When Jarrett Gardner's younger brother tore his anterior cruciate ligament last year, Gardner did what any older brother would do.
"I rode him pretty hard," the Augusta GreenJackets pitcher said.
Little did he know that less than a year later his brother would get the chance for payback.
Gardner woke up June 30, the morning after the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, and couldn't move his left knee.
"It just felt like I was going to puke every time I tried to bend my knee, it hurt that bad," he said.
An MRI showed that Gardner had partially torn the ACL in his left knee. His doctor said he thought it had been torn for a while. That was news to Gardner, who can't recall injuring his knee. Lucky for Gardner and the GreenJackets, the injury won't require surgery, as long as he continues to pitch without pain.
The right-hander did miss one start because of the injury, but anti-inflammatory medicine and rest helped alleviate the pain and Gardner was back on the mound July 8 against the Greensboro Bats.
Not before his brother got a little revenge, though.
"He laughed at me and was like, 'See, now you can't give me any crap because you know how bad it hurts,' " Gardner said.
The Bats beat Gardner and the GreenJackets 5-1, but Gardner gave up only two earned runs and made it six innings and experienced no pain. The Bats beat Gardner again Wednesday, this time racking up six runs in 3q innings. The Bats won 8-3 and handed the Boston Red Sox farmhand his third loss in a row.
The All-Star was 8-2 before running into the Bats in his last three starts. His ERA has jumped from 1.66 to 2.74 during the slide. Gardner (8-5) has struck out 59 and walked just six in 85q innings.
Augusta manager Chad Epperson was a little worried when he heard Gardner was injured, but when he learned it wasn't season-ending, the coach relaxed. "He's not going to back down from anything," Epperson said. "That's just the kind of makeup he's got."
Gardner's story features some similarities to former USC Aiken star Ashley Farr's. Both are elite baseball players and both unknowingly injured their ACLs.
But that's where the differences start. Farr signed with the Cincinnati Reds in May, but a routine physical showed a completely torn ACL. The Reds voided his contract and sent him home even though Farr had never shown symptoms of the injury.
Farr had surgery and is rehabbing his knee at his parents' home in West Columbia, S.C.
Ben Cherington, Boston's director of player development, said Gardner would have surgery only if he becomes symptomatic again. Gardner's hoping that time doesn't come."It's not the surgery I'd mind, it's the rehab," Gardner said. "Ö I don't want to spend my entire offseason trying to get back into shape, when I could be getting in better shape."
There's no way to know whether a partial tear will turn into an ACL rupture, according to Dr. Jeffrey Guy, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of South Carolina's Sports Medicine Center. Guy operated on Farr and said his experience with partially torn ACLs is varied, but that athletes who have suffered ACL injuries are more likely to suffer complete tears.
Guy had two South Carolina athletes experience similar partial tears at the same time. One rehabbed and never had to have surgery, while the other had to have his knee surgically repaired.
"You have to go by function," said Guy, who is not familiar with Gardner's case. "If they can do what they're doing, let them go."
For now, that's the plan for Gardner.
Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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