Jerry Manuel offered an alibi for Aaron Heilman's miserable string of outings. The interim manager revealed, and Heilman confirmed, the righty has been dealing with left knee tendinitis since spring training. Manuel said the problem affects Heilman's landing during his delivery and therefore his location.
For his part, Heilman tried to minimize how much it has accounted for his 5.38 ERA. "There were probably a handful of games where I felt it affected me," said Heilman, who has appeared in just two games this month.
Now obviously all of the standard stuff applies here. Injuries are generally only mentioned when a player is underperforming, and for all we know Heilman's knee wasn't a contributing factor to his struggles at all. But where before I heard about this we had a list of X number of explanations for what went wrong in 2008, now our list has X+1 explanations, with the latest addition being a knee injury from which Heilman will presumably recover over the winter. And that, in turn, increases our projected odds of seeing him bounce back to being an effective, if not excellent pitcher again in 2009. It's simple math. Even just the possibility that this was the problem improves our perceived immediate outlook, if only by a little bit.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited to find out what Heilman can bring. Pitchers like him can cost a fortune when they're going well, but their value can drop considerably after a bad year, even if their stuff is intact. Heilman's stuff is intact. Technically, he has 50% more stuff than he had a year ago. It's just that his command went on the fritz last season, with disastrous results. He still throws a fastball in the mid-90s and a devastating changeup that misses bats more than 20% of the time it gets thrown, and even without mentioning his slider, guys like that make for good gambles when they're down. While there's obvious risk, there's also obvious upside, and Heilman has the potential to make last week's trade look like an absolute laugher.