2007 NEWS

2007 News > 9/2/07

By Jim Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer

The Phillies hoped to have Cole Hamels return to the mound today in Miami, but their ace lefty suffered a setback in his recovery from a tender elbow and is expected to miss another week of the National League pennant race.

Meanwhile in Atlanta, Tom Glavine will start today for the Mets against his old team, the Braves, and his old friend, John Smoltz.

Hamels is 23. Glavine is 41. Both are lefthanded. Both have great changeups.

Unfortunately, the similarities don't go much beyond that.

Hamels' latest trip to the disabled list - his fourth in as many professional seasons - is a reminder of just how fragile a pitching arm is, not to mention how remarkable this Glavine fellow is.

In 21 big-league seasons, the 302-game winner has made zero trips to the DL.

How has he been able to avoid the DL through his 20s, 30s and into his 40s?

Glavine chuckled - and feigned anxiety as he knocked on his wooden locker stall - when discussing the topic in the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park the other day.

"Nothing can guarantee you won't get hurt," he said. "But I believe I have a good [conditioning] program between starts, and I think that helps. It might not be the most rigorous program in baseball, but it works for me, and I'm extremely dedicated to it.

"So is it a coincidence I've never been on the DL? Probably not."

Glavine believes his textbook mechanics have also helped him avoid the DL.

"And I'm sure there's been some luck, too," he said.

Glavine runs, lifts weights, stretches and throws, either in the bullpen or on flat ground, every day between starts.Hamels has a rigorous between-starts conditioning program, designed to keep his problematic lower back healthy. Hard work is not an issue for the young pitcher. He strained his elbow during a between-starts bullpen session.

That kind of stuff happens. Ask Glavine. Just because he's never been on the DL doesn't mean he hasn't been nicked up a time or two.

He said he pitched with a broken rib in 1992. He had gotten food poisoning, and excessive vomiting caused strain on his torso. The next day, he cracked a rib while throwing in the bullpen. He could have gone on the DL but wanted to keep pitching and ended up with 20 wins. A year later, he said, he pitched with a partially torn rotator cuff and won 22.

"I was assured in both situations that I wouldn't do more damage to myself, so I pitched," he said. "I had to learn pain tolerance and the difference between being hurt and not feeling good."

Had Glavine been a max-effort power pitcher, he might have had no choice but to shut down and have surgery for the rotator cuff tear in 1993. But with a smooth, easy delivery, he was able to pitch through the injury. Of course, he needed an injection of cortisone every 10 weeks to do that. Without shots of that magic anti-inflammatory, Glavine surely would have spent time on the DL during his career.

And how many cortisone shots has he had?

"Tons," he said with a laugh.

His last one was this spring for a tender shoulder.

Though he's still active, Glavine is a throwback to an era when pitchers pitched through a little pain. The inclination to do that, however, has become less common. Teams have so much money invested in pitching arms, and pitchers have such huge earning power, that neither the team nor the pitcher want to take the risks Glavine once did. When a pitcher feels a twinge, he speaks up, and the team, more often than not, backs him off. Given the premium placed on pitching, it makes sense.

"With all the money, people are erring on the side of caution," he said. "And it's totally understandable, especially when you have a guy like Cole Hamels."

Glavine will decide this winter whether to return for a 22d season or retire to spend more time with his family and start the countdown to Cooperstown. His contract with the Mets for 2008 became guaranteed for $9 million when he reached 160 innings. With two-thirds of an inning today, the value will rise to $10 million and continue to rise by $1 million with every 10 innings pitched.

Glavine has already earned more than $120 million in his career. If he sticks around, money won't be the reason. Whether he pitches for the Mets or opts out of his contract for a chance to pitch for the Braves - they are they only two teams for whom he will pitch - it won't be for money. It will be for love of the game.

"I still love competing," Glavine said. "Coming to the ballpark every fifth day, knowing I'm going to pitch, is still a blast. It's the other four days and all the between-starts work that gets harder and harder.

"But those days are just as important as the days I pitch."

Yes, they are. Because Glavine knows they have helped keep him off the disabled list for 21 seasons, a feat that seems more and more remarkable every time you think of Hamels and his struggles to put together a healthy season.