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Rollins leads parade of infielders on DL

4/15/2010

The term "15-day DL" can be so misleading. Sure, we know once a player has been placed on this disabled list we won't see him in the lineup for at least 15 days. But it really gives us no idea as to the true severity of the injury. Some injuries simply require time beyond the allotted 15 days for sufficient healing. For many athletes, returning to play requires restoration of strength, conditioning and timing in addition to recovery from the injury itself, so that can translate to extended time.

To further complicate matters, the date the decision is made to place an athlete on the DL may not be the day the countdown clock starts ticking. A team can make a DL designation retroactive to the day following the last game in which the player appeared. Sometimes this happens when an injury that initially seemed would limit a player for just a few days turns out to be a little more problematic. It may also be used when a team wants to give a player who is progressing well a little extra time before returning to competition. In other words, a move to the DL does not necessarily indicate that an athlete's injury is worrisome.

How to make sense of it all then? Except for obvious injuries (such as broken bones or knee ligament tears) that immediately force a player to the DL, there are often clues that emerge before a team decides to place an athlete on that list. There are also hints throughout the course of an athlete's rehab that signal whether he will require additional time beyond those 15 days before returning to the lineup. We look for those clues and share them with you right here, week in and week out. After all, your fantasy roster is only as good as the guys who are actually playing.

We start this week by looking at the injuries that have befallen middle infielders around the league and ask the question, "Just how concerned should you be?"

Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (15-day DL, April 13): When he pulled up with calf pain during pregame sprints in the outfield Monday, Rollins had to be thinking to himself, "I was out there warming up just so this type of thing WOULDN'T happen ..."

But, alas, it did. Rollins strained his right calf muscle and subsequently underwent an MRI on Tuesday which, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, confirmed the severity of the injury. He has been placed on the 15-day DL, but the Phillies are acknowledging up front that they expect this injury may require more time, indicating that Rollins is likely to be sidelined for two to four weeks.

Rollins is sporting a protective boot that controls ankle movement and allows the calf to rest. Since rest is a critical element of recovery, it would not be surprising to see this injury keep Rollins out closer to the four-week end of the timetable.

The calf muscle is necessary for any hitter to push off when running, particularly when driving out of the batter's box or when getting a jump on a steal. The explosive defensive maneuvers Rollins has to make at his position also place high demand on the calf. Once the initial inflammatory phase has passed, many athletes feel as if they are ready to return to competition, only to discover that explosive movements still lack power or cause discomfort. The risk at that point is that it is easy to overdo those movements and suffer a setback, turning a few weeks of recovery into potentially months. Fantasy owners and Phillies fans will need to be patient with Rollins' return in the hopes that once he's back, the injury is truly behind him.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles (15-day DL, April 10): There was concern this spring that Roberts' ailing back might prevent him from being able to start the season. That turned out to not be the case.

Less than a week into the season, Roberts suffered a different injury, an abdominal strain. He hurt himself while stealing second against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, and he also managed to aggravate his lower back in the process. As a result, Roberts received an epidural injection Monday, according to The Baltimore Sun, his second this year to help calm symptoms associated with the herniated disk in his back. Roberts has been advised to rest for several days to allow the symptoms to calm down. He will then gradually be reintroduced to exercise with an eventual progression toward baseball activities.

Manager Dave Trembley has already warned that Roberts is expected to be out longer than the 15 days, not surprising given the nature of his injuries. The bigger concern is just how reliable Roberts' health will be once he does return. Disk problems are notoriously chronic in nature and Roberts has really not been 100 percent healthy this year. He entered spring training with back pain and, despite making significant improvements as Opening Day neared, he clearly was not completely out of the woods. His will likely be a tenuous situation and even when he does return, fantasy owners should keep a backup stashed on their bench.

Aaron Hill, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (15-day DL, retroactive to April 6): Hill was placed on the DL because of a strained right hamstring, but according to ESPN reports, Hill indicated that if it were a different point in the season he "could" play. While acknowledging that his hamstring was tender enough to keep him from going at full speed, Hill, who ran the bases Monday before game time, did not seem overly concerned about his injury. At this point, it appears Hill will come off the DL when eligible next week.

There's every reason for the team to err on the side of caution with this one. A mild hamstring strain can certainly benefit from a little extra rest. Aggravating it by pushing too fast can just as easily turn a mild ailment into a season-compromising injury. The good news for Hill owners is that the conservative approach taken by the team here may pay off down the road.

Mark Ellis, 2B, Oakland A's: Another second baseman, another hamstring injury. Ellis was hurt Sunday trying to beat out a grounder in the eighth inning. Soreness in his left hamstring kept him out of Monday's game.

On the plus side, Ellis himself said he expected to be out for only "a couple of days." According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Ellis reports that the hamstring is feeling better and he could return to the lineup Thursday. On the minus side, Ellis had some hamstring issues during the spring as well, so fantasy owners should be mindful that this may not be the last of it.

Jayson Werth, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: There were a couple of minor injuries this week that struck outfielders (more listed below). Werth injured his left hip running out of the batter's box in the fourth inning on Monday. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Werth said his removal from the game was precautionary. He added that he expected to miss only a few days, calling the injury "no big deal."

So far Werth's assessment appears accurate in that he is expected back in the regular lineup Thursday following a pinch hitting appearance Wednesday. The Phillies are hoping that one player to the DL this week is enough.

Chris Young, SP, San Diego Padres (15-day DL, retroactive to 4/7): Before fantasy owners start griping that this is the injury-prone Chris Young from years past, take a deep breath and remember that not all DL stints are created equal.

Remember, Young is coming off offseason surgery to debride the labrum in his throwing shoulder. He had an uneventful rehab and steady return to throwing, and had a successful first outing in the Padres' home opener. After that game, Young felt some discomfort and was sensible enough to recognize that he did not need to push it now. As he pointed out, these mini-setbacks typically happen during spring training but his just happened a little further into his throwing progression.

Caution in the early season could well be the difference in keeping Young on the mound more than off it this year. He expects to be ready to take his turn in the rotation when eligible.

Brian Fuentes, RP, Los Angeles Angels (15-day DL, retroactive to 4/6): This is one of those situations where the date is important. Although the move was announced Wednesday, it has been made retroactive to eight days prior. Fuentes, who has been placed on the DL because of a back strain, is eligible to return next week. The Angels can't be especially concerned about Fuentes' injury given the retroactive date but likely feel he will benefit from a few more days off. Fernando Rodney is the closer in the interim but it sounds as if the team does not anticipate that lasting long.

Mike Gonzalez, RP, Baltimore Orioles (15-day DL, retroactive to 4/10): Gonzalez has had a rough start to 2010; the Orioles decided Wednesday to place him on the DL. After an up-and-down spring training Gonzalez struggled early in the season, picking up a pair of blown saves. Now we learn that he has a shoulder strain. While the seriousness of his current injury is unclear, it's worth noting that Gonzalez dealt with issues in his back this spring that seemed to impact his velocity. The hope is that he has not suffered an injury as a result of some compensatory adjustments. His status is worth watching.

Extras

Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury dodged a bullet -- but not teammate Adrian Beltre's knee -- Sunday. The collision was enough to take Ellsbury's breath away and he ended up with a rib contusion but fortunately no fractures. Lingering soreness has caused him to miss a few days but he should be able to avoid a trip to the DL.

Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is another player dealing with "tightness" in his hamstring, leaving Sunday's game early after feeling the discomfort in his left hamstring. He has not played in the two games since. According to The Denver Post, Gonzalez was available only for emergency situations, as he could still not run the bases effectively. While so far it appears that he will avoid the DL, there are no guarantees as to when he may return to the starting lineup.

• The Seattle Mariners' Cliff Lee is hoping he will debut for his new team in early May. Lee has thrown a couple of bullpen sessions where he has looked strong and been pain-free. The next goal is a simulated game late this week. He will still need to build up his arm endurance, but so far, so good.

• Los Angeles Angels pitcher Scott Kazmir, who started the season on the DL with a mild hamstring strain, is expected to start Thursday against the New York Yankees. Nothing like jumping in feetfirst.

From my mailbag

Luke (Monroe, Conn.): Hi Stephania, I'm trying to decide if Lance Berkman is just dead weight, even on my DL. I am in a 10-team mixed league with 2 DL slots, and right now I am carrying Berkman and Erik Bedard on my DL with Ted Lilly occupying a bench spot even though he is on the DL. My staff is good enough that I can get by with Lilly on the bench for a few weeks, but the more I read about Berkman, the more it seems to me like he is not going to be nearly the player he has been for his career, and maybe not even the player he was last year. ... What kind of player to you project Berkman to be this year, assuming he comes back fully healthy and has no complications? In other words, best case scenario? If he's anything less than a 25-HR, 100-RBI guy, I doubt he's worth my bench spot since I don't have anywhere to play him full time.

Stephania Bell: You are certainly right about there being a lot of questions about Berkman, given the start to his season. This week there were some encouraging signs in that he has made some progress with his activity. After having persistent issues with fluid in his left knee following March arthroscopic surgery (which required having his knee drained multiple times), Berkman was able to begin some light running Monday. The key to him returning next week will be whether the swelling stays down as he continues to increase his activity. And that's a big if ...

Your question is a tough one because I'm not convinced his return will be completely smooth. While there may not be any obvious outward signs of trouble once he is able to get back in the lineup, he could be in a situation where the team opts to rest him more frequently to protect the knee. He may also have less power at the plate initially if his leg strength is not 100 percent. He may be well enough to play but it still may take him time to perform like the Lance Berkman you drafted. I'm not convinced he'll reach the targets you've set for him, so you may want to re-evaluate your bench spots.

If you have any other injury questions you want answered in the blog, drop a note in my mailbag, or stop by my Tuesday chats.