Gene Collier: A look inside the paradox of the big-money pitcher

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With spring training blessedly winding down last week, Texas ace Yu Darvish "got the nod" to start one of the final Grapefruit League games, which put him in a difficult position.

He could not nod back.

He had a stiff neck.

Even if Darvish had merely "been tabbed" to start, it still would have been an issue for the splendid Rangers right-hander because there was apparently no way Darvish could have pitched, not after a night in which he "slept on it wrong."

To my knowledge, no big leaguer has ever gone on the disabled list with a "slept on it wrong," but we are closer to that day than ever, it would seem.

At the weekend, the Rangers were saying they expected Darvish would, in fact, be placed on the 15-day DL.

Earlier in the month, Toronto's Colby Rasmus was scratched from a game against the Yankees after a similar complaint.

"I feel all right," Rasmus told Blue Jays media types, "I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

I'm convinced you'll see this one day:

15-day DL -- Rasmus (wrong side of the bed).

60-day DL -- Smith (shampoo in the eyes).

There's no point in suggesting that baseball players operate under a drastically different physical ethos than, for example, hockey players, even if it sometimes seems that in baseball you can make your way to the DL with bruised feelings while some hockey players can bleed enough to fill a trash barrel and not miss more than a shift.

All right maybe two.

But the most reliably irritating storylines of every baseball spring (and sure, maybe it's just me) are generated by players whose only spring training accomplishment was getting injured or reinjured or re-reinjured.

Injuries are inevitable, obviously, but you would think that four or five months away from the game would be enough to get just about everybody ready for a couple of pennant races. Spring training was once a vehicle for getting everyone in shape and ready for a six- or seven-month grind, but now it's an apparent quest to see how many pitchers you can injure in six or seven weeks.

Pirates opening day starter Francisco Liriano, who "got the nod" to work opening day from Clint Hurdle back in February, felt a tightness in his groin in a recent Florida start and joined at least 80 major league pitchers on injured lists all over Florida and Arizona.

I was looking forward to watching young Atlanta right-hander Kris Medlen again this summer. He's gone 25-13 with a 2.40 earned run average over the past two seasons.

But he's out for the season.

I was looking forward to watching 24-year-old New York Mets sensation Matt Harvey again this summer after seeing him punch out 191 batters in 178 innings last year.

But he's out for the season.

Maybe you were anxious to see Jarrod Parker crank it up again for the Oakland A's or Brandon Beachy for the Braves or Matt Reynolds for the Arizona Diamondbacks or Cory Luebke for the San Diego Padres or even Ryan Dempster for the Boston Red Sox.

Sorry, all out for the season.

Meanwhile, the most valuable player on earth, literally, worked the first 61/3 innings of the Los Angeles Dodgers' for-real opener in Australia last weekend without hurting himself.

Almost.

Clayton Kershaw, who signed a contract this winter that will, by next summer, take the dominant left-hander firmly into the $1 million per start range ($32 million for 2015 and similar salaries for each other the next five seasons), threw 102 typically excellent pitches to beat the Diamondbacks, 3-1.

Kershaw wasn't happy to see manager Don Mattingly at the mound in the seventh to take the ball from him, so he didn't hang around for any explanation. That saved Mattingly from having to say something like, "Sorry Clayton, we're paying you too much to have you pitch too much."

Scoff not. Using the top line of his financial scale, Kershaw had just earned something like $9,800 per pitch. One of those pitches apparently caused some inflammation in his back, so he won't pitch tonight against the Padres.

Kershaw's $215 million deal pushed him to the head of the income class past Detroit's $180 million Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 last year), Seattle's $175 million Felix Hernandez (12-10, 3.04), the Yankees' $161 million C.C. Sabathia (14-13, 4.78), and Sabathia's new rotation mate, Masahiro Tanaka, who has secured a $155 million deal without the inconvenience of actually having to throw a major league pitch yet.

Now will that cost extra?

At these prices, it's no wonder owners and general managers and player development wizards are so careful with their investments -- counting pitches, calculating arm angles, plotting the day when MRIs are routinely done between innings.

Presumably, all this caution will one day result in fewer arm injuries and intact rotations on the eve of opening day.

Pitchers are advised not to hold their breath though. They'll probably blow out an elbow.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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