Buddy Carlyle made his major league debut for the San Diego Padres in August 1999. Earlier this month, he won a start for the New York Mets.
In a span of 19 seasons in pro baseball, the Bellevue East grad has also pitched for the Dodgers, Braves and Yankees (in addition to stints in Korea, Japan and the American minor leagues).
“I’m getting old,” Carlyle said from Las Vegas, where the Class AAA affiliate of the Mets was preparing for a game.
He’s done it all without a notable injury to his arm or elbow. Why has Carlyle, 36, avoided season-ending surgery when so many major leaguers are breaking down? We asked him.
“It’s a good question. I train a lot, but I haven’t lifted an upper-body weight in 12 years. I do band work. Curls with bands, triceps with bands, back with bands. It’s hard, you’re still working it pretty good.
“I just think guys are lifting too much with upper-body weights. That’s just my opinion, I’m not a doctor. Guys didn’t lift in the ’70s and ’80s nearly as much upper body. Starting even in high school, guys are lifting a lot upper body. ... They’re losing their flexibility. When you’re throwing with that kind of velocity and all your other muscles are so strong, maybe that just puts too much wear on your smaller ligaments. I’m a huge believer in flexibility of the upper body.”
“It doesn’t make you look very good for the beach, but I think it’s functional when you pitch.”
Q: How much throwing do you do?
BC: “I like to stretch out my arm every single day. I probably play long toss four times a week during the season, really far, probably 280 to 300 feet. I go back fast and I come in fast. I don’t sit there and throw forever. I stretch it out and come back in. I feel like a lot of guys in pro ball, they lift a lot and they don’t play catch as much.”
Q: Does this correlate to more strenuous pitch counts in games and bullpen sessions?
BC: “No, the pitching is different. This is just playing catch. I’m saying professional pitchers don’t stretch out their arms when they’re playing catch. They go to like 90 feet, then they bring it back in. I will play long toss a lot. I see a lot of guys that don’t do that. I see a lot of guys that baby their arms as far as playing catch every day. I’m not talking about throwing a lot of pitches in the bullpen, because that’s a different amount of stress.”
Q: What else is part of your routine?
BC: “The last couple years, I’ve been doing the weighted ball velocity program. That’s where I get a lot of my velocity. I do it every single day right now. There’s a two-pound (ball), one-pound, six-ounce, five-ounce, four-ounce, a towel and just your hand. I have a program I do with holds. You go through your motion and then I actually hold on to the ball. I did it two years ago when people didn’t know anything about it. That seemed to helped me a lot.”
Q: What’s the theory behind it?
BC: “A lot of it actually started with tennis players. They watched tennis players who had a lot of the same motions. They held onto the racket and never had shoulder problems. They have tennis elbow sometimes, but their shoulders never bothered them. Last year I was 35 and I thought, you know, I have nothing to lose, if this doesn’t work and it hurts my arm, I’m probably done anyway. So I did it and last year my arm felt great all year and my velocity was at an all-time high. ... In the fifth or sixth inning every day, if I’m a relief pitcher, I go in for five to 10 minutes. One set I do from my knees, the next set I do from a rocker position, the next set I do a crow hop and I hold onto the balls as I do the throwing motion.”
Q: What impact do you think increased velocity has played on injury trends? Guys are throwing harder than ever.
BC: “They are throwing harder. You look at a lot of guys that have it, it’s the power throwers. I don’t know. I think velocity at a younger age gets a little bit overrated. The radar gun has ruined a lot of pitchers. Even in pro ball, I think there would be better pitchers that go to the major leagues if they got rid of the radar gun. They take the guy who throws 97 instead of the guy who maybe throws in the high-80s but gets more outs.”
Q: What’s your fastball velocity?
BC: “This year, I’ve been pretty consistently 89 to 93. Last year, at 35, I actually peaked out my velocity. I was hitting 95 and pitching 91 to 94 most of the summer. I’m not getting any younger, but if I can still pitch in the low 90s in my late 30s, I’m pretty happy about it.”
Q: Are some bodies just more conducive to healthy pitching than others?
BC: “That, too. And then a lot of guys, when they’re throwing in the high 90s and then are able to throw a 90-mph slider, the amount of torque on your elbow when you’re throwing a 90-mph slider is incredible. So maybe I was blessed to have really, really poor off-speed pitches that I don’t use that much. Maybe that’s why my elbow has never really hurt. That’s also probably the reason why I’ve spent so much time in the minor leagues.”