Lastings Milledge knew something was wrong almost from the day he set foot in spring camp. His right shoulder was sore, and while that’s not a most unusual thing for a professional baseball player, something just felt off.
Still, Milledge soldiered on, motivated by a desire to atone for a down year in 2013. But the pain didn’t subside, it only grew. Soon, it affected his hitting and his fielding almost to a point where he couldn’t do anything baseball-related at all. Now, weeks after those initial feelings of unease, Milledge finds himself as the latest casualty of what has already been a season riddled with injuries for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
The team announced Sunday that Milledge will head to the U.S. on Monday to have doctors check his shoulder. There won’t be a timetable for a possible return until the team has reviewed the results of the tests.
“I don’t feel good,” Milledge said at Jingu Stadium prior to the Swallows’ game against the Hanshin Tigers on Sunday. “I know my body. I know the way my body responds. I’ve been doing this going on 11 years now and I know when something’s not right, and something’s not right in there.”
The 29-year-old outfielder has made just 10 appearances for the Swallows this season, the last coming against the Chunichi Dragons on April 10. He said the feeling in his shoulder is unlike any he’s ever experienced during his career.
“I’ve dealt with sore arms and everything like that,” Milledge said. “It didn’t respond from Day 1, but I tried to come out and play. It just didn’t happen.”
Milledge’s situation is just the latest blow to a team that has already lost a number of key players to injuries.
Shohei Tateyama, the team’s best pitcher, is out for the entire season after reaggravating the elbow injury that kept him out of all but two games last year. Fellow hurlers Tony Barnette and Kyohei Muranaka have also gone down this year, as have infielders Keizo Kawashima and Ryosuke Morioka, among others.
The latest blow came late last month, when reigning Central League Rookie of the Year pitcher Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa, a 16-game winner in 2013, was lost to a broken right hand.
Now Milledge, who is in his third year with Yakult and is a career .277 hitter with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs in Japan, has joined their ranks.
“It’s too bad,” Yakult’s Wladimir Balentien said, “but the most important thing is he gets healthy.”
Milledge, who missed a large swath of time with an ankle injury last season, is unsure of exactly when the injury occurred, but feels it might be the result of changes to his offseason workouts.
“It was more of lower body and hitting, and I kind of waited longer to throw this year than what I normally do, because I also had a foot injury, and I also had to tend to that. I also had to rehab and get that in shape before I came, along with just having my hitting mechanics in place.
“The throwing program was kind in the backseat. It wasn’t the important part. The important part was making sure my legs were in good condition, because I couldn’t do anything for three months as far as legs. You deal with the arm thing later. You only throw five or six times a game, so you deal with the arm and the throwing program later. The hitting and my legs were the most important part, because I was coming back from an injury to my lower half.”
He says that once he did begin throwing, he was doing too much too soon.
“I kind of backseated the throwing,” he said, “But when I started throwing, I felt good, and when I got out there it was just push, push, push. But no matter how good you feel, you just really gotta take it slow. Your mind might say ‘I feel good, let’s stretch it out, I’m OK,’ but the muscle is telling you a whole different thing.
“It’s something I have to deal with. I’m disappointed, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. All I can do is just get better. It’s the same thing I said last year, but that’s all I can do. I’m not pleased, because I know what I want to do as a player and I’m not able to do that.”
Milledge wore a forlorn expression as he spoke, but sounded resigned to his current situation.
“I’m not pleased at all, but at the same time, I understand the game and I understand these things do happen,” he said. “It’s just about am I gonna cry about it, or am I gonna rehab and get better? So that’s just where we’re at right now.”