Happ's forearm tightness deserves caution

Two of the most important lessons I have learned in my time covering professional baseball:

1) When it comes to injuries, the public is on a need-to-know basis, and nine times out of tend the club does not think you need to know. This is not a criticism of the Phillies, their players, or professional sports organizations in general. The public might want to know whether an injury is to blame for Chase Utley's slump. But the public also wants to watch a winner, and if the revelation of Utley's hip soreness helps an opponent realize that he is slow in turning on inside pitches, or less of a threat to steal, it could conceivably affect the Phillies' ability to produce wins. So while the public might claim that its patronage includes the right to full disclosure regarding the quality of the product, the organization might argue that the quality of the product is actually enhanced by limited disclosure.

But you didn't come here for a philosophy lesson.

Which brings us to lesson No. 2:

2) Fear the forearm.

If a baseball season was like a season of The Office, every mention of "forearm tightness" or "forearm soreness" would be followed with a once-clever-now-cliche, "That's what she said." It might be the ultimate euphemism in sports medicine. On the surface, it sounds harmless. You hear "elbow," "knee," or "shoulder," and last man into the Panic Room is a rotten egg. But the forearm? It has the Q rating of a spleen.

History shows that, sometimes, forearm soreness is just forearm soreness. Some minor inflammation. Some muscle fatigue. And anybody who has watched J.A. Happ compete over the past three years is hoping that his current bout with "forearm tightness" is exactly that. His asscent into the Phillies rotation is a Case Study in the allure of sports, an example of the way a few bases and a pitchers mound and some white lines are the perfect stage for compelling drama. Forget personal back-stories or off-the-field adversity. It has been fascinating to watch Happ work his way through the various challenges and plot points that professional baseball presents. After a mediocre 2007 debut, he spent an entire year working his way back to the majors, only to find his success rewarded with a trip back to the minors, only to find himself back on the roster for a run to the World Series, only to find himself losing out on a rotation spot, only to find himself back as a starter and the author of one of the best rookie pitching seasons in Phillies history.

Happ's start against the Nationals on Thursday was the epitome of his career. The fastball that he used as his chief weapon in 2009 had deserted him. His velocity sat in the mid-80's. The strike zone that day made the plate look more like a circle than a pentagon. He walked six batters. He struck out none. But he didn't allow an earned run for the second straight start.

And, now, we'll have to wait and see whether the forearm tightness that he battled that day represents a minor speed bump in his 2010 season, or another significant obstacle the he will have to overcome.

That probably sounds a tad melodramatic. But it's an off day and I've got a 10-day road trip staring me in the face and if you aren't interested I'm sure there are some re-runs of Minute to Win It that are available On Demand.

*Speaking of On Demand and all things Cable, I notice that a certain local telecommunications behemoth has announced a "new" service that has touched off another ad war with Verizon Fios, leading me to wonder whether Stringer Bell is now calling the shots.

What are the options when you got an inferior product in an aggressive marketplace?

Besides, I've received several emails from people asking why a minor thing like "forearm tightness" is endangering Happ's next start.

The answer: Often times, "forearm tightness" is nothing minor at all.

Last year, Brad Lidge battled "minor forearm tightness" in spring training. J.C. Romero's injury when he first went on the disabled list last year? Forearm tightness.

Others who have battled "forearm" tightness over the past couple years:

1) Braves righty Tim Hudson, who pitched six scoreless innings of a 9-4 win over the Marlins on July 23, 2008. . .and didn't pitch again until late last season. What was initially termed forearm tightness resulted in Tommy John surgery that cost the Braves righty the second half of '08 and most of '09.

2) Brewers righty Ben Sheets, who first was diagnosed with forearm tightness in April of 2008 and spent the entire year battling the injury, ultimately fading down the stretch and missing all of 2009.

3) Cardinals righty Kyle Lohse, who skipped a start with forearm soreness last May, ultimately going on the disabled list from June 4 to July 11. He 2-5 with a 5.27 ERA in his final 12 games and did not pitch in the postseason.

The list goes on: Shaun Marcum, Shawn Hill, Adam Loewen, Jesse Litsch, Jason Jennings -- all went on to miss significant time.

As we noted earlier, sometimes forearm tightness is just forearm tightness:

Angels righty John Lackey began the 2009 season on DL with strained forearm that started in late March. Lackey missed most of the first two months of the 2009 season with a strained forearm, but returned in late May to start 27 games, throw 176.1 innings, and post a 3.83 ERA while playing a big role in the Angels' run to the ALCS.

Teammate Ervin Santana also missed close to a month with forearm tightness in 2009 and returned to pitch well down the stretch.