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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
10Q/10D: Will Sox be healthy enough?

By Gordon Edes



(Editor's note: This is the sixth installment in our "10 Questions in 10 Days" series leading into the Boston Red Sox's spring training, which officially kicks off Feb. 19, when pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report.)

BOSTON -- The Red Sox don’t need a primer in wrist injuries, not when two of their biggest stars in the last 15 years, Nomar Garciaparra and David Ortiz, were lost to the team for significant stretches of time when they hurt their wrists.

Carl Crawford
Can Carl Crawford, coming off wrist surgery, bounce back from his rough entry into Boston?
Garciaparra, who had won back-to-back batting titles, was never the same after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his wrist in 2001, a season in which he missed all but 21 games.

Ortiz, two years after hitting a club-record 54 home runs, went on the disabled list twice and missed nearly two months in 2008 with what was diagnosed as a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. Ortiz opted not to undergo surgery, choosing rest and rehabilitation, but got off to a terrible start in 2009, attributed in part to continuing soreness in his wrist.

Jed Lowrie does not share star quality with either Garciaparra or Ortiz, but wrist issues cost the former Sox shortstop the better part of two seasons, as he played most of 2008 with what was ultimately diagnosed as a fractured left wrist, requiring season-ending surgery the following April. Even last season, Lowrie continued to ice the wrist after most games.

So the Red Sox have cause to tread carefully with left fielder Carl Crawford, who in January surprised the team with news that swinging a bat in offseason work was causing pain in his left wrist. The team and player decided after Crawford had an MRI that surgery was warranted, and shortly thereafter he underwent arthroscopic surgery performed by hand specialist Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

The surgery was a response to damage to the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC), according to Sox general manager Ben Cherington, and Crawford likely will miss the start of the season. That is not an optimal scenario for a player coming off the worst season of his career, his first after signing a seven-year, $142 million contract, but Cherington insists Crawford will be available for most of the schedule.

The TFCC, located on the ulnar (pinky finger) side of the wrist, functions as a shock absorber and stabilizes the bones of the wrist, enabling smooth movement of the wrist joint. The TFCC is important for activities that require wrist rotation, such as swinging a bat. Damage typically is caused by a traumatic episode, such as using the hand to brace a fall or by overuse that can come from swinging a bat.

Crawford reported after the season that his wrist was not an issue, Cherington said, which would seem to rule out a single episode, but that’s just a guess. The surgery, the GM said, was a debridement, which means a smoothing of unstable fragments of cartilage in the wrist. There were no tears, Cherington said, that required more extensive repair.

Typically, the recovery period lasts six to eight weeks before a player is able to resume baseball activities. Cherington said he expects Crawford will be swinging a bat sometime during spring training, but again, it is safe to assume the new Sox medical team will proceed with caution.

Crawford’s injury is the most significant health issue facing the Red Sox this spring. Outfielder Ryan Kalish, who had neck and shoulder issues last season and underwent surgery in November to repair a torn labrum, is not expected back until June at the earliest. Pitcher Clay Buchholz, limited to 14 starts last season with what was ultimately diagnosed as a stress fracture in his lower back, is said to be fully recovered and primed to reclaim his spot in the starting rotation.

More uncertain is the status of reliever Bobby Jenks, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal a year ago but appeared in just 19 games last season because of back problems and a biceps strain. Jenks was forced to shut it down when a pulmonary embolism was discovered, then after the season underwent surgery for a spinal compression. The Sox say they expect Jenks to compete for a bullpen spot in camp, but it remains to be seen where he is in his recovery.

Coming Wednesday -- Can Jacoby Ellsbury duplicate his success from last season?