Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Mejia claims and injury pains

WHGB11It’s been a cheery week, dominated by drugs and injuries.

The big non-baseball story of the week was tennis player Maria Sharapova’s announcement that she had failed a drug test.

The latest twist in baseball’s drug story has been caused by ex-Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia, whose lawyer made various accusations on Friday about MLB’s conduct that led to the pitcher being given a life-time ban for a third doping violation. They included claims that MLB hacked into online accounts and threatened Mejia after his second positive test that if he didn’t name names of others then a third positive would follow.

The last time somebody started throwing around such similar claims was Alex Rodriguez, who – after a ridiculous campaign of protesting his innocence – finally admitted that he had been guilty of using banned substances.

Sad as this is, there are too many examples of professional sports men and women who have consistently lied through their teeth and made false allegations about others to give anyone in this situation the benefit of the doubt. Mejia has the right to defend himself through the legal channels available, but recent history of other such cases do not cast him in a sympathetic light.

In the Rodriguez case – the Biogenesis ‘scandal’ – MLB did appear to act in a questionable way in respect of getting the ring leader, Anthony Bosch, to cooperate, as well as allegedly paying other employees for information. MLB isn’t a law enforcement agency so if they feel it’s necessary to play these people at their own game in bringing them down then it could be argued that the ends justify the means, but it does leave them open to questioning and, most pertinently, accusations from others who are trying to defend themselves in future.

In the case of Sharapova, she took the clever step of announcing the positive test herself and trying to control the story. Whether that was through a genuine attempt of accepting an innocent mistake or a cynical PR damage limitation ploy is in the eye of the beholder.

What we’ve found in baseball is that if a player actually comes clean – so to speak – then most people will accept it and let them get on with their careers. Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta have both signed multi-million pound contracts after serving a ban for their Biogenesis links and Alex Rodriguez’s transformation last year from a pariah to a model repentant player was quite astonishing.

Of course, above all else it’s money and performance that counts. Rodriguez was owed so much money by the Yankees that there was little else they could do but bring him back for the start of the 2015 season. Once there, his good performances at the plate allowed him to be accepted back into the fold. Had he hit .200 through the middle of May, good will would have been in short supply.

In any case, it is a fact of life that there will always be a minority that will cheat to gain an advantage and, with the financial awards and prestige that come with it, sport will always have its fair share of them. Whilst the standard media line is to denounce a sport when someone – especially someone high profile like Rodriguez or Sharapova – is caught, in reality the sports that aren’t catching people (or are covering it up when they do) deserve just as much attention.

The idea that a strong drugs-testing programme and anti-drugs culture will stop everyone doing it is simply not true. The hallmark of a strong drug-testing programme is that it catches people. Baseball, and tennis, shouldn’t be scared of some knee-jerk bad PR in its fight against weeding out and punishing those who break the rules.

Jhonny B Broken

The St Louis Cardinals did receive some flak for signing Jhonny Peralta to a four-year contract in the 2013/14 off-season after serving his drug suspension; however he has repaid the faith they showed in him with two good seasons since.

The start to his 2016 season will be delayed though after he suffered a thumb injury that will keep him out of action for 10-12 weeks. Whilst the initial talk was of the Cardinals looking to bring in some cover, traditionally that has not been their way and instead they look for options in their minor league system. We saw this approach work to good effect in 2015 with Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty and don’t be surprised if they go that way again until Peralta is ready to return.

Carter Capps

The Miami Marlins’ reliever Carter Capps won’t be quite so lucky as he has suffered an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery and over a year out.

Health is always a key factor for any team, but for the Marlins it will be particularly telling in 2016. They have two outstanding talents in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, yet both have missed a significant number of games over the past two seasons and they haven’t both been healthy and on the field at the same time since 9 May 2014.

If that can turn around and they get good seasons from other capable players then the Marlins could pull themselves into the NL Wild Card race. That scenario hasn’t started well as Stanton has sat out of Spring Training games for over a week now due to knee soreness.

Parker pain

Capps can take some solace from the fact that many pitchers now recover from Tommy John surgery and have a successful career. Elbow injuries are always an obvious concern and nobody knows that better than the Oakland A’s Jarrod Parker.

Parker has undergone two Tommy John surgeries and had his 2015 comeback derailed by a gruesome injury in May when he fractured a part of the same elbow. After months of rehab, Parker entered Spring Training camp with hopes of finally getting his career back on track, potentially taking a spot in the bullpen or being the first cab off the rank from Triple-A if a new starting pitcher was needed.

Instead, he suffered yet another fracture to his elbow this week. Parker is now considering his options and it’s possible he may have thrown his last pitch. It’s a sobering reminder that a playing career can be a fragile thing.

Baltimore Blues

Saturday was a good news, bad news day for the Orioles. The good news was that they finally won a Spring Training game, breaking an 0-10 start (much as Spring Training games don’t count, you’d prefer to win a few than not). The bad news was that catcher Matt Wieters left the game early due to experiencing soreness in his right elbow; the elbow that he had Tommy John surgery on – yes, that again – in 2014.

Hopefully for the Orioles it proves to be a minor issue rather than something that leaves them without a key everyday player for a significant period of time.

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