Last week we talked about National League players who opened the 2008 season on the disabled list. Today we take a look at key American League players who were noticeably absent from their teams' rosters on Opening Day and evaluate the likelihood of them making an appearance in the near future.
Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox: Beckett, who had some soreness in his back throughout the prior week, began experiencing back spasms Saturday, March 8, after he lost his footing on the mound during warm-ups. An MRI of Beckett's back was negative and a disk injury was ruled out. The spasms themselves suggested a protective guarding or splinting by the muscles but the challenge in that situation is figuring out why they are in spasm and addressing the source. There are so many pain-generating structures within the spine that it is often difficult to localize a problem. Joints, ligaments, disks and even the muscles themselves can suffer direct insult that can trigger pain. This pain often results in protective muscle spasms which are the body's way of preventing unnecessary movement to avoid further injury to the area. In the end, rest and avoiding further aggravation is often the key to a speedy recovery. The Red Sox's decision to keep Beckett stateside while the team traveled to Japan was a wise one, as anyone who has experienced back pain can attest to the fact that a lengthy plane flight is more likely to hurt rather than help. Beckett was able to progress without incident through his rehabilitation program and rejoined the rotation Sunday. His outing was not his best, but from an injury perspective, he did not experience any pain. Now that Beckett is back in the mix, expect him to settle into his role in short order.
Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees: See Josh Beckett above. Pettitte's situation was not very different from that of his Red Sox counterpart. Some have speculated that Pettitte's offseason distractions put him at more of a risk for injury. Perhaps, but that is hard to quantify and remains speculation at best. Pettitte did have some elbow discomfort early in the spring, which is not uncommon for pitchers as they work on increasing their endurance in the preseason, but that subsided within a few weeks. Then, Pettitte's back locked up on him while he was driving home from practice in March. After missing a single scheduled start and allowing his back to rest, Pettitte eased back into his throwing program, throwing bullpens and minor league games before returning to the rotation Saturday. Although Pettitte did not get the win, he didn't appear to have any setbacks, and as is the case with Beckett, there is no reason to expect at this point that there will be any long-term problems as a result.
Scott Kazmir, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: Pain in his throwing elbow in early spring training led to a shutdown for Kazmir. While minor strains are not uncommon for pitchers in springtime as they rebuild their endurance, it is only when they return to action following a period of imposed rest that we get a feel for whether the episode was a minor occurrence or a sign of bigger things to come. Kazmir has been throwing and feeling no pain since mid-March, including a recent bullpen session incorporating changeups and sliders, according to the Tampa Tribune. Those things would seem to point to this incident as a minor spring training occurrence and fantasy owners can breathe a bit easier. Kazmir started the season on the disabled list to give him ample recovery time, as well as time to increase his overall strength and endurance, but it now appears that he could return to the lineup at the end of April.
Curtis Granderson, OF, Detroit Tigers: Granderson began the season on the disabled list with a fractured third metacarpal in his right hand after being hit by a pitch. Granderson rested the hand for two weeks and then had X-rays to determine the healing progress of the bone. Team doctors felt it had healed enough for him to begin light baseball activities, so Tuesday Granderson began hitting a ball from a tee and some light throwing, according to the Detroit News. Bear in mind that it takes up to six weeks for a fracture to fully heal so this is by no means finished. In fact, Granderson admitted to still having some pain in the hand, a reminder that he is not completely out of the woods. The good news is that he has the mobility to actually grip the bat and that he is getting his body used to the skills he will need to get back onto the field. The unknown is exactly how long it will take him to be comfortable enough and confident enough to actually return to the lineup. At this point it would be a surprise if Granderson is back before another 10 days since, by his own acknowledgment to the Detroit Free Press, he will need to face live pitching before returning.
Joel Zumaya, SP, Detroit Tigers: During the offseason, Zumaya was assisting his family in evacuating during the Southern California wildfires. While he was moving things out of the home, a box reportedly fell on Zumaya's right (throwing) shoulder, and the next thing we heard was that he had undergone acromioclavicular (AC) joint reconstruction to repair the damage. This procedure, although certainly not impossible to return from, is no walk in the park. Zumaya has to adjust to the altered mechanics, even if subtle, that result from such a procedure. His expected return date was originally targeted for sometime in July, presuming no delays or setbacks, but lately the Tigers have been less willing to set a concrete timeline. As of the start of the season, Zumaya was throwing from 120 feet and feeling good. He is said to be progressing well but since this is not a common injury for pitchers, it is difficult to draw comparisons. Yes, he should be able to eventually return and pitch effectively. Will he be able to deliver the 100 mph fastball? Perhaps, but it wouldn't surprise if he loses some steam off his delivery, at least initially. The first hurdle is him getting healthy enough to rejoin the rotation without a setback, or without some new injury cropping up. Then the Tigers can worry about triple-digit speed.
Fernando Rodney, RP, Detroit Tigers: Rodney, who experienced shoulder pain that forced him to miss time in 2007, began having similar symptoms very early in spring training of this year. After ups and downs in his attempts to return via a throwing program, the Tigers have indicated this week that he will resume playing catch. According to a report on mlive.com, the Tigers would like to have Rodney get to the mound at least one more time before considering something much more dramatic, such as surgery. An MRI this spring revealed no specific structural damage, which is not unusual, and the shoulder pain will continue to be treated symptomatically, until the point at which it becomes evident that Rodney simply cannot return. That point, unfortunately, does not look too far off. If Rodney fails to make it back after this round of conservative treatment, don't be surprised if he heads to the surgeon's table, which would essentially spell the end of the season for him.
John Lackey, SP, Anaheim Angels: Lackey was slowed early in spring training by a sore elbow and was ultimately diagnosed with a strained triceps (the large muscle on the back of the arm that attaches at the elbow). As of mid-March the Angels projected him to miss three to four weeks before he could resume baseball-related activities, but that timetable was shortened by a week given Lackey's progress in rehab. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Lackey could begin throwing off a mound within the next week. Lackey still needs to get game ready, meaning potentially several minor league starts to increase his endurance. Keep in mind that he had only one spring training start before hitting the disabled list. His timetable still appears to be targeted toward a return in May, perhaps around the middle of the month. On a positive note, Lackey has avoided major injury for five seasons prior to this and the hopes are that this setback is more a side effect of spring training, and not an omen for the future.
Kelvim Escobar, SP, Anaheim Angels: Shoulder inflammation reared its ugly head again this winter for Escobar, who suffered through a similar bout near the end of the 2007 season. Escobar, who returned to the Angels' spring complex in January to undergo rehab and strengthening for his shoulder, was shut down from throwing for two months in the hopes that he could return during spring training. But after only three throwing sessions in mid-March, Escobar's pain returned and he was shut down once again. The Angels have disclosed that Escobar has a torn right labrum (ring of cartilage in the shoulder that helps increase the congruity of the joint), never a good diagnosis for a pitcher in particular, and they have decided to put him back on the conservative treatment track once again. Escobar told the Los Angeles Times that he was concerned about his pitching future as a result of this injury, complicated by the fact that he was born without a supraspinatus (one of the four rotator cuff muscles), something he apparently learned during his first physical after he was drafted. In any event, if Escobar does not respond to this next round of conservative treatment, he is expected to pay a visit to Mets team physician Dr. David Altchek for consultation regarding surgical options. This is not a great scenario for Escobar, no matter which way you look at it, because painful labral problems rarely respond to conservative management, and when addressed via surgery, there is a significant recovery period, not to mention one with no guarantees about final outcome. For fantasy owners, this is a situation to observe from afar.
Scott Rolen, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays: Rolen, so hopeful for a fresh injury-free start with his new team, succumbed to the disabled list bug after taking a bad shot to his right third finger from a hard-hit line drive. The ball hit his finger with such force that it resulted in a fracture at the very tip, and even worse, damage to the fingernail and soft tissue around the break. Rolen had to have a pin surgically implanted and, according to his own statements on the Blue Jays' official Web site, his surgeon gave him a four to six week estimate on returning to play. Although a broken bone is not something to take lightly, the more critical piece for Rolen in terms of healing is the flesh of the finger itself. He will likely be able to hit before he can throw, simply because managing the grip on the ball is so difficult when the soft tissue is injured. Fantasy owners know that Rolen is valued in reality largely because of his defensive skills, so the throwing limitations he faces are something to keep in mind when estimating his return time. As of this point in time, the Jays are hoping to have his services in early May. Assuming the tissue heals well, once Rolen regains his mobility and grip strength, he should not have ongoing issues with the finger.
New injury worries
It doesn't take long, does it? Another week of baseball and already there are enough sprains, scrapes and spasms to fill another column. Here are a few of the key injuries we are looking at this week with more details to come.
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: Jeter has a strained left quadriceps muscle (large muscle on the front of the thigh) and is expected to miss at least three games, although he will not go on the disabled list, according to a report from The Associated Press. Jeter apparently strained the muscle while running before Monday's game, but he says the problem is not serious and an MRI appears to have confirmed that. Nonetheless, he is going to have some imposed rest to allow the muscle to quiet down, and as manager Joe Girardi points out, the upcoming weather is cold and the team does not want to risk further injury. At this point, this does not appear to be a major strain, and barring Jeter returning too early and aggravating the condition, this should not bother him on an ongoing basis once the acute episode has resolved.
Rich Harden, Oakland Athletics: Was it too good to be true? It seems that way for the moment, but it's not time to panic ... yet. Harden, who has started the season with a bang after injury issues plagued him for the past two seasons, is faced with another injury. The question at this point is whether this is a minor blip on the radar, or whether it echoes past problems that have resulted in lengthy absences. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Harden has been scratched from Tuesday night's game due to back, specifically "lat," soreness. The "lat" refers to the latissimus dorsi muscle, the large muscle that, when well developed, makes the nice "V" shape on the back. Pitchers use their lats, which attach to the arm bone, to help provide stability and control rotation and extension of the arm. Optimistically the team has slated Harden for a Sunday start, suggesting that the soreness is minor and nothing that a few extra days of rest can't cure. Additionally, the A's are being more cautious than they would be otherwise because, after his spectacular return, the A's do not want to push Harden into a major injury by ignoring lesser symptoms. It is worth noting that Harden had oblique and lat strains that resulted in a two-month absence back in 2005. Harden has no doubt focused on strengthening his core muscles as part of his shoulder rehabilitation however, which would help him recover from this type of injury more quickly. If he is able to get back by Sunday, this injury goes in the "not a big deal" category and Harden can pick up where he left off. If however, it looks to turn into something more chronic, those shades of the term "injury prone" may return.
Michael Barrett, San Diego Padres: Another player who heard a "pop" this week associated with injury is Barrett. Last week it was Pedro Martinez and his hamstring. This week it's Barrett and his forearm. The team is reporting that Barrett has a fair amount of pain in the region of his ulnar nerve, which lies on the inner side of the elbow. By now, everyone knows what else is near there. Yes, the ulnar collateral (Tommy John) ligament. According to a report on the Padres' official Web site, Barrett could not throw the ball back to pitcher Greg Maddux without a bounce. A pop (believed to have occurred on an earlier throw), weakness and some nerve-like symptoms all are ominous signs for Barrett as a potential ligament injury. He is scheduled for an MRI Tuesday after which his course of treatment will be determined. If Barrett is on your fantasy team, don't wait for the results. Go out and get someone else, even if you end up needing him only short term. We'll keep you posted.
There are many other new injuries to report on so check back throughout the week as we update those, as well as the status of your fantasy draftees who may have started on the disabled list and are looking to make a return. Is anyone a safe pickup? Perhaps, and even better, perhaps there's a great bargain to be found. Stay tuned.