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When will key 60-day DL guys return?

6/1/2010

With the season approaching 60 days old, it seemed like a good time to take a look at a few key players relegated to the 60-day DL, either before or since Opening Day. Many fantasy owners are re-evaluating their rosters, wondering whether it's time to fish or cut bait. Naturally there's still uncertainty involved, but there has also been some activity to report, although it tends to be in such small increments that it goes unnoticed.

In many cases, it will depend on just how deep a roster you have, or how badly that roster has been bitten by the injury bug. If your team has been lucky enough to avoid serious injury, you may want to hang on to one of these guys in the hopes that he can give you a spark late in the season. If you need help NOW, then it's time to consider purging your DL sheet to make room for an up-and-comer.

Either way, here are the rumblings floating around regarding four noteworthy fantasy players along with my two cents as to how optimistic teams should be about their returns.

Brandon Webb, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (60-day DL, April 4): Ever since Webb suffered a setback post-operatively, there has been little reason for optimism. He has not been able to progress successfully to throwing off a mound, the key hurdle for Webb, since his original injury in April 2009.

In the latest effort to get Webb on a trajectory that would return him to the playing field, he recently spent time in Birmingham, Ala., with physical therapist Kevin Wilk, according to the Diamondbacks' website. Wilk, who works closely with Dr. James Andrews, is known for working with high-level athletes, and throwers in particular. Webb also has a history with Wilk, having spent some time with him last year. Plus, the Diamondbacks' head athletic trainer, Ken Crenshaw, is highly regarded among many medical personnel who treat baseball players. This type of collaboration between practitioners is not unusual -- and is, in fact, praiseworthy -- especially when a team is faced with a challenging case.

During the biomechanical evaluative process in Birmingham, Webb reportedly received confirmation of what he had suspected regarding his arm angle; he has been throwing with a much higher arm angle than he had pre-surgery. Sometimes after an injury or surgery, the involved limb loses some of its proprioceptive ability or understanding of where it is in space. No matter how complete the range of motion or how strong the body part, regaining this sense of body awareness is critical to peak performance. The question ultimately is how significant of a factor this is in Webb's overall progression, but given the impact on how the body delivers the ball, Webb has to make the adjustment. So Webb will return to Arizona no doubt with a few tweaks to his rehab program and some attention to his mechanics in the hope that he will be able to regain his form.

It's still impossible to predict just what sort of timetable this sets up for Webb at this point in the season but fantasy owners can assume that the word "soon" is not in the picture.

Erik Bedard, SP, Seattle Mariners (60-day DL, retroactive to March 26): In news that's not necessarily news to longtime Bedard followers, Bedard suffered a setback during his rehab from shoulder surgery. To be fair, Bedard had been making terrific progress and was, in fact, ahead of schedule following his labral repair up until mid-May when he began feeling discomfort in his shoulder. That said, in the inaugural blog of the season, Bedard's long-standing history of soft tissue injuries was noted, making getting excited in April about a possible June return seem a little premature.

Bedard did travel with the team to Anaheim this weekend and threw a side session Friday. It went well enough that he was throwing again Monday (long toss, according to the Tacoma News-Tribune). If all continues uneventfully, Bedard will next progress to throwing bullpens. Prior to his setback, Bedard had thrown several bullpens and a simulated game. It was after his April simulated game that he began feeling discomfort and was transferred to the 60-day DL. Given the marks he still has to meet and the endurance he needs to build in his pitching arm, it's tough to imagine a pre-All-Star break return for Bedard.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles (60-day DL, April 10): Roberts must have walked under a ladder, stepped on cracks or double-crossed a black cat. Something has to explain the horrible string of bad luck he has dealt with since, truth be told, before the season started.

Roberts' back was problematic during spring training, but then it appeared he was out of the woods ... for a few days. Then on an awkward slide he suffered an abdominal strain and aggravated the back injury. Since then we have detailed his slow progress and setbacks (stomach pain that led to an endoscopy, and most recently a bout of pneumonia) on multiple occasions.

This week I am thrilled to report some positive news for Roberts! After just being cleared last week to resume baseball activities post-pneumonia, Roberts, working out at the team's complex in Florida, was able to take live batting practice and field ground balls from second according to the Orioles' website. Manager Dave Trembley went so far as to say "It's a good sign." Wow. That's going out on a limb.

Given the time Roberts has had, it's not surprising that no one -- from Roberts to Trembley -- wants to read too much into a good workout. Roberts is eligible to come off the DL on June 9, but as the Orioles' site indicates, the team anticipates that he will need some more time. After all, he has been away from the game for two months already, has been hospitalized, received spinal epidural injections and without a doubt has lost significant conditioning. If there's anything that's going to help protect his back from another major episode, it's strong core muscles and physical endurance. In fact, it would not be surprising if his return does not come until closer to the All-Star break. Every day will be a test so there are no guarantees at this stage. But at least we're talking about what Roberts is doing, instead of what he's not.

Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets: (60-day DL, retroactive to March 26): Beltran has been ever so slowly working his way back from January knee surgery to address cartilage damage in his knee.

We have maintained all along that the big tests for Beltran would come when he began running, and so far he has passed the preliminaries. He recently acknowledged that he has been able to run without pain, something he had not been able to do for months. But he is moving slowly, perhaps more slowly than even Beltran anticipated, although it is not without good reason. David Lennon of Newsday recently reported that Beltran acknowledged that he was given the choice of undergoing microfracture surgery in January -- which would certainly have pre-empted any chance at playing in 2010 -- or undergoing a less complex procedure to smooth the cartilage surface and give him an opportunity to return. He chose the latter but it underscores the point we've been making since before the season started; his knee is not pristine and thus must be treated carefully.

So far, Beltran has done light running but as of late last week, as the Newark Star-Ledger reported, he had not yet been cleared for baseball activities. General manager Omar Minaya reiterated what he had said a month ago: Beltran will need approximately four to six weeks after he is cleared for such activities before he will be able to return to the team.

Fantasy owners should automatically assume that this will take him beyond the All-Star break, but we will look for hints that he is actually increasing his activity and making progress toward a return.

In brief:

Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland Indians: He will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee. After consulting with several specialists, the plan is for Sizemore to undergo a scope, at which point it will be determined how extensive a procedure is ultimately required. The minimum time he is expected to miss is six weeks, but as we have seen before (like Carlos Beltran above), these situations can be tough to predict. If Sizemore does end up having microfracture surgery, his season will be over.

Kendry Morales, 1B, Los Angeles Angels: Morales, who went from ecstasy to agony in the blink of an eye when he broke his ankle during celebration for a walk-off grand slam Saturday, still has not been able to undergo surgery. According to the Associated Press, Morales' injured ankle remains too swollen for doctors to operate. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Angels' medical staff has suggested the possibility of a return for Morales this season, but the rehab clock has yet to begin ticking because of the delay.

Once the fracture has healed, Morales will need to regain his range of motion and strength, which is often more difficult than the healing of the bone itself when it comes to the ankle. Progressive weight bearing and increasingly demanding drills precede a return to baseball activities and then rehab games will follow. Depending on the precise location of the break, whether it is a clean fracture or whether there are multiple fragments, and the associated surgical procedure, the timetable can be quite variable, but this is more than a 15-day DL stint, with the descriptor more likely to be "months" than "weeks." Stay tuned.

Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees: He may yet prove all of us medical folks wrong. (We actually don't mind when that happens in the positive direction because it means someone is doing better than expected!) Posada appears to indeed be ahead of schedule in a return from a hairline fracture he suffered in his right foot as a result of a foul tip. The Newark Star-Ledger reports that he ran on the field Monday, and manager Joe Girardi says there's not much more he needs to do, other than prove that he still feels fine the day afterward. Posada may avoid a rehab assignment so he could return to the team within days, not weeks. While running is certainly impressive, there are different stresses on the foot associated with playing the position of catcher so the team may want to see him catch a few innings behind the plate before clearing him. Nonetheless, Posada owners want to keep an eye on him as he is eligible to come off the DL late this week.

Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: And why not end on a high note? Ethier was back in the lineup Monday, coming off the DL as soon as eligible despite a still-healing finger fracture. As noted in last week's blog, it's a credit to some creative thinking on the part of the Dodgers' medical staff (and their collaboration with the Lakers' medical staff) that the timetable for Ethier's absence was shortened by as much as a month. Don't be too concerned by his lack of productivity the first night back. The fact he has barely missed a beat swinging the bat since his injury occurred will undoubtedly help him return to form sooner rather than later. He will wear the splint for the foreseeable future as the finger continues to heal.