Danny Hultzen may never throw a single major league inning. Earlier this week, it was reported that the chronically unlucky lefty would be in a holding pattern after another setback. He missed all of 2014 after shoulder surgery in 2013. In hindsight, his 2015 was a portent of the Mariners season to come: full of promise, poised to shrug off the demons of the past, but ultimately futile. Prematurely shut down. Disappointing. Tinged with sadness.
Hultzen may recover. He has worked hard, persevered in the face of so many setbacks. The days of him being an ace starter are behind him, but he seems to have embraced the bullpen. The guy just wants to pitch. And he may never get to do that.
Prospects wash out of baseball all the time. Their careers, if we can call them that, end for a lot of reasons. The grind of the minors finally gets to them. Their high school or college game can't quite translate to the bigs. They never develop secondary pitches. They can't hit the curve. They can't hit at all. We accept that failure as part of the game, a weeding out of those not quite able. But often, that failure comes at the end of a frenzied contest pitched against external forces. The road. The big league bat. The big league arm. We feel for those guys, but some part of us is satiated by them having had their chance. You fought your best fight. You were measured and found wanting, but at least you were measured.
Careers like Hultzen's are a sadder kind of thing. They weren't waging a battle, except one against their own body. They were struck with poor luck. They threw too many pitches in college games that didn't matter. They worked and worked, not just on command, but on smaller things. On staying healthy. On staying positive. On a bunch of things that can't even be called skills, unless raging against circumstance is a skill.
We ache for Hultzen, because the potential of such unfulfilled promise strikes us as deeply unfair. It's maybe too trite an expression, but it's a damn shame. We want all that work and positivity, such a committed willingness to do all that he could, to mean something. We want it to translate into more than a historical draft oddity. We want him to throw that big league inning. Just one.
Failure is part of baseball. But this isn't failure. This is mythical forces and sad poetry. Careers like this aren't the main lesson baseball teaches. They're the harder lesson, the one we know in every other context but still take extreme umbrage at. Careers like this are about people not getting what they deserve. They're about things being unfair.
Hultzen told Greg Johns, "I don't want to look too far forward. All I can do right now is see how it responds... It's really, really frustrating. I didn't see that coming. But we'll think in the short term for now."
I hope Hultzen gets his inning. I hope he gets hundreds. But mostly I hope that this person, who has worked so hard, and done all he could, will have a career that isn't about teaching lessons. I hope he has a career that's about a devastating slider. I hope he has a career about roaring back. I hope he has a career at all.