Despite some Dodger suspicions to the contrary, Alejandro Pena's problem is not in his head. Nor does it exist just because he didn't do his exercises over the winter, as Dodger trainer Bill Buhler had told one reporter.
Pena's problem, it turned out Tuesday, was in his right shoulder, just as he had maintained since last August, when the right-handed pitcher complained of soreness and subsequently missed five starts.
And the problem turned out to be far more serious than anyone had imagined.
Instead of undergoing an exploratory arthrogram (an X-ray procedure involving an injection of dye), as the Dodgers had announced he would four days ago, Pena underwent arthroscopic surgery. The reason for the surgery, according to Dodger officials, was to "repair damage to the right shoulder joint." The result: Pena will be out of action for several months, according to Dr. Frank Jobe.
So, instead of a surplus of six starting pitchers, the Dodgers are down to a normal rotation of five. And the subtraction was a significant one: Pena was a 12-game winner last season and the National League's leader in earned-run average.
And just as important, Dodger Vice President Al Campanis lost his trump card--a starting pitcher, assumed to be either Pena or Bob Welch--in his expected efforts to obtain a quality third baseman or outfielder in a trade this spring. The chances of a trade involving a starting pitcher, Campanis admitted, are now "diminished." With Rick Honeycutt still needing to prove that he's healthy after undergoing off-season shoulder surgery, the Dodgers not only will not part with a starting pitcher, but they may also someday rue the day they didn't re-sign Burt Hooton, who went to Texas as a free agent.
Jobe, who performed the surgery on Pena in Centinela Hospital Medical Center, told Dodger officials that he trimmed small torn structures in the joint that had not previously shown up on X-rays. Dodger trainer Buhler, reached at the team's training camp in Vero Beach, said the surgery involved "some cartilage on the shoulder. Sometimes it'll fray, and you have to clean it out."
Because it involves making only a small incision, arthroscopic surgery has the advantage of a quick recovery time--except, apparently, in Pena's case.
"I have no idea why they're saying it'll be several months," Buhler said. "There must be more weakness in the shoulder than we knew about."
While conceding that the seriousness of the injury was underestimated by all parties, Buhler contended that Pena's failure to exercise his arm this past winter while home in the Dominican Republic will be a hindrance to his recovery.
"If he (Pena) had done more work in the off-season," Buhler said, "he could have cut down on the length of the rehabilitation period."
Pena will report to the team's spring training camp at Vero Beach, Fla., but Jobe said it will be two months before he can begin throwing again.
Pena, who took part in the team's winter workouts, reported that the soreness which had limited him to one start last September had persisted. "He started to toss and it didn't get any better," Buhler said. "When it was not progressing enough, we decided we had to go further."
But even as late as last Friday, Campanis maintained that Pena said he expected to be OK by the start of the season.
And while Dodger officials did not publicly say that they doubted Pena's complaints about his shoulder problems, they were mystified by their cause. Several examinations last summer produced no evidence of an injury.
In an interview last week, Campanis, in talking about Pena, said that some pitchers have trouble distinguishing between a sore arm and "stiffness" in the shoulder. The implication was clear.
"But Pena did not think it was anything more than that, either," Buhler said.
The Dodgers did not intentionally announce that Pena was to undergo an arthrogram instead of the arthroscopy that took place, Buhler said, adding that the discrepancy was caused by a breakdown in communication.