Righty pitches five shutout innings before suffering injury while batting
SAN FRANCISCO -- Ryan Vogelsong's eventful life took another dramatic turn Monday night, turning elation into frustration.
Vogelsong fractured two bones and sustained a dislocated joint in the pinkie finger of his right hand, injuries sustained while batting, in the Giants' 8-0 victory over the Washington Nationals. He will undergo surgery Tuesday at Stanford Hospital and is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks.
Vogelsong's misfortune interrupted the redemptive pitching effort he and the Giants sought. Entering the game with an 8.06 ERA, the National League's highest figure among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, he allowed three hits and one runner to reach scoring position in five assertive innings.
Everything, it seemed, had changed for Vogelsong. But he experienced yet another reversal of fortune when he batted in the Giants' half of the fifth inning. Vogelsong swung at a fastball from Washington right-hander Craig Stammen that veered inside and struck the Giants starter on his pitching hand. Manager Bruce Bochy and assistant athletic trainer Mark Gruesbeck left the dugout and briefly examined Vogelsong, who removed the batting glove on his right hand. Gruesbeck led Vogelsong from the field, holding the pitcher's right hand carefully in his left.
Though the Giants didn't officially announce that Vogelsong had fractured his hand until the game was nearly over, there was little doubt that Vogelsong's brilliant evening had turned star-crossed.
"I felt it right away," he said, referring to the fractures.
Bochy said that Vogelsong's pinkie "was crushed pretty good. When you're going forward [against] a fastball going 90, something's going to give."
The incident added another chapter to Vogelsong's riveting professional saga. The 35-year-old spent 13 seasons toiling mostly in the Minor Leagues and Japan before becoming an All-Star with the Giants in 2011. Last year, he was the Giants' leading winner in the postseason (3-0). Now comes the cruel irony of Vogelsong's encountering awful luck while regaining his pitching effectiveness.
"It stinks," Vogelsong said, "especially because it's been so rough, to go out there and feel like myself again and be throwing like that -- it's tough."
"It's really a shame because tonight was the Vogey that we know," Bochy said.
Vogelsong achieved his turnaround by fixing several flaws in his pitching delivery. He praised pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner for their help and thanked Bochy for his patience.
"That's the best I've felt in a long time," Vogelsong said. "From a mental aspect, physical aspect, everything felt good. It was nice to be able to get out there and have everything that I've been working on for the last couple of weeks kind of fall into place. From that standpoint, it's a good place to start when I come back."
Coming back could be relatively uncomplicated, given the nature of the injury. The pinkie, Vogelsong said, "doesn't really do much on the baseball. It kind of goes along for the ride for the most part." Vogelsong said that he'll be able to continue to perform various arm exercises and maintain his range of motion while his injuries heal.
"We're not talking about Tommy John [reconstructive elbow surgery] or anything here," he said.
But Nationals left-hander Zach Duke, who opposed the Giants on Monday, broke his throwing hand two years ago and termed his recovery as rigorous.
"When it's a throwing hand, it's tough," said Duke, a teammate of Vogelsong's in Pittsburgh. "You basically lose all the stamina that you've built up in your arm, so you really have to make sure that you give yourself enough time in the throwing program, rehab program to build back up the strength, the endurance that you need. I couldn't pick up a ball for five weeks. You have to get out there and kind of re-establish what you did through the offseason. It's a frustrating process."
Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean immediately began discussing the selection of Vogelsong's replacement. Bochy said that long reliever Chad Gaudin, who has started 75 Major League games, would be considered. The Giants also could use Vogelsong's absence as an opportunity to summon either right-hander Chris Heston or left-hander Mike Kickham, who have been showing improvement at Triple-A Fresno. Veteran starter-reliever Shane Loux is another possibility.
The Giants don't have to rush into a decision, since Thursday's scheduled off-day delays the need for a fifth starter until May 28.
Meanwhile, and for the next couple of months, Vogelsong will have one objective in mind.
"I'll be back," he said. "There's no question about that."