Miguel Montero shook his head, and not just because the Arizona Diamondbacks catcher was still trying to clear the cobwebs of that trip to Australia.
No, he was considering the idea that the club’s new right-handed workhorse, pitcher Bronson Arroyo, is 37 years old, beginning his 15th major league season and never once has landed on the disabled list.
“It’s hard to believe, really,” Montero said. “Everybody has their little stays on the DL. I don’t know how he does it.”
The answer for the free-spirited Arroyo: any way possible.
But it looked for all the world just a few weeks ago that Arroyo’s remarkable streak of durability could end when he experienced back stiffness and pain in his lower back and was scratched from a spring-training start.
Arroyo said Tuesday he received an epidural injection and, after a final spring-training start, he expects to be ready when the Diamondbacks restart their regular season.
“I threw three innings in a simulated game on the 19th and threw a bullpen,” he said. “Through that, I was still not perfect. But the last four days, I’ve been feeling perfect. I threw (Monday) and felt as good as I’ve ever felt, so I just want to get one more outing and get built up a little bit.”
He expects to pitch Saturday against the Cubs and anticipates throwing 85-90 pitches.
That is terrific news for the Diamondbacks, especially in the wake of the not-so-terrific news that staff ace Patrick Corbin, as anticipated, underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday in Florida.
That Corbin is only 24 years old and lost for the season just underscores how fortunate Arroyo has been during his career — knock on maple or ash.
Arroyo’s dependability and his history of stabilizing pitching staffs by eating up 199 or more innings in nine straight seasons are reasons the Diamondbacks signed him to a reported two-year, $23.5 million contract.
It also clearly has become a point of pride for Arroyo.
“There’s never been a time in my baseball career I didn’t think I was going to get out there on Day 5,” he said. “There maybe is going to come a time when I can’t. If it would have been the regular season, how my back was three weeks ago, I wasn’t going to get out there no matter what.
“But I’ve been fortunate to find a way to get out there. Usually you know your body enough to know that even when things are wrong, you’ve got enough to find a way to get out there. Right now, I’m totally good.”
Arroyo said the epidural was the third he has had since 2008 to resolve disk irritation in his lower lumbar spine.
“I didn’t know what it was for a long time,” he said. “Around 2008, I figured out what it was from a (magnetic resonance imaging test) when I was signing a contract. … They went and checked it. I had an epidural in 2008, one in 2011 and this year, so I’ve had three of them total. It’s worked every time.”
He said it has taken a little longer on each occasion for the shot to work.
“The body kind of adjusts to them,” he said. “But if need be, these guys here are really open minded, which is nice. So if I feel something and it gets a little irritated throughout the year, they can hit me with another one.
“A lot of times, it’s like pulling teeth with teams to get somebody to do something like that for you. It’s why guys are so fearful of going into the training room. They think they’re going to get shut down immediately.
“Some organizations, they pull two Advil from their pocket and say that’s all you can have. To me, that’s not reality, man. We’re playing 162 games. Guys are going to get beat up. You try to find ways to make guys comfortable on the field. It’s nice to have a medical staff here that’s open. Some of the stuff I’ve seen here, I’ve never seen before.”
That includes, evidently, blowing up balloons in the morning, reducing rather than increasing flexibility in some muscles, and using special glasses with lenses that distort vision to determine how it affects movement.
“They call it PRI (for Posture Restoration Institute),” Arroyo said. “So in the morning, a lot of guys are blowing up balloons, doing these breathing exercises basically.”
The idea, he said, is to utilize the diaphragm more in breathing, which strengthens it and provides support for the back. Hence, the balloons.
“Also through the years, I’ve always had really flexible hamstrings,” Arroyo said. “That’s how my leg gets so high. You always think of flexibility as an advantage. You never think of it as a disadvantage.
“I think I’ve figured out I’m so hyperflexible in my hamstrings and so tight in my hips, it’s actually a strain on my back because my hamstrings aren’t holding my pelvis where it should be so my front is always pulling me forward and tipping me. I’m trying to get my hamstrings to be a little more snug and loosen up the front side.”
Arroyo knows how crazy it sounds, especially to a lot of organizations that aren’t willing to try anything new.
“If Derek Jeter walked into this locker room, bro, he’d think he was on Mars,” Arroyo cracked.
Montero admitted he’s been blowing up the balloons, too. So, does it work?
“I don’t know,” he mused. “Who knows? But if it keeps me off the DL like (Arroyo), I’ll blow up as many as they want. They can throw a party with ’em if they want to.”
Young writes for the Arizona Republic