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MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / JASON H. REID

Ex-Orange Coast Pitcher Misuraca Overcomes Reticence, Injury

June 27, 1994|JASON H. REID

Mike Misuraca could no longer raise his right arm, so he figured it was time to open his mouth.

Toward the middle of last season, Misuraca, a former Orange Coast College pitcher, experienced excruciating pain in his pitching shoulder after each start for the Nashville Xpress, the Minnesota Twins' double-A affiliate. It was more than the normal discomfort that accompanies pitching.

The powerful right-handed pitcher knew he had a problem.

But Misuraca, 25, was determined to keep it to himself--and with good reason, so he thought. After three mostly unmemorable seasons, Misuraca was finally opening eyes in the organization.

He was 4-0 with a 2.98 earned-run average and 34 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings at his peak last season; numbers to shout about in the streets for a guy who was 34-40, and struggled with control, as a professional before 1993.

Short of his arm falling off during a game, Misuraca thought, no one would know. He could cope with pain, so the cover-up might have worked except for three minor things: a losing streak, diminishing velocity and rising ERA.

"A lot of guys are afraid to report injuries because they think management will think they're weak or making excuses," Xpress General Manager Phil Roof said. "They want to work through their problems, but sometimes you can't. We weren't sure what was wrong and we were worried."

After his torrid start, Misuraca's final numbers were again average: 6-6, 3.82 ERA. He did have 103 strikeouts in 113 innings, but all that did was make his arm worse.

By the time Misuraca finally asked team management for help in August, his arm was not being held together by much.

"I didn't say anything and it kept getting worse and worse," Misuraca said. "One day I woke up and I couldn't move it. I knew then I had to get it checked out."

Tests revealed Misuraca suffered severe tears in the labrum muscle and bicep tendon. Surgery time.

"I was pretty scared," Misuraca said. "I didn't know what to expect because I had never been hurt before. I was walking on uncharted (territory)."

Fortunately for Misuraca, he had a good guide.

Dr. Lewis Yocum performed the surgery Oct. 12 at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Inglewood. Not only was the procedure a success, Misuraca believes it helped improve his pitching as well as end his pain.

After battling through a fierce winter rehabilitation schedule, Misuraca returned to the mound with a vengeance. At 7-3 with a 3.24 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 80 innings, Misuraca is enjoying his best season.

"Dr. Yocum did a great job," Misuraca said. "I'm still going to be recovering for a while, but I'm pain free."

Before the injury, Misuraca relied on blowing away batters with a fastball clocked at 91 m.p.h.

Like many power pitchers who have suffered arm injuries, Misuraca has had to compensate for some lost velocity after surgery. His concentration has improved, as has his command of pitches.

"I'm probably throwing about three or four (miles per hour) slower, so I'm concentrating more on hitting my spots," Misuraca said. "I'm getting better command of my pitches because I'm more relaxed. I think everything that's happened has made me mature a little."

Xpress pitching coach Rick Anderson has noticed the transformation, too.

"His location is so much better, and he still has almost an average major league fastball," Anderson said. "He's throwing at about 88 (m.p.h), and he's going to get stronger.

"We were very surprised to see him ready as quickly as he was. It was like he didn't miss a beat from when he was healthy last year."

Misuraca is again a subject of Minnesota's attention.

Anderson said Misuraca is on the short list of players who might soon receive promotions to Salt Lake, Minnesota's triple-A team.

"Things are working out great right now," Misuraca said. "I was getting creamed when I was injured, and that was frustrating, but I'm on a roll now."

And more talkative, too.

*

Finally, a winner!: As much as his personal success pleases him, Misuraca is downright elated about the Xpress' season.

Nashville is 44-31.

"We're going really good," Misuraca said. "Everybody's doing a great job. We came real close to finishing first in the first half of the season, and I think we can take it in the second half."

Misuraca's exuberance is understandable considering he has toiled for some bad teams.

In 1992, Misuraca pitched for the Class-A Ft. Myers Miracle. The team was 46-85, but by no fault of Misuraca. He was 7-14 with 107 strikeouts and a 3.61 ERA.

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