There are injuries that take time to heal. There are injuries that take a lot of time to heal. And then there are torn labrums, which take a lot of time and even more luck.
Luck might not be the right word. But there's an uncertainty about labrum tears and shoulder injuries in general that makes them especially ominous when they happen to pitchers. Michael Pineda's career might not be over, but it's hard to imagine worse injury news. In 2004, Will Carroll described labrum injuries thusly:
But if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they'd be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle.
Even more ominous: Biddle's career ended a few months after that article was published. The article goes into great detail about the perils of shoulder injuries for pitchers.
But it is 2012, not 2004, so it's safe to assume that some progress has been made over the last decade. Bartolo Colon is a major-league pitcher again -- and a good one -- because he was injected with stem cells. Alex Rodriguez is playing with the help of his own centrifuge-spun blood. So it follows that medical science has advanced with regards to labrums as well.
Chris Carpenter is a famous success story, coming back after labrum surgery to star with the Cardinals and become something of a workhorse. Perhaps the best recovery from a labrum injury in baseball history was Curt Schilling, who had a labral tear repaired in 1995, before he was a star pitcher. If you are not squeamish -- I mean if you're really not squeamish -- you can look at pictures of Schilling's second labrum surgery and read his accompanying writeup:
This first picture is my labrum. This actually looks rather innocent until you realize this. That white wispy cotton looking material is my labrum and that solid bone thing to the right is my bone at the joint. The white wispy thing is supposed to be adhered to the bone and NOT all frayed and floating. Basically I had a torn labrum from about 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock.
If you're the squeamish type and you still click on that link after reading that, you have only yourself to blame.
Pineda will not be back for a long time, that much is a given. And there is no shortage of scary names associated with labrum surgery -- Robb Nen, Ben Sheets, Brandon Webb -- but there are also success stories like Carpenter, Schilling (the first time), and Ted Lilly. It's about a year or two too early to know a whole lot more.
But Pineda has one of the few injuries in baseball that doesn't have a great history of recovery, nor does it have an exact timetable to follow. The shoulder is still a pitcher's worst nightmare