By Ernie Palladino
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Now that Phil Jackson has some time on his hands, the Mets and Yankees should give him a call.
Though the triangle offense that played a role in him getting booted from the Knicks' presidency has nothing to do with baseball, "Zen Master" Phil could probably offer some service to Joe Girardi's and Terry Collins' hurting squads.
A new training regimen. Instead of lifting weights, ingesting God knows what dietary supplement, or spending hours on end on the Upper Body Machine, maybe a little Zen meditation would help end the spate of soft-tissue injuries that has dashed one team's playoff hopes and threatens the other's.
"O-o-o-oh-m-m-m. My muscles are but elastic bands. I am one with my hamstrings and lats and obliques. They will stretch but not break. And I will play the rest of the season without injury. O-o-o-oh-m-m-m."
OK. We exaggerate. But, really, anything besides the current training methods would improve the current situation. That doesn't just go for the local teams. All of baseball has suffered, and much of it has to do with its collective fascination with supersonic pitching and He-Man hitting.
Ron Darling hit the hammy on the head when he raked the Mets' conditioning staff as Robert Gsellman limped his way past first base Tuesday night. Gsellman has since joined fellow hurler Noah Syndergaard (torn lat) on the disabled list, as well as Neil Walker (hamstring), Matt Harvey (right shoulder strain), Josh Smoker (left shoulder strain) and Zack Wheeler (right bicep tendonitis).
The Yankees now have Aaron Hicks on theirs with a strained oblique. Adding the hamstrings of CC Sabathia and Starlin Castro, and the inflammation of Adam Warren's shoulder makes for an impressive sick list. Tyler Austin and his barking DL joined the DL brigade on Thursday night.
And those are only the current ones. They don't even address Yoenis Cespedes and Didi Gregorius, who each visited the DL earlier because of soft-tissue issues.
"It's a joke," Darling concluded. "There has to be a different way to train these athletes."
Pitching is an unnatural act to begin with. Always was. Always will be. And now, as more and more starters and relievers push themselves toward the 100 MPH mark, the strain on all the major body parts grows exponentially.
Same with hitting. Even the smallest of players seem to be swinging for the fences these days. It's obviously in reaction to the rising pitching velocities. Triple-digit pitches go a long way if one can get around on them. That takes a faster bat and stronger legs.
Aaron Judge can pull that off easily. But 99 percent of the league isn't put together like the 6-foot-7, 282-pound defensive end in pinstripes. For those guys, something's going to give.
That's why hamstring and torso injuries have risen as much as strikeouts around the league. And it has grown to maddening proportions locally.
Everybody understands that injuries are part of the game. Bones break. Ligaments tear.
Concussions can happen when an outfielder like Jacoby Ellsbury runs into the wall. A foul ball off an ankle brings a potential end to Greg Bird's season. A blood clot forms in Jeurys Familia's arm to possibly end his year. Slide head-first into second as two-time MVP Mike Trout did in May, and a thumb ligament might tear.
Those are understandable. But it's the soft-tissue stuff that has driven Collins and Girardi to the psychiatrist's couch.
Changing the overall philosophy might help. Instead of hiring football strength guys, as the Mets did with former University of Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis, get someone who stresses flexibility over bulk. Maybe then, pitching will revert to its more interesting form, where location and movement counted more than velocity. And if it results in fewer balls flying over fences offensively, that will be OK, too.
Better to move toward a "smaller" game than to see its stars sitting inactive. Fans would certainly prefer to watch Syndergaard over Rafael Montero. The way Hicks has played this year, they'd rather see him than a minor league call-up, no matter how good the prospect may look in the short term.
That's not going to happen soon, however. As long as pitchers keep chasing the sound barrier and hitters swing for the moon, the soft-tissue injuries will continue.
Perhaps a little less weights and a little more tranquility will loosen up the muscles.
Calling Zen Master Phil!
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