SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Big league pitchers often talk about a “dead arm” period, when the ball does not seem to feel right or act properly.
San Francisco closer Mark Melancon pitched last year with the real thing — dead tissue in a forearm muscle, discovered only during a season-ending surgical procedure Sept. 12.
When doctors began a procedure designed to allow the muscle to “breathe,” they found something they did not expect.
“It was actually dying off,” Melancon said.
“It had turned gray. When they went in, they literally saw it. The muscle was dying from being restricted. The doctor said he hadn’t seen that too much. He said he had seen it, but not there, and not often. Very rare. It was definitely a surprise. I know he was shocked,” he said.
Melancon, who said he had been felt similar restriction off and on at various points of the season since 2012, also was taken aback.
While the surgery was considered a success, Melancon and the Giants can only hope the surgery will be enough to help him return to the All-Star form that led him to 98 saves and two NL All-Star teams with Pittsburgh in 2015-16.
There are no guarantees.
“I think they have done all that they can do,” Melancon said.
“Who knows if it flares up again? Hopefully that muscle comes back pink, reddish, healthy again. The doctor doesn’t know it if will or not. We’ve done all the we can do. The rest, we’ll see,” he said.
Melancon was one of the best closers in the game from 2014-16, recording 131 saves in 141 opportunities with a 1.93 ERA with Pittsburgh and Washington, joining the Nationals at the 2016 trade deadline.
That success earned him a four-year, $62 million contract in the 2016 winter of the closers, when Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman also were on the free agent market.
Last season did not start well, when Melancon failed to hold a lead in a loss at Arizona on opened day, and his year in a way mirrored the Giants woes as they fell to 64-98, tied with Detroit for the fewest wins in the majors.
Melancon, who finished 1-2 with 11 saves and a 4.50 ERA in 32 appearances, did not pitch for six weeks around the All-Star Game. He then was shut down for the season the first week of September.
“I’d always dealt with it, but last year it was different,” said Melancon, who will turn 34 in March.
“It bothered me the whole year, where in years past it never blossomed fully. It would come a couple of weeks, maybe a month, during every season since 2012. But I could get through it, get over it,” he said.
He constantly took treatment, calling it “an everyday thing.”
“But I just thought it was me,” he said. “I thought it was what I had to do. Last year I never got over it. Partly, we just didn’t know exactly what it was.”
Melancon will return to the closer’s role he was forced to abandon a year ago, manager Bruce Bochy already has announced, but the Giants plan to slow-play him early in spring training.
Melancon has not yet thrown live batting practice, the next step before getting into a game.
“We’ll take it easy with him early,” Bochy said.
At the same, the Giants plan to extend Melancon by the time spring training ends to make sure he can pitch back-to-back games or three out of four that comes with the closer’s role.
“We will check that box off before we leave here,” Bochy said. “We expect him to be fine.”