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Old 12-11-2002, 07:17 AM  
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Dutton: Affeldt still bothered by finger blister on pitching hand

Affeldt still bothered by finger blister on pitching hand

By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Posted on Mon, Dec. 09, 2002

The same finger blister that sent Royals left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to the disabled list for 50 games last season has ended his participation in winter ball and threatens to derail his quest to gain a spot in next season's rotation.

"You and me both want to know what's going on," Affeldt said by phone from his home in Spokane, Wash. "The blister just keeps blowing up on me. This last time, it just split the callus in half."

That happened more than a week ago when Affeldt, 23, was making his fifth appearance for Cibao in the Dominican Republic and preceded a planned trip to New York to consult a specialist.

But the specialist offered no new answers, which left Affeldt very frustrated and cast new doubt on his ability to withstand the rigors required of a starting pitcher.

"It's a problem," manager Tony Pena agreed. "It's something we're concerned about. And he was throwing the ball so well."

The blister occurs on the middle finger of Affeldt's pitching hand where the corner of his nail digs into skin. Thus far, all efforts to harden the affected skin have failed.

"It's nothing I can change," Affeldt said. "It's the pressure I put on the ball when I release it. I'm going to a plastic surgeon (later this week) in Springfield, Ill. Ideally, we can figure something out.

"I've got to believe I can fix this, that there's something I can do to keep the blister from coming back."

Affeldt showed flashes of dominance last season as a rookie and is a central figure in the Royals' plan to rebuild around a corps of young pitchers.

"Of course, there's concern," general manager Allard Baird said. "That's one of the reasons we set him up to see the specialist before he even left for the Dominican -- just for this purpose. I was worried.

"It's killing him. There's a possibility that if we did something with his nail, like cut a piece of his nail off permanently, that it would make a difference."

The plastic surgeon will determine whether a surgical procedure is likely to solve the problem.

"I'm ready to do it," Affeldt said. "I'll be honest with you. I'm ready to do anything. But I'm too emotionally involved.

"It's better that Allard or (trainer) Nick Swartz decide, and they want to take it slow and make sure. I mean, I don't know what will happen if they surgically remove part of my nail."

Owner David Glass asked whether Affeldt had tried pickle brine, which pitchers often used years ago to harden their fingers against blisters.

"Yeah, I've tried pickle brine," Affeldt said, "and I've used garlic juice. It was Pena who suggested garlic juice to me when I was in the Dominican.

"I said, `Yeah, whatever.' I was so frustrated, I was willing to try anything. Well, let me tell you, garlic juice is so acidic that it hardened my finger up right away.

"But the blister formed under the callus. So we need to figure out how to keep the blister from forming."

Affeldt opened last season in the bullpen but joined the rotation in May and made seven starts before the blister sent him to the disabled list. He finished the season in the bullpen after returning in August.

The lower pitch counts required of a reliever helped keep the blister under control, but Affeldt chafed at life in the bullpen after being a starter throughout his minor-league career.

"At the end of the season," he admitted, "I was so frustrated by the blister that I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to be a reliever.

"Now, don't get me wrong. I had a great time down there with those guys, and I learned a lot. But then I got down to the Dominican and started to pitch in the rotation, and I got all excited again about being a starter.

"I was using three pitches. I was setting up hitters. It was something I hadn't done for six months, and I liked it."

And he was dominant. Affeldt didn't allow an earned run in 19 innings. He struck out 12 and walked just four.

"But it was still frustrating," he said, "because my pitch counts were low, and I couldn't go more than five innings. I'd be at 60 (pitches) in four innings, (a pace) which normally would allow you to go late in the game."

Whatever the plastic surgeon decides, Affeldt hopes to spend January in Kansas City, building up his arm strength in preparation for spring training.

"You can't say it doesn't cross your mind -- will this ever go away?" he said. "But (Mets pitcher) Al Leiter and other guys have been able to control it.

"So, I'm expecting it to go away. But if it doesn't, I'm willing to accept a different role."
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