Stephania Bell: Jair Jurrjens



It's not supposed to be quite so busy in the injury department this early in the season. After getting ready for Opening Day, I figured I'd take in the first weekend of baseball and perhaps update the status of a few players who have yet to make their season debuts.

So much for that idea. The weekend news kicked off with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday undergoing an appendectomy Friday. On a positive note, the Cardinals have not moved Holliday to the DL, at least not yet. The team says it will wait until Monday or Tuesday and see how Holliday is progressing. For what it's worth, manager Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Holliday felt "less discomfort" Sunday than he did Saturday. So far, so good.



Holliday might not be on the DL but there are several new additions from around the league.



[+] EnlargeEvan Longoria
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEvan Longoria could be sidelined until next month with his oblique injury.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria has joined the strained oblique club. Longoria left Saturday's game after the fifth inning with soreness in his side. Although he appeared to be downplaying the severity of the injury initially, his manager sounded more concerned. Apparently, Longoria first felt some discomfort during batting practice, and it increased as the game progressed. On Sunday, the decision was made to formally put Longoria on the disabled list to ensure full healing.



According to the St. Petersburg Times, manager Joe Maddon has projected that Longoria will miss at least three weeks, a reasonable estimate given the time required to first rest the healing tissue followed by gradually increasing the load. Amid a team lacking in offensive production out of the gate, Longoria was 0-for-5 with a walk through the first two games of the season. Depending how long he is sidelined, Longoria might not get his first hit until May. Not exactly what fantasy owners were anticipating. In the meantime, Sean Rodriguez is likely to get the majority of the playing time at third base.

• Several pitching staffs took a hit this weekend as well. Baltimore Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz was scratched from his Saturday start with what was originally described as soreness in his left mid-back. An MRI revealed an intercostal (small muscles between the ribs) strain severe enough for the team to suggest he could miss anywhere from three to six weeks.



There are three layers of intercostal muscles. The top layer (external intercostals) is analogous to the larger external oblique abdominal muscles, both in terms of being the most superficial and the orientation of the muscle fibers. The next layer (internal intercostals) is analogous in depth and fiber direction to the internal obliques. Although the intercostals are much smaller, both muscle groups are active during trunk rotation. It is no surprise then that these two muscle groups -- intercostals and obliques -- tend to be injured in similar fashion for ballplayers. The intercostals' direct attachment between ribs can make this a very painful injury when acute, as even deep breathing can be painful.

The Orioles called up another lefty, Zach Britton, who made his big league debut Sunday, and he certainly left an impression by pitching six shutout innings against the Rays. Britton is a hot fantasy pickup this week, even if his time might be limited.

Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens, who struggled with health issues in 2010, found himself on the DL this week but the injury occurred prior to the start of the season. Jurrjens, who developed soreness in late March, will have his DL stint backdated to March 25, making him eligible to return April 9. Jurrjens has a strained right oblique, slightly unusual in that he is a right-handed thrower. Most pitchers strain an opposite oblique, which is generally attributed to the hard cross-body torque associated with throwing. Jurrjens' injury appears to be relatively minor, and he started throwing bullpens late last week. The bigger concern with Jurrjens might be staying healthy through the course of the season.

Situations to keep an eye on


Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Ben Francisco (starting the season in place of Domonic Brown, who is still recovering from hand surgery following a hamate fracture) and center fielder Shane Victorino had a scary collision in the outfield Saturday. Francisco's neck appeared to get forcibly bent when it met Victorino's hip en route to playing a deep fly ball. Francisco remained in the game for the duration but it was Victorino who exited in the fifth inning with left calf soreness. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Victorino felt tightness in the calf when jogging off the field after that inning, although he didn't think it particularly serious at the time.



On Sunday, Victorino entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning but was able to stay in the game afterward. According to the Phillies' website, Victorino said he could still "feel it," suggesting it was possibly an irritated nerve. He reiterated that he was not concerned, but the Phillies will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how his calf responds over the next few days. The painful memory of a star player sidelined at the start of the season with a calf injury (Jimmy Rollins, 2010) is no doubt still fresh. As far as Francisco, he was in Sunday's game, crashing spectacularly into the right field wall to make a play. It appears his neck is doing fine.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano left Saturday's game in the seventh inning because of cramps in his throwing (right) hand. Zambrano also reportedly experienced tightness in his hamstring. He is no stranger to cramps, and in the past he has commented on the need to maintain adequate fluids, which he did again after this episode, according to ESPN Chicago. "I'll be OK," Zambrano said. "I'll drink a lot of fluid and do whatever I have to do, not to feel bad anymore." According to manager Mike Quade, Zambrano is expected to make his next scheduled start Friday.

[+] EnlargeUbaldo Jimenez
Chris Humphreys/US PresswireUbaldo Jimenez's cuticle issue on his thumb could be one reason why he struggled on Opening Day.
Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez struggled through his first outing with a cut cuticle on his throwing thumb. The Denver Post reports that the thumb is affected on every pitch because of how Jimenez grips the ball. The primary issue is not one of immediate discomfort, but rather preventing this from turning into a more protracted issue because the cut fails to heal. Originally, manager Jim Tracy suggested Jimenez could miss his next start. As of now, that start has been pushed back one day to Friday but all depends on how the thumb healing progresses.

• Meanwhile, teammate Jorge de la Rosa developed a painful blister on his left middle finger that shortened his first outing, possibly a consequence of his grip on the ball. After exiting Saturday's game, de la Rosa had the blood blister well treated and bandaged by the athletic training staff, according to the Rockies' website. De la Rosa did not seem overly concerned by the blister, as he has dealt with similar issues in the past, and he expects to make his next start. As is the case with Jimenez, de la Rosa's finger will be monitored over the next few days to ensure there are no lingering issues.



Cuticles and blisters might sound like seemingly small injuries, but make no mistake, they're big enough to threaten the status of the first and second guns in the Rockies' rotation. Anyone who's had a bad manicure experience can relate ... come on, who's with me?

Encouraging news


It wasn't all doom and gloom; there was some good news to be found over the weekend.



San Diego Padres ace Mat Latos, sidelined with bursitis in his throwing shoulder, threw a side session Saturday and looked, well, "fantastic," according to pitching coach Darren Balsley. Latos is expected to start in a minor league game Monday with the goal of increasing his pitch count.



San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson, who also started the season on the DL with an oblique injury, threw a simulated game Sunday. His outing impressed pitching coach Dave Righetti, who suggested that Wilson could be back with the team this week. Wilson is eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday when the team is in San Diego, and while that move is not set in stone, Wilson's outing Sunday was a good step in that direction.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, who stayed behind in Arizona to continue recovery from offseason surgery to repair his latissimus dorsi tendon, threw a simulated game Sunday. He was just shy of 60 pitches. Peavy, whose overall recovery has been impressive, developed rotator cuff tendinitis after a spring outing, which came on the heels of a stomach ailment. The issue seems to have settled, and Peavy is on track again with building his arm strength. He is expected to start in a minor league game Friday (for Double-A Birmingham) and will try to bump up his pitch count. If there are no more bumps in the road, he could rejoin the team in late April.

I'm in Florida! My first day of 2011 spring training coverage took me to Lake Buena Vista for a game between the visiting Detroit Tigers and the Atlanta Braves.

Um, it's warm here. No sub-freezing temperatures. After enduring what seems like several winters' worth of snow this year in the Northeast, this change alone was almost a shock to my system. It's no wonder the athletes are so happy and everyone is oozing optimism about what their respective seasons will bring. Spring makes everyone feel young and revitalized. Trust me, there are health benefits to this.

Beyond the warm weather, there is just a great energy here at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, spring training home of the Braves. Not only is this an incredible state-of-the-art venue, it is also the first day of ESPN The Weekend, so there are a multitude of activities taking place all over the site. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the complex and see all the playing fields, training facilities and technology areas. At the game itself, I saw plenty of the usual early-season jitters ... and I'm not just talking about the players. I caught up with ESPN baseball analyst Bobby Valentine briefly in the press box three minutes before launch, and he said he was "excited" to get their first broadcast of the season under way.

Once the introductions were made and the national anthem was played, it was time to get down to the business at hand: Getting a look at some of the players returning from injury.

For the Braves, let's start with who was not playing today. Outfielder Jason Heyward, whose big bat caught everyone's attention last spring, was a scratch today due to soreness in his left groin. The soreness cropped up during Wednesday's exhibition game. There's no reason to take chances before the regular season. This appears to be a proactive maneuver, and not a serious concern.

Most notable among Braves players coming back from injury was third baseman Chipper Jones, who has just returned to the field after suffering a left ACL tear (and subsequently undergoing reconstruction) in August. Reports on his progress had been good so far, but it's another thing entirely for him to be in a game situation. Returning to full play, especially in the field, would force Jones -- and his knee -- to react situationally.

His outing was reassuring in that he did all that was asked of him and did not appear limited. He swung the bat -- he got a hit and scored a run in the fourth inning -- and he caught an infield fly ball, moving easily in both situations. But it's worth noting that he wasn't particularly challenged offensively or defensively. There were no sprints, no slides, no diving plays. In actuality, it's not a bad thing to have a game like this to increase comfort in the surgical knee. Regaining confidence is always the final hurdle after this type of injury, and that only comes with increased playing time. Jones looked like the experienced player that he is, and that alone must help his confidence in his knee.

Another Braves player whose season was ended by injury was in today's lineup. Martin Prado suffered both a hip pointer while diving for a ball and a torn oblique while swinging the bat in one disastrous September game. Luckily the season was near close for the Braves, and Prado was able to get the rest he needed. He entered the spring healthy and certainly looked fine swinging the bat.

[+] EnlargeJair Jurrjens
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonJair Jurrjens was limited to just 116 1/3 innings in 2010.
Pitching today for the Braves was Jair Jurrjens, who is coming off October surgery to address a lateral meniscus tear. The injury was to Jurrjens' right (stance) knee, which doesn't undergo as much strain during the pitching motion as the lead leg, and his delivery looked solid. Perhaps the issue to watch for Jurrjens is how the hamstring on his left (lead) leg holds up. Last year he strained his left hamstring in April, and an aggravation of the injury while on the DL kept him out until June. Watching him pitch today, he certainly puts a lot of torsion through that side on his follow through. At least he appears to be getting out of the gate healthy, and there's no blatant cause for concern at this point.

On the other side of the ball, Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez was in the lineup today as a designated hitter. Ordonez suffered a broken right ankle, which ended his season in late July. With Ordonez at age 37, this is no injury to sneeze at. The biggest concern from an injury perspective will be how it affects his running. Today's game did not showcase much in the way of running, especially since he was not playing in the field. Most fantasy owners are interested in what he can bring offensively, and the ankle should not be a limiting factor there. In fact, very good things could be on the horizon for him if all continues well. (Hint: he's one of my sleeper picks.)

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