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Jul 16, 2006:

20/20 Commentary

FARM REPORT by Gary Jacobs

DiNardo’s Days of Uncertainty

Boston Red Sox's Lenny DiNardo delivers a pitch to Baltimore Orioles' Melvin Mora during the first inning of MLB baseball at Fenway Park in Boston, Sunday, May 7, 2006. DiNardo gave up two hits and two runs over five innings.

(AP Photo)

JULY 14, 2006 | PAWTUCKET -- - Just when the Sox need him most, Lenny DiNardo’s future is as murky as it ever was.

DiNardo, 26, was a Rule 5 pickup, plucked from the Mets organization. His first big-league year was 2004, when he made 22 appearances for the Big Club, giving up 13 earned runs in 27 2/3 innings pitched for a 4.23 ERA. His contributions to that team earned him a certain gaudy piece of jewelry with his name on it.

2005 saw him doing split time between Pawtucket and Boston, his Rule 5 obligation having ended in December of 2004. In limited appearances that season he excelled, giving up only three earned runs in 14 2/3 innings pitched, good for a 1.87 ERA. Everything was in place for DiNardo to enjoy a breakout year. But it just hasn’t worked out that way.

DiNardo’s numbers were brutal for 2006, though in fairness he pitched better than those numbers would indicate: though he’s saddled with a 1-2 record and a lofty 7.11 ERA, most of the damage was done in two poor outings - April 22 in Toronto, where he gave up seven earned runs in three innings, and May 21 in Philadelphia, where he gave up four earned runs in two innings (and after which he was placed on the DL because of neck pain). Excluding those games from his record reveals that in his other five appearances he was good for a respectable 3.98 ERA.

Of course, every pitcher’s numbers look better when you throw away his worst two outings but the exercise is still valuable as it proves that when he’s healthy, he’s everything the Red Sox need: a capable, young, inexpensive left-handed No. 5 starter or long-relief man.

But the neck pain that sidelined DiNardo on May 24 hasn’t gone away. In fact, it appears to have gotten worse rather than better. His first live pitching assignment since he went on the DL, a rehab start in Pawtucket July 14, couldn’t possibly have gone worse: not only did he give up four runs, facing only four batters (walk, single, single, grand slam), but he attributed his poor performance directly to his injury.

“I don’t think I was near ready,” said a downcast DiNardo immediately after his performance. “I couldn’t extend enough – every time I do extend out here [points to his left shoulder and pantomimes a pitching motion] that’s when I could feel the nerve just getting pinched down to my scapula into my fingertips. And that’s in the back of my mind every time I throw. Once I feel that once, I’m like, there it is. And from then on it’s like throwing darts instead of extending and throwing.”

Indeed, after 16 pitches, his night was over and once again DiNardo faces more questions than answers regarding his ability to pitch.

One of the most frustrating elements of his rehabilitation is the fact that he thought he was making progress. “Everything had been going well – but you know, you’re going to have setbacks, and not everything’s going to go by smooth, and that’s what happened today.”

He’s even turned to acupuncture –- and is encouraged by the results.

“[I started it] six days before the All-Star break,” he said. “I felt like that was really working, so I’ll keep doing that.”

DiNardo’s next move is to consult with the medical staff at Fenway. He left immediately after the game and was expected to meet with team doctors on Saturday. In the meantime, DiNardo has nothing to do but think healthy thoughts and do whatever the doctors tell him to do.

“Keep on keepin’ on,” said DiNardo, shaking his head. “That’s my attitude.”

Gary can be reached at [email protected].

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