Eric Nolte’s Major Upset : Padres’ Improving Pitcher Didn’t Count On an Ulcer

Times Staff Writer

When Padre pitcher Eric Nolte doubled over in pain at breakfast Thursday, the last thought that occurred to him, he said, was that it was an ulcer.

A heart attack, maybe. A bad stomachache, probably. An ulcer, never.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 23, 1989 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 23, 1989 San Diego County Edition Sports Part 3 Page 7A Column 5 Sports Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of an editing error, the pitching arm of Padre pitcher Eric Nolte and the injured arm of outfielder Shane Mack were misidentified in a story Wednesday. Nolte pitches with his left arm. Mack is having problems with his right elbow.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Nolte said Tuesday. “I’m 24 years old; I’m not really a worry wart. I usually have a pretty good diet, not too much spicy stuff. I like Mexican food, but not any more than anyone else.”

His age and avowed balanced diet aside, a perforated ulcer is exactly what Nolte had developed, and it required a one-hour emergency operation Thursday. Nolte is expected to be out of game action for at least a month and said he expects to be assigned to the Padres’ triple-A team in Las Vegas.


The attack, he said, came almost without warning. The only sign was a slightly upset stomach that morning. That is why, Nolte said, it came as such as a surprise.

“That was the most pain I had in my life,” Nolte said. “I thought I was getting a burst of Alien. It was incredible. I couldn’t even get in my pickup truck.”

Nolte said he had just had been handed the menu when he was struck by a sharp pain. He excused himself and told his wife, Torri, that he would be right back.

“I took four or five steps, and it hurt like crazy,” Nolte said. “I thought I was having a heart attack. My chest got all tight. I came back and told my wife, ‘We’ve got to go to the hospital.’ ”

His wife drove him three-quarters of a mile to Yuma Regional Medical Center, where at first, Nolte said, he was told he had gastritis. After two hours, he was going to be given some medication and released, but when he attempted to get dressed, he was struck again by sharp pain.

X-rays were ordered, a perforated ulcer was discovered, and surgery was recommended.

“I thought I was coming in for a Rolaids, and I’m having surgery,” Nolte said. “I said, ‘No way.’ They told me I’ve got to have it or I may die. That hit home.”


Nolte said he was told by the surgeon, Dr. Dirk Frauenfelder, that the ulcer was the size of a quarter and that the perforation was about the size of a pencil eraser. He said Frauenfelder theorized that it was caused by an anti-inflammatory drug Nolte said he had been taking for about two months to reduce swelling in his right (throwing) arm. Nolte said he followed instructions by taking the medication with meals but that it apparently upset his stomach lining.

“The doctor told me one out of every 100 people, no matter what kind of drug you take or how much you take, you’re going to get an ulcer,” Nolte said.

The pain, Nolte said he was told, was caused when stomach acid spilled into his intestinal cavity.

“They sucked all that out and sealed me up,” Nolte said. “My wife told me how lucky I was to be near a hospital. It could have happened when I was coming back on a bus from Phoenix.”

The operation has left Nolte with an eight-inch scar. He was no sooner released from the hospital Tuesday morning than he was at the Padre training complex readily showing it off to teammates.

Nolte said it will be 10 days before he can resume any serious physical activity and that he expects to be at full strength in about three weeks. He said he was told he will not have to alter his diet, except to eat smaller meals, and expects it will be no trouble regaining the 15 pounds he lost in the hospital, bringing his weight back to 210.


Regaining his early spring training form is probably more on Nolte’s mind. He was having what he said was his best camp, having pitched six relief innings in three games, allowing five hits and a run while striking out five.

“The last 10 days, I don’t think I have ever thrown better,” Nolte said. “I was having a decent spring, and I was giving myself at least an outside chance of making the team.

“Sure, it’s a little bit of letdown. But I have to roll with it.”

The ulcer was the latest setback for Nolte, who just two years ago appeared to be the best young pitcher in the Padre organization. In 1987--his third season after being selected out of UCLA in the sixth round of the June 1985 free-agent draft--Nolte made the jump to Padre starter from Class A.

He won his major league debut, striking out seven in seven innings of a 6-0 victory over Houston on Aug. 1. He won only one of his next seven decisions but pitched well, allowing two earned runs or fewer in eight of 12 starts and finishing with a 3.21 earned-run average.

His troubles began just before spring training last year when he had to have his tonsils removed. He failed to earn a spot in the starting rotation, making the team as a middle reliever, but after just two early appearances was sent to Las Vegas. He spent the remainder of the season there, compiling an 8-7 record with a 6.03 ERA. The initial adjustment was difficult for Nolte, who gave up 35 earned runs in his first 30 2/3 innings back in triple A.

“I didn’t really know how to react,” Nolte said. “I had never been sent down; I had never even been to triple A. It was a little bit of a letdown. I didn’t know if I could regain what I did in ’87. I know I’m doing a lot better now then I was then. If that is an indication of hopefully what is going to be, then I have a bright future.”


But Pat Dobson, the Padres’ pitching coach, said that plans were to send Nolte to Las Vegas even before the ulcer.

“We figure another year there would do him well,” Dobson said. “But there is no question he is a better pitcher now than he was last year. He is much more aggressive.”

Nolte agreed and said he is planning to make as rapid a recovery as possible.

“I plan on having a good year,” Nolte said. “Nothing could be as bad as the nightmare last year.”

Padre Notes

Right fielder John Kruk hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning, and catcher Mark Parent a two-run homer in the sixth off starting pitcher Chris Bosio Tuesday as the Padres defeated Milwaukee, 7-4, in an exhibition game at Desert Sun Stadium. The two homers gave the Padres (12-5-1) 14 homers in 18 games, eight more than they hit in 27 spring games last year. Walt Terrell (2-1) pitched seven innings, his longest outing of the spring, for the victory. He gave up four hits and two earned runs. Roberto Alomar had three hits and has five in his past five at-bats. . . . Outfielder Shane Mack traveled to Los Angeles to get a second opinion from the Dodger medical staff concerning bone chips in his left elbow. Mack was diagnosed as having the condition last week by Padre doctors . . . The Padres play Cleveland for the final time this spring today at 12:05 PST at Desert Sun Stadium. Ed Whitson (2-0, 5.50 earned run average) will start against the Indians’ Bud Black. . . . The crowd of 4,670 at Desert Sun Stadium Tuesday raised the spring total to 45,518 for eight games in Yuma. The Padres are averaging 5,690 per game and need to average 4,147 over their final four games to break the all-time Yuma attendance mark of 62,103 set in 1986.