Stephania Bell: Wei-Yin Chin
Every Monday, in this space, we'll provide updates on a variety of players to help you make your weekly lineup decisions. We'll specifically try to hit the players who are day-to-day, have just gone on the DL or are ready to return, so that you can better decide whether you can count on them or not.
All projected return timelines should be considered fluid.
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Ryan Howard lands on the DL while hitting .266 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (placed on DL July 6): Howard’s move to the DL couldn’t have come as a complete surprise. He had been in and out of the starting lineup recently with soreness in the knee, but now he will be out for an extended period. Speaking to reporters Monday, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. stated Howard has a meniscus tear and will undergo surgery to address the issue. The Phillies are hopeful they can have Howard back in the lineup within six to eight weeks, not an unreasonable expectation if the operation and subsequent rehab process go smoothly. Although Howard had been dealing with soreness since May, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer the pain and stiffness had recently increased to the point where he could not play through it. This procedure should allow Howard to move forward from the injury and return to play this season. But it is yet another injury to the left leg, which has been responsible for most of Howard’s DL time during his professional career, including his Achilles rupture in 2011.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers (placed on DL July 8): Day-to-day could really describe the entire season for Ramirez, given that his left knee has not been 100 percent healthy since he initially injured it this spring. On Saturday, Ramirez made a diving catch after which he came up limping, exiting the game shortly thereafter. On Monday, he was placed on the disabled list as Ryan Braun was activated.
The bigger question is whether Ramirez can really be expected to be at full health at any point this season. Based on how the knee has responded so far and with the potential for aggravation any time he slides or dives, the answer would appear to be no. In the absence of being healthy though, can he be effective? The Brewers have to hope the answer to that question is yes, but it may be on only an intermittent basis.
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (activated from DL July 8): Braun’s thumb injury has been discussed multiple times in this space and the uncertainty of how it will behave across the rest of the season remains. However, he made enough progress in terms of gripping and swinging the bat that he was activated Monday in time for the evening matchup against the Cincinnati Reds. He swaps roster spots with teammate Aramis Ramirez. While he's back in action, Braun would still benefit from a few days off during the All-Star break. This might offer fantasy owners a good glimpse of whether the layoff has helped Braun’s symptoms to the point where he can be productive at the plate.
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (day-to-day): If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Literally. Gonzalez left the game early after straining his upper back Thursday; now it’s a finger which caused him to exit early on Sunday. Gonzalez reportedly took an awkward swing and injured the middle finger on his right hand. According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, X-rays were negative and Gonzalez remains day-to-day with a sprain. It will all come down to whether he can effectively grip and control the bat. Literally.
Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals (day-to-day): Molina and the Cardinals were relieved to learn that his right knee does not have any structural damage, according to the MRI he underwent this weekend. Molina’s knee had been sore for a month but he told reporters he was sent for further tests after it hurt him to run Friday. "Everything came back negative and that's a relief," Molina said Sunday. He hopes to be back Tuesday after the Cardinals’ off day Monday. It’s hard to imagine a couple days will make this disappear, particularly if it has been bothering him for a month. After all, it’s not as if his position isn’t stressful on his knees without adding in the demands of running the bases. With former catcher Mike Matheny at the helm, it’s a safe bet the Cardinals will be mindful of Molina’s workload this week if his knee continues to nag at him.
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (day-to-day): The good news is the Dodgers expect Kemp back in the lineup soon, possibly as early as Monday. The bad news is that he’s making an appearance in this blog. Again. And his left shoulder is the culprit. Again. The good news is that this time the injury is not in the glenohumeral joint, the location of his offseason labral surgery and where the arm bone or humerus interfaces with the socket. This pain was located in the AC (acromioclavicular) joint, where the collarbone and the shoulder blade meet at the point of the shoulder. Kemp received an injection to help alleviate the pain, but the key to his return will be whether he has any (as in even a hint of) discomfort in that shoulder when he attempts to swing. After all of his struggles to regain his form and along with it his power following surgery, he is going to be closely monitored to ensure he’s not compensating and altering his swing. Again. In any case, it looks as if he escaped a serious issue and should return in short order; now the Dodgers have to hope this is a one-time incident and not another problem that will resurface as the season progresses.
(After this was initially posted, the Dodgers placed Kemp on the disabled list again.)
Neil Walker, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates (day-to-day): Walker left Saturday’s game with soreness in his right side and is expected to undergo an MRI this week (although he did not have one on Monday). There are hints of an oblique ailment, but the imaging test should help confirm the location and the severity of the injury. While Walker did not seem to think his injury was serious initially, it’s often not until the athlete tests the area later with activity that the limitations become apparent. He is not in Monday’s lineup and will likely be out several days at the very least.
Shane Victorino, OF, Boston Red Sox (day-to-day): Victorino’s back has been giving him fits throughout the season, but he left Saturday’s game early because of tightness in his left hamstring. It’s unclear whether the two are related, but manager John Farrell seemed to think so. Victorino did not play Sunday and it is not immediately clear how much time the Red Sox anticipate he will miss. Given his history not only with his back and his hip this year, but with a prior DL stint in May specifically attributed to his left hamstring, caution is warranted.
Lance Berkman, DH, Texas Rangers (placed on DL July 7): The Rangers placed Berkman on the DL not because of his ever-troublesome knees, but because of a low back or hip ailment. The knees are still likely to blame, though. According to ESPNDallas.com, Berkman tweaked his right knee on an awkward step a week ago, missed a few games, then developed this issue while running to first. Rangers manager Ron Washington seems a bit surprised that the knees are an issue. "When we signed him, we thought everything was going to be fine with the knees," Washington said. Really? This is a 37-year-old player with chronic knee issues which, while he’s managed to undergo various procedures and return to play, are not the same joints as when he was in his 20s. These potential flares have to be expected. And then there’s always the possibility that the pain travels up the chain toward the hip and back, as appears to have been the case this time. Berkman will return and may even do quite well, but the risk is not going away.
Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres (placed on 60-day DL July 7): Catchers and plays at the plate are always risky and the Padres are the latest to experience the effects. After he injured both his ACL and MCL in a collision at home plate Saturday, the prospects of Grandal returning this year seem grim. The Padres’ immediate placement of Grandal on the 60-day DL further outlines the severity of the injury. After the game, Grandal was on crutches and Padres manager Bud Black indicated the outlook was not good. An MRI is scheduled for Monday after which more information should be forthcoming. If he has a complete ACL tear, which requires reconstructive surgery, then Grandal’s season will indeed be over.
Jedd Gyorko, 2B, San Diego Padres (placed on DL June 10): Last week in this space we discussed Gyorko’s setback during a rehab game, which delayed his return to the team. Although he indicated the setback was minor, it seemed only logical the team would require another rehab outing before allowing him to play in major league games. That appears to be the plan, although a definitive timetable has not been offered. Manager Bud Black told reporters Gyorko could renew a rehab assignment toward the middle of this week. Given the way things have unfolded, no matter how strong Gyorko feels, it would not come as a surprise if he is held out of a return to the majors until after the All-Star break.
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports Troy Tulowitzki's injury likely will also keep him out of next week's All-Star Game.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies (placed on DL June 13): Last week we said Tulowitzki could get clearance to advance his activities and he has done precisely that. On Thursday he took batting practice for the first time since fracturing his rib. It obviously did not set him back since he returned for more on Friday. The swings are a good test of how aggressive he can be while still healing from the injury as long as he is giving it full effort, something that’s often hard to simulate in practice. As Tulowitzki told the Denver Post, “I have to have my game swing. I can’t baby it.” Even though his injury was to the rib itself, the muscles which attach to the ribs (such as intercostals and obliques) contract violently with rotation. If the bone were still sensitive, he would no doubt feel the discomfort and be limited in terms of how vigorously he could swing. Only he knows whether he is truly testing it full bore.
According to the Post, Tulowitzki is expected to wear protective padding over the injured rib area on his right side when he returns, something that could help protect him in the event of direct contact. Contact was how Tulowitzki originally sustained the injury when he met the ground hard while making a diving defensive play. Even if bone is showing evidence of good healing, it continues to remodel itself for some time beyond the projected four to six weeks following a break. Another direct insult to the area could result in a setback in the form of reinjury, hence the layer of padding for extra insurance. Padding would not minimize the force of the muscular contraction which happens underneath it, however, meaning Tulowitzki needs to be able to throw (especially hard, cross-body throws) and swing without hesitation or discomfort -- including checking a full-throttle swing -- in order to prove he is ready to return.
He’s not quite there and he knows it. Tulowitzki told the Post on Sunday he is not completely symptom-free with his hard swings and knows he needs to be tested in a variety of game situations before returning to the lineup. A rehab assignment is slated to begin Monday and the next step will be completely dependent upon how the assignment goes. It’s important to remember he has not yet reached the four-week mark since suffering the injury; a return after the All-Star break would put him at five weeks out, a seemingly safer target. Tulowitzki has made it clear he will not play in the All-Star Game (to which he has been selected as a starter) if he does not play for his team first. It may come down to the weekend before we have the answer.
Dan Haren, SP, Washington Nationals (returning to action July 8): Haren is returning from the shoulder ailment that sent him to the DL in late June. It was only ever described as shoulder stiffness and Haren never seemed too concerned. If anything, he and the Nationals were more focused on his overall struggles and the hope is that the break may have helped him in this department. Haren threw bullpens and navigated a simulated game without incident but never went on -- nor did he or the team feel the need for -- a rehab assignment. He gets the start Monday night at Citizens Bank Park against the Phillies.
Wei-Yin Chen, SP, Baltimore Orioles (placed on DL May 13 , expected to return this week): Oblique injuries are becoming relatively commonplace amongst pitchers and while they can still vary in terms of severity, the standard return of just over a month remains fairly consistent. And, just as important, when pitchers recover fully from an oblique injury prior to returning to the mound, there seems to be a low rate of injury recurrence. That bodes well for Chen and the Orioles as he is set to return this week after being out since mid-May.
Alex Cobb, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (placed on DL June 15): It was terrifying when it happened, a line drive to the head which resulted in a concussion and sent Cobb to the hospital. Fortunately, he has made impressive strides since that time, including a return to a throwing progression. Initially following the injury there was no discussion about baseball but that quickly changed as Cobb progressed. As of early July he was playing catch and increasing his cardiovascular workouts. Last Friday he threw his first bullpen since the injury and he repeated the effort Monday, increasing the number of pitches. According to the Tampa Tribune, Cobb hopes to return to the Rays’ rotation late July or early August. No matter where your team allegiances lie, everyone has to feel good about Cobb’s recovery.