A handful of top players could be back in action right after the All-Star break. Let's take a look at some players lingering on your DL who could be back in your lineup sooner rather than later.
• Now that Lance Berkman is back with the St. Louis Cardinals, the hope is that he'll be back on the playing field in the not-too-distant future. Berkman is recovering from meniscus surgery (remember when the worry was that he might have retorn his ACL?) and was originally projected to return in 8-10 weeks.
He recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his knee was "over the surgery," suggesting he merely needed to get in baseball shape. Getting the conditioning back is truly part of getting past the surgery, but to be fair, Berkman has undergone multiple procedures on his knees over the years and has a pretty good idea of what it takes. He sounds optimistic about a return shortly after the All-Star break. It may turn out to be a little slower going for his knee once he gets back into action, but it certainly appears the Cardinals will have him available in mid-July.
• Matt Kemp has been giving glimpses into just how good his hamstring is feeling -- running on the field to celebrate with his teammates, or just plain running during speed work -- but now the real test begins.
Kemp, who will not participate in the All-Star Game despite being voted in by the fans, has been cleared to begin a rehab assignment Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kemp will travel to Kansas City to participate in the Home Run Derby. If all goes well in rehab games, he could return to major league play on July 13, when the Dodgers begin a home series against the San Diego Padres. One thing is certain: the Dodgers will have Kemp participate in more rehab games this time around. When Kemp suffered his initial hamstring injury, he passed every test with flying colors and played in two rehab games without incident. His first major league game after that initial injury also went without incident. In his second game, however, Kemp experienced the dreaded tightening in the back of his left thigh; his frustration was apparent as he broke a bat over his leg before exiting the dugout.
Even Kemp acknowledged at the time of reinjury that he would likely be headed back to the DL (he was) and that it would perhaps take longer to get healthy (it has). An MRI showed another strain higher up in the hamstring and swelling in the previously injured area, according to Dodgers head athletic trainer and physical therapist Sue Falsone. Despite passing all field tests, nothing reproduces the unanticipated demands on the hamstring quite like playing in a game. Situational running, whether trying to leg out a ground ball or making a defensive play, is impossible to reproduce in drills or practice. The hope is that with a few extra days of game play, Kemp will have an opportunity to increasingly challenge his hamstring, preferably without a setback. This would then help increase Kemp's confidence in his leg, something that can become problematic once there is a second injury. Athletes can become reluctant to press or challenge their leg for fear of suffering yet another setback.
• Meanwhile one of Kemp's teammates, second baseman Mark Ellis, could also be on the verge of return. Ellis underwent an emergency fasciotomy in the middle of May to release pressure and swelling inside the left leg after taking a blow just below the knee. After a fasciotomy, the initial priority is allowing the wound to heal, then increasing range of motion, particularly through the ankle. A gradual return to activity is permitted as the healing allows. Ellis has been on a rehab assignment and is expected to play seven innings in his final rehab game Tuesday, alongside Kemp, according to the Dodgers' website. Ellis could then be activated and join the Dodgers on Thursday.
• Baby steps are still steps. Boston Red Sox outfielders Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury seemed to be in a state of suspended animation for the last two months when it came to the question of when they might return. The only real news was that they were progressing through rehab. Now however, they are making significant strides toward returning.
Crawford, who started the season on the DL following wrist surgery, then sustained a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, has been on a rehab assignment in Florida. He appeared in five games, initially as DH, then progressing to the field, a key test for his elbow. So far, so good. Apparently the medical staff feels the same way Crawford does, moving his rehab assignment to Double-A Portland, according to ESPNBoston.
Ellsbury may not be too far behind. Out since April after suffering a shoulder subluxation, he began his rehab assignment in Florida on Saturday. Ellsbury also began his stint serving as the DH, but has now progressed to seeing some outfield play. Given that his injury is to his glove side, playing defense is an important measure of his recovery. There's no guarantee that all situations can be accounted for during a rehab assignment, but the idea is to account for as many of those possibilities and see how the shoulder responds. One good sign is that his bat seems to be responding; Ellsbury hit a home run Monday. He remains in Florida for now.
Given the time clock of 20 days for position players on a rehab assignment, both Ellsbury and Crawford should be able to join their team shortly after the All-Star break, barring any late setbacks.
• The Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard initiated a rehab assignment in Florida on Thursday, meaning the rehab "clock" has begun ticking. So far, he has been alternating between a DH role and first base. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Howard is expected to see an increase in innings in the field Tuesday. The healing of Howard's surgically repaired Achilles is not so much the issue at this point. Instead, it is getting back the feel of playing baseball while not focusing on his leg. Even Howard acknowledges that his leg will not likely be at full strength this year. Most who have undergone this procedure say it takes a full year before the leg really feels back to normal. Still, if he can contribute, even at less than full power, the Phillies will welcome his presence. But how much he'll be able to deliver out of the gate is uncertain.
• Drew Storen's timetable has remained fairly consistent since he came out of surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. His progress has been steady and he has not experienced any pain in the elbow. Storen's challenge has been taking it one day at a time and not overdoing it during his recovery. His bullpen sessions have gone well; next up is a short rehab assignment. According to The Washington Post, Storen expects to return to the Washington Nationals for the first game following the All-Star break. Given his smooth progression thus far, and the increased extension Storen has in his elbow post-surgery, there is reason to be optimistic about how the second half of the season will shape up for him.
Players whose timetables are unknown
Evan Longoria: The Tampa Bay Rays third baseman has been out since April with a partial tear in his hamstring. After making it to a rehab assignment in June, Longoria experienced discomfort in the thigh in only his second outing, causing him to exit the game before the injury worsened. Understandably, it has been a cautious road back. Longoria has only just been cleared to resume baseball activities. Depending how he tolerates resuming hitting, ensuing running and field drills will determine when he will make his next attempt at a rehab assignment. Longoria still looks to be several weeks from a return.
Chris Carpenter: Despite taking some positive steps in his return to throwing, the St. Louis Cardinals' ace continued to experience episodes of weakness in his throwing shoulder. That led to consultation with a vascular surgeon in Dallas, and a diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition not uncommon in pitchers, in which nerves and/or arteries between the neck and shoulder can be compromised, resulting in symptoms into the arm.
In Carpenter's case, there is no immediate surgery planned, suggesting the source of the symptoms is more neurogenic (nerve-related) than vascular (circulatory). "If I can pitch, that's what I'm going to do," Carpenter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If I can't, then we come up with another plan." The outcome is still tenuous at best and will continue to be a day-to-day assessment based on how Carpenter feels. Surgery may still be an option, just not one Carpenter is intending to pursue right now.
Update (5:38 p.m.): Carpenter is now scheduled to undergo surgery later this month, and will miss the rest of the season. According to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, recovery time is three to six months, so the team hopes to have him ready for spring training next year.