TORONTO — Digesting word of the latest setback for Dustin McGowan on Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays needed only to look across the diamond at St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter for reason to find both hope and cause to not give up on their star-crossed right-hander.
Renowned specialist Dr. James Andrews discovered and repaired a “significant tear” of the right rotator cuff in McGowan’s pitching shoulder Tuesday, a procedure originally intended to increase the range of motion in his right arm.
The 28-year-old must wait four to six months before he can start throwing again, meaning he’s going to go a second straight season without throwing a single pitch in the majors. McGowan last appeared in a big-league game on July 8, 2008, when he left after four innings versus Baltimore and underwent surgery to repair fraying of the labrum in the same shoulder soon after.
The torn rotator cuff was a new injury.
“We’ve found, potentially, the root of maybe what some of the problems have been,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “More than anything else, there’s a bit more clarity, a little bit more direction.
“We’re optimistic that he’ll be able to come back and we’ll continue to work with him once he starts throwing.”
That last part is significant, as the Blue Jays under former GM J.P. Ricciardi gave up on Carpenter in 2002 after the right-hander had surgery to repair a torn labrum thinking he was unlikely to regain his previous form.
Carpenter ended up signing with the Cardinals, undergoing a second surgery to increase the range of motion in his shoulder in July 2003 and eventually recovered to win the NL Cy Young Award in 2005.
Clearly Anthopoulos has learned from that mistake, and won’t risk letting another potential ace get away.
“We’re certainly going to see it through and try get him right and get him back on the field,” he said.
The bigger burden will be on McGowan, who also underwent ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow in 2004 and needed knee surgery last summer. He’s endured far more than most big-leaguers already and summoning the will for another rehab won’t be easy.
Should his motivation wane, some inspiration can be found in Carpenter’s return.
“You’ve got to believe you can come back and you have to work hard at it,” said Carpenter, who starts against the Jays on Wednesday. “Unfortunately the shoulder is a difficult thing.
“I wasn’t going to let it end so I did everything I could to get back and it’s been a process. Ever since I had the surgery you’ve got to continue to do it, it never gets 100 per cent, you’ve got to keep working every single day.”
Carpenter thought about quitting after his shoulder surgeries but was pushed by his wife to give it another chance. He’s glad he did.
“You’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, you’re rehabbing and coming back, making rehab starts and it just kept going backwards. You’re just like, ’Oh man, it’s just not going to get better,”’ said Carpenter of how he was feeling in 2003. “Once he did the second surgery I knew I was I fine. … I could tell the next day I was going to be able to pitch.”
Much like McGowan, Carpenter has been a frequent visitor to the operating table. He underwent ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow in 2007 and had surgery on a nerve in the elbow after the ’08 season.
“You have to really be strong of mind to go through it one time, much less several different times,” said Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. “When you have rotator cuff surgery, the chances of coming back and being a consistent performer is a difficult thing, probably a smaller percentage of guys come back from that than (labrum or elbow) surgeries.”
That challenge is before McGowan now.
“I think he’s relieved in the sense that he finally understands where the pain is coming from and that was something we weren’t sure (about),” said Anthopoulos. “They were able to find it and get it fixed. Hopefully he can come back and be the guy he once was.”