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Starkey: Cutch's injury underscores bogus 'code'

| Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, 11:14 p.m.

I'm going with the conspiracy theory.

Call me crazy, but I believe the rib injury Andrew McCutchen sustained Sunday very well might have been related to the 95-mph fastball he wore Saturday night.

I'm no doctor — that should be very obvious — but I spoke with a highly qualified one Monday night.

Dr. Bryson Lesniak is a UPMC orthopedic surgeon who used to work for the Miami Marlins. He ruled out the possibility that Randall Delgado's pitch — the one that hit McCutchen squarely in the spine — caused the avulsion fracture in McCutchen's 11th rib. But nobody thought that, anyway.

Here's the important point: Lesniak did not rule out the idea that McCutchen's mechanics were compromised the next day because of the after-shock of getting drilled.

That possibility just makes sense. You hurt one thing, you might favor something else, even if subconsciously.

At best, this was an awful coincidence.

“A guy swings hard his whole career, no problem. Then this happens on one swing,” said Lesniak, who has no affiliation with the Pirates and did not examine McCutchen. “It might be entirely coincidence, but when something happens so close anatomically and time-wise, you wonder.”

Funny, that's pretty much what McCutchen said earlier in the day. He didn't come out and blame Delgado's pitch for his injury. But, like Lesniak, he wondered how after all those swings on all those days, he tore cartilage off a rib on a swing that came hours after getting nailed in virtually the same area.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on the other hand, dismissed any such “conspiracy theory.” Hurdle said the information he received indicated no correlation whatsoever.

Fair enough. Reasonable people can disagree, even if it's a bit odd that Hurdle and his star player would put forth such divergent opinions.

The overriding issue, from this vantage point, is the eye-for-an-eye, Old Testament culture that continues to pervade Major League Baseball.

Consider the notion that the plunking of a star player, no matter the circumstances, must be avenged.

Think about that. If you take it to its logical conclusion, then any time the Pirates (who pelt more batters than anyone) hit the opposing team's best player — even if by accident — McCutchen should expect to wear one the next day.

How does that make sense?

Hasn't he been hit enough?

As we saw Saturday night, the retribution game can have dire consequences.

Baseball should be trying to protect its stars. It should be doing so in legitimate ways as opposed to idiotic ways like Rule 7.13, the one regarding collisions at home plate. Stiff suspensions for intentionally hitting batters would be a start (even if the players' union fights back). Perhaps even tack on hefty fines against the offending team.

The Pirates had a similar situation against the Dodgers recently, when Jamey Wright hit McCutchen on the shoulder. There was no way of telling whether it was intentional, but by baseball law, revenge was mandatory.

Pirates reliever Justin Wilson immediately exacted it, hitting Justin Turner on the elbow with a 98-mph fastball.

The Pirates were deemed to have handled the situation correctly as compared to what the Diamondbacks did. And there is truth to that.

Delgado's sin was setting up McCutchen by throwing a purpose pitch followed by an outside slider. That second pitch could have caused McCutchen to put his guard down. Delgado then nailed him in the back. That is one reason Root Sports analyst Bob Walk called the Diamondbacks “gutless.”

So yes, Wilson did the right thing within baseball's “code.” But it's the code itself that causes problems.

Often, it's impossible to interpret. Sometimes, it's downright senseless. Not to mention dangerous.

How about two years ago when Cole Hamels plunked 19-year-old Nationals rookie Bryce Harper on purpose and admitted to it? Harper's sin, apparently, was being a highly publicized rookie.

This was Hamels' explanation: “That's something I grew up watching, so I'm just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it.”

Good. How about we get away from it a little further so that the Pirates' best player — and others like him — don't have to keep wearing fastballs.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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