Several days ago, it was reported by several local media outlets that Brandon McCarthy choked down 7,000 calories a day this off-season to add about 25 pounds to his slender frame. This weight gain has a lot of fans excited about the positive impact it could have on his 2009 season.
The expectation is that McCarthy will be stronger and more durable going into 2009 than he has ever been before, but while he may be stronger, he may not necessarily be any more durable.
At 7,000 calories a day, there is virtually no chance that all 25 pounds are added muscle, and even if it is all muscle, that isn't necessarily a good thing.
Since coming to the Rangers before the 2007 season, McCarthy has battled a stress fracture in his right scapula, a strained flexor tendon in his flexor-pronator mass, and a strained flexor tendon in his right middle finger.
McCarthy's injury trouble started with a stress fracture in his right scapula in July 2007. A stress fracture occurs when a bone "flexes" repeatedly - an action obviously not meant for bones. The injury indicates that the bone is being bent, stretched, or pulled by some unnatural movement, but it is not out of the question that natural movement can cause it as well.
Following his 2007 shoulder injury, McCarthy spent the off-season working hard to get stronger for 2008. Word had it that he was up about 15 to 20 pounds. Without a doubt, his focus was on staving off another shoulder injury.
The nature of a stress fracture indicates (but does not guarantee) that a mechanical flaw is responsible. The other two injuries are indicative of a lack of physical fitness.
When throwing a pitch, the arm and hand have to be strong enough to overcome the inertia created by the rest of the body. If the inertia is stronger than the bones and soft tissue, the unfit tissues tend to break down.
THE WEAK LINKS
Strains occur when muscles attempt to handle larger loads than what they are capable of handling.
McCarthy's body got stronger, and thanks to both his increased mass and increased strength, he was creating more intense loads for his elbow, wrist, hand, and fingers. His forearm was not ready for the increased load, and his forearm flexor tendon suffered a very serious strain.
Pitching with a compromised flexor tendon puts the ulnar collateral ligament at serious risk for strains and ruptures, and it's usually pretty painful.
After spending several months strengthening and conditioning his forearm, McCarthy finally returned to the mound. With a stronger forearm, the next injury occurred at the next weak link in the kinetic chain, the flexor tendon of his right middle finger.
DOING THE MATH
If you've followed what I've said so far, you can see how it's important for a pitcher to be strong from his toes to his finger tips.
A pitcher's arm must be strong enough and conditioned to handle the loads generated by the rest of his body, otherwise, even someone with anatomically perfect mechanics can suffer muscle strains, fatigue, tendinitis, or worse.
Richard Durrett of the Dallas Morning News wrote the following on January 20, 2008 during the Rangers pitching mini-camp:
McCarthy said he's worked hard to strengthen not only the area that has proved bothersome, but also the areas around that.
To me, this is far more encouraging than reading that he gained 25 pounds. Perhaps now, his arm is ready to take advantage of the leverage his 6' 7" frame is capable of generating. If it is, McCarthy is primed for a break out season.