In just 134 innings in 2011, we witnessed how good Scott Baker can be as a starter. Of course, we also witnessed what has become the inevitable season-ending injury for the second-straight year.
After having a procedure to remove bone chips from his elbow in 2010, Baker experienced discomfort in the pitching side elbow once again in 2011 and was sidelined, making just four appearances post-August. The hope coming into camp was that Baker would be fully healed for what is a pivotal year for the right-hander: This is the final year of his contract and at the end of the season, the Twins will have to decided whether or not to exercise a sizable $9.25 million option for 2013.
Unfortunately, similar to last spring, concerns are once again flaring up for Baker as Joe Christensen reports, he was having an "inability to get loose" in Saturday's B-game start against the Pirates. Christensen also writes:
Baker's fastball, which normally averages 91 miles per hour, was clocked between 83-86 mph in that outing, and he gave up six runs on six hits in 11/3 innings.
While most pitchers have a bell-curve when it comes to velocity, starting lower in the spring before culminating in the warmer summer months, this is a significant drop-off and, combined with the worries of getting loose, raising larger flags for the team.
As I wrote last year when this issue came to the forefront, many times bone chips and spurs are larger indications of elbow problems - the chips and spurs are often caused by loose UCLs, the Tommy John ligament, and a sign that something is not structurally sound in the elbow in general.
The worst case scenario is that Baker will require some sort of procedure and miss a substantial portion of the season. The best case is that rest and slowing down his progress keeps his elbow healthy for the season's duration. Then again, the likelier scenario is that he has a similar season to the previous one where he manages to through 100-130 innings only to be shut down later on.