Spring is a time for fresh starts and the Angels have to hope that their time for starting anew has arrived. Instead of subtracting from their starting rotation, the Angels look to be adding a couple of aces back into the mix quite soon. The Los Angeles Times reports that Ervin Santana and John Lackey could both rejoin the team next week after starting the season on the DL with injuries to their throwing arms. Although no firm commitment to a date has been made, if both pitchers tolerate a couple of minor league starts well, and can work their pitch count up toward the 80s without fading, that would be a signal that they could handle a major league start. Both pitchers have some risk attached to them based on their injuries -- Santana with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and Lackey with a forearm strain -- but both have also been progressing very smoothly through their rehab programs, which has to have the Angels (and fantasy owners everywhere) smiling.
On that note, here's who we're talking about this week in the world of baseball injuries ...
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: It was a scary moment for the Cardinals when Ankiel hit the outfield wall Monday night, with the left side of his face and neck absorbing most of the impact. Ankiel had to be removed from the field with his neck immobilized and on a spine board. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Ankiel was taken to Missouri Baptist Hospital for X-rays and a CT scan to rule out any structural injury (spinal or skull fracture, in particular). Despite checking out "neurologically intact" at the hospital according to the Post-Dispatch, Ankiel was kept overnight for observation, which is never a bad move in the case of head injury to insure that the patient's status does not decline over time. This is one of those occasions when it is important to mention just how critical the on-field response of the medical staff is in terms of both managing the injury at hand in an efficient manner and ensuring that no further damage to the patient is incurred during transport. Well done Cardinals.
As of Tuesday morning the Cardinals received some good news when Ankiel was officially released from the hospital. Originally the injury was described as having all the signs of whiplash, which we usually associate with motor vehicle accidents, but which can occur with any rapid movement of the head and neck through space. The resultant trauma is primarily to the soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) and although not as dramatic as a fracture (broken bone) in the spine, can be equally debilitating in terms of pain, weakness and other associated symptoms. Early reports from the Cardinals Tuesday indicate that everything is "positive" for Ankiel, and he even returned to the ballpark for Tuesday night's game. Ankiel will not play Tuesday and it is unclear at this point just how soon he will return to the lineup. Fantasy owners should keep an eye on his status as it could vary greatly depending upon how much pain and swelling Ankiel is experiencing.
Carlos Zambrano, P, Cubs: Zambrano has been placed on the DL due to a left hamstring strain suffered while trying to run out a bunt. He is certainly not the first pitcher to get hurt while running, but Zambrano's injury and the need to place him on the DL reflect the role of the hamstring in a pitcher's delivery. Since he is a right-handed pitcher, his injured hamstring is on his landing leg. That leg must support his body weight coming over the top while the knee is extended, placing significant load on the hamstring. During follow-through, this position is actually where many pitchers injure their hamstring.
The good news is that the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Cubs believe Zambrano will be able to return from the DL when eligible. Although manager Lou Piniella revealed that Zambrano has a Grade 2 (moderate) strain which can require significant healing time, he also told the Tribune that his tear is "in the belly of the muscle." Because of the strong blood supply to the muscle belly, it tends to heal faster than a tear in the more fibrous, tendinous attachment of the muscle. As long as Zambrano does not force his activity too soon, there is reason to be encouraged here.
Jorge Posada, C, Yankees: Posada has been placed on the DL as a result of a Grade 2 right-sided hamstring injury according to the New York Daily News. Posada missed a couple starts earlier this year due to a strained left hamstring sustained while stretching. On Monday night, after waiting around due to a lengthy rain delay (which is never kind to muscles, especially in cold weather), Posada felt his hamstring "grab" during a slide according to the Yankees' official Web site. After he underwent further tests Tuesday, the decision was made to place Posada on the DL in an effort to allow the muscle to heal properly. It is worth keeping in mind that these Grade 2 (moderate) injuries are highly variable in their healing time; Posada is 37, not 27, so healing is a little slower; and this is not his first hamstring injury. Expect Posada's return to take longer than the 15 days.
Cole Hamels, P, Phillies: If it's not one thing, it's another. Literally. Hamels began the season with inflammation in his throwing elbow and although it did not keep him down long, he got off to a rocky start. Only four weeks into the season Hamels suffered another injury, this time to the lower extremity, spraining his left ankle as he tried to field a bunt Tuesday against the Nationals.
Although the injury does not appear too serious, Hamels' start for this week was pushed back and, as recently as Saturday, general manager Ruben Amaro left open the possibility of a trip to the DL. For those wondering why Hamels can't just tough it out, it probably has more to do with the functional impact of a sprain on a pitcher's ankle than a toughness issue. A pitcher has to be in a single-leg stance -- on each leg -- through the larger part of his windup, delivery and follow-through. Which joint has to bear a majority of the load through that lower limb? The ankle naturally. Since Hamels is a lefty, his left ankle has to control his balance through the windup while he is rotating his body position. Additionally, as he delivers the ball, the majority of his weight transfers to his right leg, but his left foot drags briefly on the ground behind him, which also serves to help with balance and control.
In fact, Amaro told the Philadelphia Inquirer that it was during this foot drag that Hamels continued to feel some soreness in his ankle while throwing a bullpen Saturday. Nonetheless, Hamels is making progress overall. Barring any setbacks, he is expected to throw another bullpen Tuesday and then rejoin the rotation Friday.
On the Mend
Rangers outfielder and inspirational story Josh Hamilton is improving from the bruised rib cage that forced him onto the DL last week. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Hamilton was able to play catch Monday, and while throwing was a nonissue, reaching to make a catch caused some soreness in the healing area. Hamilton described his status as about 85 percent recovered, but was clear that he did not want to return too soon if there was any risk of reinjury. He could swing a bat Wednesday, and if that goes well, his overall activity may be further increased. This is a soft tissue injury and as such, it really comes down to how the player feels during activity that dictates return to play. So far he appears on track to return when eligible next Monday, but fantasy owners should keep an eye out for updates on his activity as this will be a day-to-day assessment.
Braves catcher Brian McCann is expected to come off the DL and rejoin his team Friday in Philadelphia according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been plagued by dryness and blurred vision in his left eye and has been searching for a solution. The good news is that there appears to be one. The Journal-Constitution reports that McCann will be wearing prescription sports glasses for the first time in his career. Whether this is a temporary fix or a permanent one remains to be seen, but McCann, who underwent Lasik surgery following the 2007 season, will use the glasses for now. He has been consulting with specialists since his symptoms began and when new contacts didn't solve the problem, prescription glasses were the next choice. Obviously clear vision is critical to performance behind the plate, not to mention at the plate when swinging the bat. It looks as if he will be able to avoid surgery, at least temporarily, and should be able to pick up where he left off. The plan is for him to get a couple of minor league games in, playing in one as catcher, before he rejoins his team Friday.
Phillies closer Brad Lidge had a good outing on Saturday in his first performance in a week. Lidge, who had been sidelined for a few days with inflammation in his right knee, was able to throw a scoreless ninth inning without pain. In fact, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he had "some real solid mechanics," a welcome relief after his knee-related struggles of just a few days ago. If he can maintain his mechanics and manage his knee well, he should be able to handle the brunt of the workload across the season.
Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to make his first of at least three minor league starts Tuesday according to general manager Theo Epstein, who gave the update while speaking to NESN. The good news here is that Matsuzaka really has had no pain in the shoulder and it is just a matter of building up his pitching endurance.
And finally ...
Some folks have had Orioles catcher Matt Wieters stashed away on their fantasy bench hoping for a call-up sometime this season. Those who have been following him know that he suffered a hamstring injury while running to first in mid-April. The good news is that his hamstring strain was considered mild and it did not keep him down long. He has already proved that he can run the bases and play behind the plate, so it is just a matter of when the Orioles decide that they need him in the mix. The injury will not be the decision-maker here as it appears to be behind him.