MESA, Ariz. — So fragile it ought to be kept under glass until opening day, the Angels' starting pitching rotation nearly shattered on Arizona grass Thursday morning.
Barely an hour into the Angels' second full-squad workout of the spring, pitcher Dan Petry collapsed in pain during a routine agility exercise known as a "pick-up drill." The object of the drill is to pick up 100 ground balls, rolled to either side of the pitcher, in rapid succession. The intent is to fine-tune a pitcher's lateral movement.
It should not, at least by design, result in wrenched backs.
But there Petry was, in a lump, after bending over and experiencing a stab of pain he later likened to "a sniper shot." A flatbed cart was needed to move Petry from the field, and from there, a paramedics' ambulance was needed to transport him to Desert Samaritan Hospital for examination.
X-rays of Petry's lower back showed no fracture or disk damage and Dr. Larry Sander diagnosed the injury as a muscle strain. Petry will be sidelined for several days, will undergo ice-and-heat therapy and is expected to resume pitching early next week.
"I know it looked awfully traumatic, but don't make this out to be so serious," Petry told reporters after returning from the hospital. "This is gonna get better in a few days.
"More than anything, this was like a muscle cramp. It was probably like having a hamstring pull in my back, if you can imagine that. You're going to get muscle pulls and aches and pains during this time of the year."
Of course, most do not require stretcher assistance and the local paramedic unit to be placed on alert. More than four hours after the incident, Petry still needed help to walk or rise from a chair. While talking with reporters, Petry spent the entire interview awkwardly leaning forward on the edge of a chair, searching for the most comfortable position.
But that was an improvement over how Angel Manager Gene Mauch discovered Petry, in the trainer's room, minutes after the pitcher's collapse.
"He was almost in a fetal-like position," Mauch said. "It took him a long time finding a position where he'd have any kind of comfort."
Petry described the sensation as "a shock," an emotion Mauch would most likely second. At best, Mauch is attempting this spring to patch together a rotation consisting of Mike Witt, two post-op right arms (Petry and Kirk McCaskill), a one-year veteran (Willie Fraser) and a cast of a thousand No. 5 candidates. If any of the first four go down, the Angels' season could soon be headed in the same direction.
Mauch was on another field, watching another comeback pitcher, Donnie Moore, at work when he heard about Petry's mishap.
"You'd have trouble putting it in your paper," he told a group of writers. "A damn shame. The guy was feeling good, working good. . . ."
That was before Mauch got the word from the hospital. A back strain isn't great news, but to Mauch and Petry, it sure beats the alternative.
"I didn't think it was a disk," Petry said. "It was just a spasm. But I've never been shocked like that before. I was in the last leg of my workout, picking up a few final balls and then it felt like somebody shot me in the back."
Petry was asked if he'd had any prior back ailments during his career.
"I had a (pain-killing) injection in my back in '82," he said. "That was for an inflamed joint. But this is nothing like that was.
"You can't say, 'The Angels got screwed--Petry's got a history of back problems.' There's no connection between the two."
A back strain, Mauch can live with.
"I know what it's like," Mauch said. "I've had back problems, off and on. I'd make a certain swing with a golf club and go right to my knees--'Oh my God.' Then the next day, it'd be all right again."
Mauch paused and thought wishfully about Petry.
"I'm talking like that," he said, "because that's the way I want it to be."
Donnie Moore threw 15 minutes of batting practice Thursday and did so without pain, promptly making Gene Mauch's day. "I think Donnie Moore feels good about things," Mauch said. "It's been a long time since he threw 15 minutes of batting practice.". . . .Johnny Ray worked out in left field for the first time, fielding ground balls and relaying them back to the infield. "It'll take Johnny Ray about a week before he starts to feel comfortable," said Mauch, who is preaching patience, patience, patience. "Johnny Ray will find no tougher fields than the ones he'll play on this spring."