An explanation of what happened to Michael Pineda’s shoulder

Michael Pineda, the man whom the Yankees gambled on to be the frontrunner of their youth movement, has begun his 2012 season with the Yankees with a stumble out of the gate.

Traded from Seattle for highly touted prospect Jesus Montero, he will begin his Yankee career on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis.  This injury carries a possibility of high impact on the pitching rotation. However, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi are fortunate to have good starting pitching depth this year with the likes of Freddy Garcia available to move to the rotation.  Not to be forgotten is the return of Andy Pettitte, who may or may not be back before Pineda returns from the DL (which is currently listed as 15 days).

Shoulder tendonitis is not a condition in itself that requires any sort of surgery.  It does warrant an MRI, which Pineda was given, finding no significant issues.  Yankee skipper Joe Girardi was relieved over the results of the MRI stating, “…the rest of the MRI came out good”.  He went on to say that “You always worry about rotators and labrums and that kind of thing.  The rest of his shoulder looked really good”.

The best practice is to allow the shoulder to rest and heal properly on its own.  You may have seen ripples through Twitter that alluded to Pineda having rotator cuff issues. To be clear, this isn’t the same type of injury.  Had Pindea not revealed (or shown) his soreness, the inflammation could have eventually led to rotator cuff tear/damage, which would be a scenario that involves significant time on the disabled list.  There were also rumblings in regards to Tommy John Surgery.  This is not a related injury as the need for Tommy John is primarily for an elbow-related complication that affects the UCL or MCL.

To clarify, the difference between the two is that in TJ surgery, the injury can be likened to having a shoelace break on one shoe and is unable to be repaired.  The other shoe has enough slack on its shoelace that you could take a length and use it to repair the torn portion of lace on the damaged shoe.  Using this scenario, you can liken tendonitis to pulling on the laces to hard and having them fray slightly.  Nothing has torn or needs to be replaced on Pineda’s shoulder.  He was likely just trying to throw a bit too hard and wore his tendon(s) out.

Keeping the shoulder healthy is especially important with a fastball pitcher like Pineda who throws very hard and has a slightly unorthodox motion.  The type of tendonitis Pineda is experiencing is basically an inflammation of the tendons in the rotator cuff and bicep as shown in the picture below.


The red ‘x’ marks areas where the shoulder is apt to develop tendonitis. 

These locations are where the bicep tendons meet the shoulder.  If a nerve gets pinched from repetitive strain on the shoulder joint, then tendonitis begins to form.  Pineda was working on a developing a changeup along with building up velocity on his fastball.  He’s been dogged in media all spring over his velocity and speculation on the trade immediately arose.  It would be foolish to think at least some of that talk, coupled with the pressure to make the Yankee rotation, wasn’t in the back of his mind during his last few starts in spring.  If Pineda was trying to throw too hard as well as trying to get accustomed to using his changeup, that is likely what set off the tendonitis.

Watching Pineda pitch against the Phillies on March 30th, it was clear something was amiss with his throwing motion.  He had the velocity, but his control was abysmal.  He acknowledged as much as well as there being a bit of more of movement (cut) to his fastball. The results of his last outing due to a shift in this shoulder action that was likely in response to the pain he indicated he was in prior to his start that evening.

While by no means is all lost for the Yanks new pitching stud, they will have to be especially careful with this injury and might have to consider limiting his innings this year if Pineda will be prone to this type of complication.  Luckily the Bombers have the depth this year to deal with setbacks like this without taking too much of a hit. There is no timeframe set for Pineda to begin playing catch.  Tendonitis problems simply depend on how advanced it is, physical condition, and how well the body is able to heal itself.

“I’m feeling a little better,” said a sore and disappointed Pineda following the March 30th outing in which he managed to last only 2.2 innings.  Pineda went on to reassure the media and fans that “I’m pitching this year” and “coming back strong”.

Godspeed, Mr. Pineda!

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6 Responses to An explanation of what happened to Michael Pineda’s shoulder

  1. Greg Corcoran says:

    Great job, especially coming from someone who doesn't have a medical background! I'm thoroughly impressed.

  2. hotdog says:

    Yes, kudo's to Rob…my question is that if this shoulder issue persists, would a TJ surgery repair the problem.

    • mlblogsaugustine says:

      Well, it would likely involve rotator cuff surgery. If his shoulder weakens for whatever reason and begins compensating with his elbow, then he runs the risk of TJ. I'm not experienced with the medical side of pitching, so its a best guess.

    • I didn't do anything. This was all Michael.

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