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Have a heart for Hagadone

Have a heart for Hagadone
July 12, 2012
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The temptation to grill Nick Hagadone over his recent “self-inflicted” injury is quite enticing.

Last Friday, the 26 year old lefty was yanked after yielding two runs in two-thirds of an inning, a troubling, but accurate sample of how the reliever’s last month has gone. Unfortunately, the two runs allowed weren’t even close to the worst thing that would happen to the pitcher that evening. In what must have been a long-building eruption of frustration, Hagadone reportedly punched an unnamed object after entering the dugout, according to Indians General Manager, Chris Antonetti.

Hagadone has since visited a hand specialist, but the results have not been released. Circulating rumors indicate surgery is possible and that the young southpaw could miss the rest of the season with the injury.  To make matters worse, the whole situation has involved the players’ union, as the executive director of the MLBPA, Michael Weiner has indicated that a grievance could be filed against the team for putting Hagadone on the minor league disqualified list.

Thus, we have a very tempting opportunity to berate the rookie for making such a bone-headed move; yet, I’m of the opinion that the hard-luck reliever deserves more sympathy, than sharp tongue-lashings.

Reckless outbursts that result in an injury are certainly in no way permissible, but one can piece together how something like this could happen. After posting ERA marks of 2.08 and 2.25 in April and May, respectively, Hagadone fell off mightily. In June (14.73 ERA) and July (10.80) the reliever lost any semblance of command, as well as his confidence, according to his skipper.

One could easily read the unsettled facial expressions and body language from Hagadone over the last month. Each time he’d come in and get shelled, you could sense the aggravation mounting, little by little, until it violently boiled over with a costly punch.

The punishment of having to watch game after game from the sidelines, while rehabbing from an injury that he unequivocally inflicted on himself will be much worse than anything anyone can say to the hard-luck pitcher. Obviously, he abandoned all logic when he foolishly jeopardized his pitching hand, further damaging his chances of regaining a grasp of a late-inning role. Therefore, it’s clear that he let the intensity of a pressure-filled moment, coupled with the long-standing annoyance of repeated failure overtake his senses.

The passion Hagadone has for wanting to succeed is admirable; that kind of youthful vigor rallies teammates together.  I feel for the guy because he’s tasted success at the game’s highest level, only to watch it all devolve in front of him. He’s opened himself up to being labeled as a hothead and a liability.

Hagadone hurt himself, as well as the team; he’ll have to deal with the regret of doing wrong by his teammates, while the Tribe is forced to explore other left-handed relief options. He lost control for a very short period of time and will now pay for it over a much longer timeframe. The southpaw has to deal with the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of this injury, which could’ve been so easily avoided.

It’s much easier to sympathize with a player who has an acute lapse in judgment from succumbing to a high-pressure game situation, as opposed to one who has a long history of off-field or character issues. Sure, Hagadone’s plight is a bigger blow to the team in the short term, but the long term ramifications of a single youthful mistake pale to the chronic issues that come along with a player who habitually forces undue attention on himself. If nothing else, trying too hard is easier to forgive.

Hagadone isn’t the first youngster this year to temporarily lose control and self-inflict an injury. In May, the Washington Nationals 19 year old rookie, Bryce Harper slammed his bat in a dugout tunnel, only to have it fling back and strike him above the left eye. The gash, which was good enough for ten stitches, didn’t cost the outfielder any games. If only Hagadone had learned from a fellow rookie’s folly.

Fans have to hope the outburst will motivate, rather than discourage, the lefty reliever into coming back better than ever and as soon as possible. Hagadone will likely be his own worst enemy as the days slowly pass in the second half of the season; so, he will have plenty of motivation to return and prove that he can regain his early season success. In the same way he inflicted his own injury, he will likely dole out the harshest castigation against himself. The Indians definitely need a late-inning lefty, so let’s hope this is a giant, albeit painful, learning experience.

If the players’ union does indeed file a grievance against the Indians, the state of affairs could get even messier. This would likely cause continued national headlines about a subject that all parties want to put behind them. It’s understandable why the team wants to slowly, and as quietly as possible, disseminate the details regarding Hagadone’s injury, but the murkiness only adds to the peculiar intrigue of the incident.

The poetic coincidence of how Hagadone slowly lost control of his pitch location, and then, much quicker, his temper, is odd. That symmetry probably doesn’t matter much to Hagadone, who now has a tall tower to climb to regain his role in the bullpen, as well as the faith of teammates and fans. He will be amply punished, so no one should have any qualms in rooting for his comeback.

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