Stephania Bell: Juan Nicasio
August, 9, 2011
By Stephania Bell | ESPN.com
Oh my, what a busy few days in the injury world. New injuries (including one not previously recorded in major league baseball from what anyone can recall) and setbacks of existing injuries were the theme of the past weekend. It seems as if teams are struggling with their rosters to get through the end of the regular season and hopefully jockey for playoff position. Sound familiar, fantasy owners?
• The New York Mets had tough news on two players this weekend. Speedy shortstop Jose Reyes, who was on the DL earlier this year with a left hamstring strain, felt "stiffness" in the same hamstring. Reyes underwent an MRI this weekend but early reports hinted at the setback being minor. Nonetheless, the Mets opted to place him on the DL again. Even if the injury is minor, the discomfort is a red flag and pushing through it could result in something more serious, especially given Reyes' long, er, relationship with hamstring injuries. Now entering the second week of August, the team is no doubt unwilling to take the chance of losing Reyes for the rest of the season, especially after just losing Reyes' teammate, Daniel Murphy.
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireJose Reyes won't be stealing any bases soon after hurting his hamstring again.
• Murphy will not return in 2011 after suffering a Grade II MCL sprain when his knee got clipped by the Atlanta Braves' Jose Constanza during a slide into second base. Murphy's knee was positioned perfectly so that a force to the outer side of it, which came unintentionally via Costanza's foot during the slide, bent it inward, stressing the ligament on the inner side of the knee. Although it is not a surgical situation, the ligament takes time to scar down and heal, followed by lengthy rehab, for an athlete to return unimpeded to baseball activities. Murphy should be fine for the start of spring training.
• The Texas Rangers were looking forward to getting the power of Adrian Beltre back in their lineup soon, but they're going to have to wait a while longer. Beltre had a setback with his hamstring and is expected to miss another three weeks, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. For those keeping score at home, that's as long as Beltre's initial timetable was projected to be when he was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain. There was a lot of fanfare when Beltre began taking batting practice and doing some running in the outfield, as if he might beat out the three-week timetable, but there's a reason athletes go through a progression of activity. When Beltre's workout was ramped up to include baserunning, he did fine on the first go-around, but the day afterward he felt his leg grab again during the drill and that, as they say, was that. Now it's back to the hamstring drawing board.
• If anything, Beltre's case should teach us not to get too excited about players making an early return. Yet there are rumblings out there that another key power bat could do just that. Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann, out with an oblique injury since late July, took batting practice Monday, marking another step in his rehab routine. McCann was also initially projected to miss longer than the 15-day minimum, but he was feeling well enough late last week to resume simple baseball activities such as hitting off a tee and playing catch. The real test for the oblique comes with the hard swings and the vigorous throws (McCann initially injured himself throwing to second base in an attempt to disrupt a basestealing effort). While batting practice is a good sign, it will not place the same demand on his trunk in terms of timing and power as facing live pitching. He will also need to make simulated defensive throws. Still, the Braves sound as if he could rejoin the team this weekend, presuming a prompt rehab assignment. It would be a quick turnaround given how it appeared when the injury happened, but again, this could be enthusiasm speaking as he has yet to test it fully.
• Mets-turned-Giants outfielder Carlos Beltran has a sore right wrist. An MRI confirmed a strain, according to the Giants' website, and the team is still considering him day-to-day. Apparently there are two involved areas, one in the wrist and one in the hand, but there is no significant damage. Beltran was brought in for power and we have seen how big swings can aggravate the tiny, yet critical, wrist joint in hitters. It was not long ago that Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was forced to the DL after a big swing aggravated his already ailing wrist. (Incidentally, Gonzalez has been back with the team for three days and so far has not been beset by any setbacks, although it's hard to declare him entirely out of the woods just yet.)
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWhen healthy, veteran Carlos Beltran is still considered one of baseball's most feared hitters.
• The San Diego Padres are figuring out how to deal with the loss of Chase Headley for over a month. Headley fractured his pinkie finger and everyone knows that hand and finger injuries are not insignificant when it comes to being able to grip the bat. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports he is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. We'll see once he's cleared for baseball activities (likely a few weeks away) if it looks like he'll return in time for fantasy owners.
• Colorado Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio suffered not only one of the scariest injuries possible, but as it turns out, one of the most unique in this sport. Nicasio was hit in the head by a comebacker and dropped to the mound, a frightening sight. The medical staff ran to his side, evaluated him on the mound, immobilized his neck in a rigid collar and he was taken off on a stretcher. Tests at the hospital revealed a fracture of his first cervical (neck) vertebra, on which the skull rests. C1, also called the atlas (as in, if you remember your Greek mythology, he who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders), is an unusual ring-shaped vertebra with a very wide cavity in the middle to accommodate the widest portion of the spinal cord as it exits the skull. It is easy to see then why a fracture here, if the bone displaces, can be fatal. Fortunately for Nicasio, the spinal cord was undamaged (apparently not even bruised) and the bone, now surgically repaired, can begin to heal. Nicasio also suffered bleeding on the right side of his head where the ball made impact.
The focus now is on Nicasio's healing and returning to normal, everyday activity. But can he return to pitch? This is really uncharted territory, as no one can recall ever seeing this injury before in baseball. It is not a common sports injury; more typically, it is the result of a motor vehicle accident or recreational diving injury. Time will dictate how well his recovery is progressing and whether a return is even to be considered. The good news right now? Nicasio walked in the hospital Tuesday. As manager Jim Tracy told the Denver Post, "It put a lot of smiles on faces around here." And everywhere.