Before the Arizona Diamondbacks headed to Australia for Opening Day, they got the worst news that a baseball team can receive on the brink of the season starting.
Their ace, Patrick Corbin, whom manager Kirk Gibson named earlier last week as his Opening Day starter, damaged his ulnar collateral ligament Saturday. Corbin will seek a second opinion from famed Dr. James Andrews before he decides whether to have Tommy John surgery.
After a magnificent rookie season in which Corbin won nine consecutive decisions, he was having an impressive spring. On Saturday, before injuring himself, he had pitched five fabulous innings. In the sixth inning, Corbin felt tightness in his left forearm. Suddenly, the D-backs' starting rotation is significantly weaker.
Not many who don't follow the National League West probably have heard of Corbin, but he's a talented left-handed starter. Any time a 24-year-old pitcher suffers a career-threatening arm injury is sad. Any time a team suffers this kind of injury, it is a crushing blow, and it can be detrimental to the D-backs' chances for competing for the division title.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers -- the D-backs' opponent for two games next weekend in Australia -- haven't yet sustained an injury to the pitching staff (if you don't count Josh Beckett's bruised thumb and Zack Greinke's strained calf). Beckett is coming off thoracic outlet surgery, and it was known, even before Spring Training began, the likelihood of him going to Australia was slim. Greinke strained his calf during the first four pitches of his first Cactus League game. Before that, he expressed no excitement for the long trip. Greinke will be ready for the opening series on the mainland against the San Diego Padres.
Unlike the Dodgers, whose pitching staff is mostly veterans and has had pitching coach Rick Honeycutt in the same capacity since 2006, the D-backs have a young, inexperienced pitching staff and a new pitching coach. Most members of the Dodgers' staff don't need to impress during Spring Training to win a job. However, the D-backs' pitching staff is in flux, so there is added pressure of performing while getting ready for the season.
Last season, after becoming an All-Star in his rookie campaign, Corbin was suddenly ineffective and unable to go more than five innings. The D-backs never mentioned the possibility of Corbin having an undisclosed injury or arm fatigue. They said he had poor pitch selection and stopped attacking the strike zone. In my opinion, this might have been when Corbin injured his elbow, but an offseason when he had a light throwing program might have delayed the injury displaying itself. At 24, he doesn't know what discomfort with pitching every fifth day is normal and what isn't.
Losing the ace of the starting rotation is difficult for any team at any point during the season. Nevertheless, losing one for the season is a morale buster. How a team will deal with a setback of that nature will determine who will win the division.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.