Shoulder Injury Ends Season for Ruckle

Ruckle had a 1-3 record before his injury

After three successful years splitting time as a starter and relief pitcher, Jake Ruckle has encountered the first prolonged setback of his career. Known for his unique delivery, Ruckle now faces the premise of a long rehabilitation after he was given the news that shoulder surgery was necessary.

[Photo by Heith Tracy-Bronson]

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Binghamton Mets' starting pitcher Jake Ruckle didn't make it out of the second inning against the visiting Connecticut Defenders on May 4 as he battled a hurt throwing shoulder. What the nearly 22-year-old right-hander didn't know at the time was that he had actually suffered a torn labrum and would not be able to pitch again in 2008.

Ruckle said he was to undergo surgery Tuesday and would need six to eight months of rehab before returning, prematurely ending a season that had already been rough statistically.

"It's crushing, but I got to get it taken care of," Ruckle said.

"Any time you lose one of your young guys for the season, it's sad," said B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras.

The 6-foot-1 Ruckle was a 41st round draft-and-follow pick by the Mets in the 2004 draft. He entered 2008, his first season at Double-A and his third pro season, off a strong campaign as both a starter and reliever with High-A St. Lucie last year. He finished 2007 with a 6-6 record, a 3.48 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 85 1/3 innings.

But after throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings in his first start with the B-Mets and allowing two runs in his second, Ruckle started to struggle. He allowed less than five runs in just one of his last four starts. The troubles could have been because of the injury, however, which he said was not a sudden thing and was misdiagnosed as tendonitis at first.

"It's just wear and tear, nothing particular," Ruckle said. "Just happened over the course of the years."

Ruckle went on the disabled list in the days following his poor start against Connecticut, but he and the team didn't learn the severity of the injury until he returned to New York City for an MRI on May 12. It's unknown when the labrum actually tore.

As a pitcher who doesn't make his living off of radar gun readings, Ruckle adopted an unorthodox and deceptive delivery earlier in his career on the advice of a scout. The motion adds an element of surprise to all of his four pitches—sinking fastball, curveball, slider and changeup—but mostly to his sinker.

"It improves his fastball," said B-Mets catcher Rafael Arroyo. "A lot of guys don't see that everyday. That deception definitely helps."

An unusual delivery can also mean that Ruckle was putting unnecessary strain on his arm and shoulder with every pitch. However, he doesn't think that was the case.

"That's not it; it comes pretty easy, it's comfortable now," Ruckle says. "I just try to flail my arm up in the air."

Ruckle enjoys starting more than relieving, but said he is happy to do both. Next season, he hopes he can continue the game plan he established this season with B-Mets pitching coach Ricky Bones.

"Ruckle recognizes himself and he doesn't try to overthrow," Bones said. "He needs to change speeds and locate with his fastball; he's got a plus changeup and plus curve. It's a matter of being able to compete and not overdo it."

But with major surgery, there is always fear that one will return and simply be physically unable to compete on the same level as before.

"You don't want a teammate, let alone a friend to have to go under the knife," said fellow B-Mets starting pitcher and Ruckle's housemate, Eric Brown. "You never know what's going to happen. I told him to keep his head up and work hard to get back, and hopefully he'll come back 100 percent."

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