Lakeland, Fla. — Travis Wood may never actually throw a pitch for the Tigers, but in a few short weeks, he’s become a spring training legend.
Wood, a non-roster invitee, showed up for camp with a pin and splint on the index finger of his right, non-pitching hand. The finger had almost been severed in two when the Ravin crossbow he was loading up malfunctioned.
He asked the doctor if it would speed up the recovery process if the finger was amputated. He was dead serious.
“Oh God,” manager Ron Gardenhire said when he heard that story. “Let’s be a little more patient here. Let’s go ahead and keep the finger. Baseball will come along pretty quick. I appreciate his valor.
“I guess that’s the way we’ll put it — valor. In Oklahoma we call that stupidity.”
Turns out, that was just the first example of Wood’s toughness.
He was finally cleared to pitch in a game this week and, in his first outing on Thursday, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee. But get this: he pitched his second inning of work after he tore the ACL.
“It really happened on the last pitch of the first inning,” Wood said Saturday, as he cleared out his locker. He is expected to have season-ending surgery on the knee next week. “I felt it pop.”
But he went back into the dugout between innings, stretched it out, did some calf raises and thought everything was OK — just something in the knee needed to pop, he thought. Then he threw his first warm-up pitch before his second inning of work and knew he was in trouble.
“I tried to push off and I couldn’t,” he said. “It hurt, but I was already out there. I just said, I will figure this out and we’ll get through the inning and see what’s going on. I could still throw strikes, I just didn’t have any velocity because I couldn’t push off.
“But I could still throw strikes so I figured I could get through the inning and then figure out where we are at.”
He did, but at the cost of his meniscus. With one out and a runner on second, Wood snared a line drive and then trapped the base runner in rundown. As he tried to plant and cut to back up second base, the knee gave out completely — the meniscus torn, along with the ACL.
“I talked to the trainers after and they said I’d pretty much already torn the ACL on the last pitch of the first inning,” Wood said. “So there was nothing there. When I stopped to plant my foot, there was nothing there to hold the knee together.”
Last season, Alex Wilson threw a warm-up pitch with a broken leg. And now Wood pitched a complete inning on a torn ACL.
“Just one of those things,” Wood said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, but I will come back from it.”
The timetable on recovering from this type of surgery is typically eight months.
“We’ll see about that,” he said. “You can’t really rush Mother Nature. But there was no rhyme or reason for this. I had no pre-existing knee injury or anything. It was just that time; I had it coming, I guess.”