The pitching ranks seem to be thinning around the league as more and more hurlers are forced onto the disabled list. For some, the rest of the season -- and part of the next one -- is lost. For others, there is every expectation they will return. But when? And with what level of confidence that the injury is behind them? As usual, it is very disappointing to not have a crystal ball handy to avoid laboring over the what-if and what-could-be scenarios. But in the absence of that crystal ball, labor we must.
Jorge De La Rosa, P, Colorado Rockies: He suffered a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament Tuesday, and now the southpaw's season is over, the Denver Post reports. As devastating as the news is for De La Rosa, at least there's a relative certainty of knowing what lies ahead for the next year. De La Rosa is expected to undergo the all-too-common Tommy John reconstruction procedure, followed by a lengthy, laborious rehab. The upside is that the success rate is incredibly high following this surgery and the path is well-documented by those who have traveled down it before. The downside is, well, obvious. De La Rosa loses the rest of this season (and part of next) and has to spend most of that time away from his teammates while he recovers. The team loses one of its aces and the only starting lefty on the squad.
De La Rosa started the season by developing a blood blister during his first outing. Although it initially appeared as if it might threaten his subsequent start, he healed quickly and heated up, becoming one of the Rockies' most effective starters. That came to a sudden end in the third inning of the opening game of Tuesday's doubleheader when De La Rosa was forced to leave early because of pain in his left elbow. Prior to this injury, you have to go back to 2007 to see when he last dealt with an issue in his throwing elbow. At that time, De La Rosa suffered what was termed an elbow strain and missed more than a month, then struggled in his return. In fact, his struggles persisted for some time as he bounced from the Kansas City Royals to the Rockies, which in hindsight leads to the natural question as to whether the elbow was a factor. He eventually turned the corner, however, improving his effectiveness until a torn tendon pulley in the middle finger of his throwing hand caused him to miss 10 weeks in 2010. He returned for the latter half of the 2010 season and was off to perhaps his best start ever in 2011, until this latest setback.
We should not expect De La Rosa to return before June of next year, and that, of course, is a soft timetable depending on how things evolve from here. At 30, he is neither the youngest nor the oldest to suffer this injury and he can take comfort in knowing that others have come back to deliver career years afterward.
Josh Johnson, P, Florida Marlins: After Johnson appeared to suffer no severe injury following a hit to his right forearm in a game early last week, it seemed as if he was out of the woods. Clearly that was not the case. Johnson was placed on the DL retroactive to May 17 with what the team is calling inflammation in his throwing (right) shoulder, the same term used to describe what ended his 2010 season somewhat prematurely. According to the Miami Herald, Johnson says he has felt some measure of discomfort in the shoulder "pretty much the whole year" but could always work it out before pitching. This is not particularly encouraging, especially given his recent history. Johnson has rested the arm since being placed on the DL and has indicated that it feels much improved with rest. While there is no hint at this point that Johnson's absence will exceed the 15-day timetable, the concerns about whether this is just a minor speed bump or an indicator of things to come remain.
Matt Garza, P, Chicago Cubs: After relaying to the team that he was dealing with some tightness and soreness in his throwing elbow, Garza found himself missing a start and ultimately making a trip to the DL, something he was trying to avoid. No doubt the Cubs are hoping this heads off a more serious issue for their recently acquired starter. The results of Garza's MRI, to the relief of the organization, did not show any major structural damage, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Interestingly, the imaging did show a bone bruise, and the question is how it got there. Bone bruises can be the result of direct trauma or, within a joint, the result of excessive motion of one bone on the other, often from instability, which causes bruising. For instance, when an individual tears the ACL in the knee, it is not unusual to get an accompanying bone bruise from the contact of the bony ends as they exceed normal motion. Naturally it leads to the question of whether excessive motion within Garza's elbow might have resulted in this injury (which would raise bigger concerns about the long-term health of his elbow perhaps). A vigorous hyperextension potentially could bruise the joint as well. As the Sun-Times reports, the Cubs' medical staff hypothesizes the stress of power pitching might have led to a pitch which created the bruise. Continuing to pitch might then have aggravated it. Without knowing the precise location of Garza's bone bruise, it is difficult to appreciate the exact implications of the injury, but in any case, rest is the single best mode of allowing it to heal. The big test will be once Garza returns to throwing to see how his elbow responds. That test might come soon, as Garza is eligible to return June 3 and the team sounds optimistic he will meet that target.
Vicente Padilla, P, Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers have not had much luck cementing the closer position thanks in part to both injury and ineffectiveness. Padilla, who seemed to have the lock on the position earlier this month, began to struggle with a sore forearm last week, the same forearm on which he had surgery in February. That surgery was done to release an entrapment of the posterior interosseous nerve, a branch of the radial nerve that travels through the back side of the forearm. Tightness in the supinator muscles, which rotate the forearm (to turn it palm up), and the wrist extensors can compress and irritate the nerve. Even after tight tissue in the area is released, there is always the potential for tightness to return or even some scar tissue to develop, despite efforts to keep the area loose through stretching and soft tissue work. After all, there is no way to avoid using these muscles as part of the act of pitching, so it presents an ongoing management challenge.
Stan Conte, director of medical services for the Dodgers, says Padilla has responded well to a cortisone injection and potentially could begin a rehab assignment soon, which would have him returning at or close to his 15-day window. The good news here is that this does not appear to be serious and some brief downtime might go a long way toward preventing a disabling recurrence of Padilla's injury. Naturally, the Dodgers would have preferred that all their closers weren't having issues simultaneously, but Padilla seems to be in the best shape for a near return. Jonathan Broxton (elbow inflammation) has played some catch but has no definitive timetable for his return, and Hong Chih-Kuo (anxiety disorder) is out indefinitely.
• Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino is making some progress from his hamstring strain, doing agility drills and taking batting practice. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports he could begin a rehab assignment this weekend. He is eligible to return June 3, and the Phillies have hinted at having him back on time.
The good news is Victorino reportedly has not dealt with hamstring injuries in the past. The not-so good news is the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the day Victorino got hurt, he had been experiencing pain in his low back and hip prior to feeling it in the hamstring. If indeed Victorino has low-back issues, which are contributing to the hamstring symptoms, the injury might not be totally behind him, even after he returns.
• Don't expect Cleveland Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner back anytime soon. He has an oblique strain that is likely to keep him out the better part of a month. Hitters need their core strength for power. He will not be rushed back. But hey, on the bright side, the Indians expect to get Grady Sizemore back this weekend, according to MLB.com. After he ran the bases without incident Wednesday, the team has confidence that his knee is progressing in the right direction. Sizemore had been dealing with a bone bruise in his right knee following a hard slide. He underwent microfracture surgery in his left knee in the offseason.
• Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind has seen some progression of his baseball activity (swinging the bat, fielding drills) down at the team's Florida facility. Although his move to the DL last week took some by surprise, he has appeared to make steady progress since he's been there. The team appears hopeful he could return to extended spring training action this week, according to the Jays' website. Perhaps most notably, it sounds as if the team plans to share his workload, at least initially, with Juan Rivera when he returns so as not to overwork him.