Rough week for star pitchers in spring training

Three Aging Pitchers Returning from Injury
Three Aging Pitchers Returning from Injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Cliff Lee's elbow. Marcus Stroman's knee. Lance Lynn's hip. Mike Minor's shoulder.

It's been a tough week for some of baseball's best starters and there's a long way to go before opening day.

Lee is trying to pitch for Philadelphia despite an injury that could eventually require season-ending surgery and possibly force the former AL Cy Young Award winner to retire.

"If I were to have the surgery, am I going to go through all that to try to pitch again, or am I going to shut it down? That's a decision that I'll have to make once that time comes, if that times comes," Lee said.

Stroman, Toronto's star right-hander, will miss the entire season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during fielding drills on Tuesday.

"It was just a freak accident," Stroman said. "It was a normal play, as routine as it comes. I was going after a ball and planted, and it just popped."

Lynn won't make his scheduled start Friday after the righty strained his left hip flexor in St. Louis' game on Sunday.

Minor had an injection in his left shoulder Monday after being diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation and will open the season on Atlanta's disabled list.

And, there's more.

The biggest injury news came earlier in spring training when Yu Darvish went down in his first start. Darvish and the Texas Rangers are waiting for a third opinion that they expect will confirm the ace pitcher needs season-ending elbow ligament-replacement surgery.

"Given the circumstances, I think he's in very good spirits, very clearheaded," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "The best way to describe it is he understands the situation."

Meanwhile, several star pitchers are working their way back to the mound.

Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is returning from Tommy John surgery that ended his 2013 All-Star season in August.

Matt Cain made his spring debut Monday after ankle and elbow operations forced the three-time All-Star to miss San Francisco's World Series run.

Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka made his first spring start Thursday night for the New York Yankees after missing 2 1/2 months last season while rehabilitating a partially torn ligament in his right elbow.

Miami's Jose Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, is hoping to pitch by midseason after having Tommy John surgery last May.

What's causing all these injuries?

Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, spending camp as a hitting coach with the Phillies, gave an interesting take.

"Guys are in so much better shape than in the old days or even 20-30 years ago, but guys back then could throw until they drop," Schmidt said, naming Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. "As time went by, new pitches started to come into vogue: the cutter, the splitter, crazy change-ups out of fastball arm speed. In the old days, pitchers basically just played catch with the catcher. The vulnerability to stress, arm stress, shoulder stress, elbow stress has gone up because of the multiple arm movements and arm speed and the tendons are getting stress on them that they didn't used to have."

Modern medicine and technology also detects more injuries such as the common flexor tendon tear that Lee has.

"Maybe Robin Roberts had that same thing and he figured his arm was tired," Schmidt said. "They had no such thing as MRI and $100 million contracts so people are more body-aware right now."