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Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Opening week injury notes

By Stephania Bell,

Play ball! These words were heard around the country as most teams officially opened their seasons this week. And so it is time for me to resume my regular season of injury blogging. We talked about key injury concerns during the offseason, and I shared some of my observations from training camps in Florida and Arizona, but now that the real deal is here, it is time to monitor how those preseason injuries are progressing (or not), and who is being added to the injury list each week.

We start this season off by welcoming a long absent player back from injury. Of course, because this is the injury blog, we also have to add to the injury list the players who have already gone down early in Week 1.

Welcome back!

Nick Johnson
Nick Johnson is looking good after missing all of 2007 with a broken leg.
Nick Johnson has returned to the lineup in grand style. The Washington Nationals first baseman missed the entire 2007 season after suffering a broken right femur (thigh) in September 2006 as a result of a violent collision with right fielder Austin Kearns. It takes a lot of force to break a femur, and that's what happens when two adults moving at high speed in opposite directions crash into each other. Johnson had a titanium rod and screws placed into the femur to stabilize it, but persistent pain in his hip and knee resulted in subsequent surgery to remove the hardware. After first relearning how to walk, then run, Johnson had to reteach his leg some of the basics of baseball. One of the most challenging skills? Sliding. Imagine leading with that leg, knowing it will come into contact with something -- whether that something is a base or a body -- and overcoming the anxiety of that leg enduring the impact.

Well, Johnson came back with a vengeance, delivering an RBI double in the first inning Sunday and demonstrating confidence in his leg on a slide into second, which occurred without a second thought. It is wonderful to see someone who has been through so much and who has worked so hard to get back to the game be able to succeed. Forget the fact that Johnson's performance helped secure a Nationals victory on Sunday night to open their brand new park, as well as earn another victory Monday. His success was already evident by the fact that he earned the starting position, somewhat ironically, over Dmitri Young, the 2007 National League comeback player of the year. With two great outings to start the season, Johnson is making the Nationals very excited to see what is yet to come from him and his teammates in 2008.

New Injury Worries

Cleveland Indians catcher Victor Martinez folded while trying to run to second when a pitch got away from Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski on Monday. An athlete's instinctive reaction to acute discomfort is to pull back immediately on the speed and grab the leg, a sure sign of a strained or pulled muscle. According to an ESPN report, Martinez, who has what the team is calling tightness in his left hamstring, will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. He is considered day-to-day for the time being. Last year, Martinez strained his left quadriceps on Opening Day and subsequently missed six games. The Indians have to hope this is not the beginning of a trend.

Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano, left, leads the Cubs with eight wins and is second on the team with a 3.01 ERA.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano managed to pitch 6 2/3 innings in Monday's opener but complained of discomfort in his forearm. That was enough for the medical staff. Zambrano exited the mound, perhaps a proactive move to prevent it from becoming a significant problem. According to the Cubs' official Web site, Zambrano was experiencing forearm cramps and is not expected to miss his next start. For his part, Zambrano says he needs to "drink water." Can't hurt.

Kansas City Royals outfielder David DeJesus left Monday's game with a sprained left ankle. Apparently, the ankle had been bothering him all week and was aggravated during the game when he chased down a ball. The Kansas City Star is reporting that X-rays on DeJesus' ankle were negative and that the pain he experienced Monday is not as severe as when he originally injured it March 24. The challenge with sprained ankles is avoiding re-injury while trying to recover, and this is an example of the type of minor aggravation that can set you back. Fortunately, this does not sound serious for DeJesus and should not result in an extended absence.

Washington Nationals pitcher Chad Cordero did not make his anticipated entrance at closing time on Sunday night, leading everyone to wonder what the problem might be. As it turns out, Cordero told The Washington Post that he felt a "sharp pain" that shot down his arm while playing catch before the game. Cordero received a cortisone shot, and the team is calling the injury tendinitis. He is not scheduled to throw before Wednesday at the earliest, and his next attempt at activity should give a better clue as to how serious the shoulder condition is. Sharp pain with throwing is always more of a concern than stiffness or tightness, but until Cordero tests the arm again, there is not much to go on.

Sticking with the Nationals, outfielder Elijah Dukes left Sunday's game with a strained right hamstring, the same hamstring he originally injured in mid-March, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list immediately after the contest. Hamstring injuries can easily become chronic and nagging, so this serves as a tiny red flag for Dukes that he will need to rest this ailment sufficiently and not return too soon. Otherwise, it has the potential to simmer just beneath the surface and crop up intermittently throughout the season.

That's it for the early week injury blog. Be sure to check back later in the week as we take a closer look at the players who started the season on the disabled list and what we can expect from them. As always, we will update any new injuries as well. Good luck to all of you playing fantasy baseball and remember, no matter what happens this week, it's a long season. I'll be with you the whole way.