is raised and extended, such as when throwing a baseball.
Similar to Harvey, former Yankees prospect and current Twins starter Phil Hughes had surgery to correct his TOS during 2016. However, the weakness and numbness returned last summer, at which time he had a second surgery to remove more rib and muscle.
Hughes made his first start this season for the Twins last Sunday, giving up two runs in 3.1 innings.
"You look at guys that have had this procedure, there's not an incredible track record of them coming back to be just as good," Hughes recently told the NY Post's Ken Davidoff. "I hope I can do it and Matt can, too."
In addition to Harvey and Hughes, Tyson Ross, Josh Beckett, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, Chris Young, Noah Lowry ,and Shaun Marcum are among the notable pitchers in recent history to have surgery for TOS.
In 2016, Dr. Robert Thompson, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and PITCHf/x published a report indicating that, out of the 13 MLB pitchers to have the surgery, 10 returned to play in the Majors with no significant differences in their metrics.
Based on a similar study conducted by Sports Biomechanics, pitchers returning from TOS surgery typically struggle more with command, spin rate and location. Velocity is less of an issue. Of course, velocity can be impacted by adjusting mechanics to try and improve command, spin rate and location.
Much like Hughes, Carpenter returned to pitch well in late-September, 2012.
However, despite having surgery the previous year, symptoms returned the following spring training and essentially ended Carpenter's career.
Harrison, Young, Garcia, and others returned from surgery to pitch well at times, but also struggled on and off and each eventually dealt with "unrelated" injuries throughout their career.
Again, I don't know if Harvey is experiencing numbness or tingling or pain in his pitching shoulder or hand. But given the dip in velocity, his lack of command, his confusion, and the above track records and stats associated with pitchers in his shoes, it feels like a possibility.
In addition to Harvey being being used as a reliever, I hope the Mets use this time to examine him medically, including a return trip to his vascular team. If there's nothing there, and he has full feeling and a tight grip, great. Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland can focus on his mechanics, preparation, and finding the best way to use him on the roster. However, if Harvey is struggling to grip and throw, sending him to the bullpen isn't going to matter...
By the way, in this week's State of the Mets podcast, I talk more about Harvey, as well as Callaway's struggling bullpen, putting Jay Bruce on the DL, and what to make of the surging Phillies...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!