WASHINGTON — In baseball circles, especially among pitchers, a visit to Los Angeles Angels team doctor and renowned orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum was often seen as a prelude to surgery and a lengthy disabled list stint.
But there were plenty of times that Yocum — who died over the weekend at 65 after battling liver cancer — recommended that a player not undergo surgery and choose rehabilitation first.
Orioles reliever Darren O'Day was one of those cases. As an Angels rookie in 2008, O'Day tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder and visited Yocum for a diagnosis and advice.
"He took the time to answer all my questions and how he felt about it, and he gave me his best, which I appreciated as a patient," said O'Day, who has been one of the Orioles' top relievers since 2012. "He was very honest about my prognosis and made a pretty good call, saying I shouldn't get surgery. Just do my rehab. And I am still pitching with that torn labrum. Shoulder surgery is dicey stuff, so he had a big impact on my career, for sure."
Yocum was adamant that, for O'Day to avoid surgery, he would need to be serious about his rehabilitation and arm strengthening. And O'Day took the words to heart.
"I had kind of skated by because, as a sidearmer, I didn't really take care of my arm as much," O'Day said. "But [Yocum] said. "It didn't matter how you throw, you have to take care of it.' He definitely was a big part of my career."
As a minor leaguer in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, current Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy needed labrum surgery on his left shoulder in 2004. The Brewers wanted him to use their team orthopedist, but Hardy checked around and was told Yocum was the best.
"Everybody knows in this sport, when it comes to shoulders, he was the guy," Hardy said. "He was a great guy, kind of laid back and did great work."
Hardy didn't see Yocum again until May 5, when the Orioles were in Anaheim and Hardy received a cortisone shot in his left elbow. He was likely one of Yocum's final patients.
"You could tell he wasn't right, but no one really knew what was wrong with him because he didn't want anyone to know," Hardy said.
Over the years, Orioles head athletic trainer Richie Bancells became a professional associate and then a friend of Yocum's. Bancells, a former president of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, said Yocum is one of few to receive honorary PBATS membership. Yocum was instrumental in helping to start the organization's annual conference.
"Dr. Yocum was known as a friend to athletic trainers, because he became very close to us an educator," said Bancells, who is in his 37th year with the Orioles. "It's truly a big loss, a big loss for all athletic trainers."
Bancells had a chance to talk with Yocum in May — and he assumed it likely would be the last time they'd be together. The Angels announced Yocum's death Tuesday.
"It was very obvious [he was terminally ill], but I feel blessed I was able to spend that time, as unfortunate as it was, to spend that time in the weight room and talk to him a little bit," Bancells said.
Yocum wasn't just a shoulder surgeon — he operated on countless injuries during his career, including Miguel Gonzalez's knee a few years ago.
"Now that I hear he has passed away, I feel so bad about that," Gonzalez said. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family. It's part of life, but it hurts."
Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter: "[Yocum] impacted so many players' and athletes' lives. … I'm real proud of the work that he has done making people's lives better for a long time. Sad day."
Around the horn
Tuesday's game at Nationals Park was delayed 81 minutes because of rain. The first pitch was at 8:26 p.m., a 94-mph fastball from 25-year-old Nationals right-hander Nate Karns in his major league debut. … Kevin Gausman (one previous start) and Karns (big league debut) faced off Tuesday with the least amount of big league experience in a starting match-up since Milwaukee's Tyler Thornburg and Toronto's Jesse Chavez on June 19, 2012, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Thornburg and Chavez were both making their debuts in that game. ... Heading into Tuesday, the Orioles had scored five or more runs in 10 consecutive road games, a club record. According to Stats LLC, the Orioles achieved the feat in nine straight road games three times (1971-72, 1998 and 2004-05). … Daniel McCutchen, who had been serving a minor league suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, has been reinstated at Triple-A Norfolk. The Tides also activated outfielder Jason Pridie from the disabled list. … Through their first 51 games, Manny Machado (23), Chris Davis (18) and Adam Jones (17) have hit more doubles than any other player in Orioles' history through the first 51 games of a season. The previous high was 16, done five times, most recently by Nick Markakis in 2009.
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