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Florida Marlins: Hanley Ramirez
Last year Ramirez made this list because there were concerns about his left (non-throwing) shoulder after offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum. Ramirez held up in 2008, although his productivity languished a bit compared to 2007. This year there are new concerns about his shoulder the other one. The Miami Herald reported that Ramirez came to camp much bigger this year after an offseason weight-training and swimming program. He then developed some right-side rotator cuff tendinitis which caused him to sit out a few games. Not to worry. By the close of spring training Ramirez was back playing shortstop and hitting homers, even stealing a base or two for good measure. He is 25, so his best years are still ahead of him.
Washington Nationals: Nick Johnson
After missing more than a full year with a slow-to-heal leg injury, Johnson made an emotional comeback in 2008, only to exit in June with a wrist injury. Johnson underwent surgery to address a ligament injury in his right (non-throwing) wrist and spent the remainder of the offseason rehabbing and retooling his swing under the watchful eye of Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Johnson has shown that his swing is healthy this spring; if his body can hold up its end of the bargain in 2009, the Nationals could be in for a treat.
|Jones' owners won't get 160 games, but the games they do get will be quite productive.|
Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones
Like that Energizer Bunny, Jones takes a lickin' and, well, minus a few days off here and there, just keeps on tickin' with remarkable consistency. Sure, he'll get banged up, but as a team leader, he's going to play through as much pain as he can. Last year's nagging quadriceps and hamstring strains finally forced him onto the DL in July, but he still finished the season batting .364. This spring an oblique strain squeezed him out of the World Baseball Classic, but fear not: Despite being 37 years old, he'll be back in the lineup come Opening Day. Yes, he remains an injury risk, but the Braves' willingness to extend his contract indicates their belief that the reward outweighs that risk.
New York Mets: Johan Santana
Some worried that Santana's offseason arthroscopic knee procedure might affect him, but it was a bout of elbow pain that set off alarm bells earlier this spring. A few weeks later, those alarms have all but subsided thanks to Santana's performance in recent outings, along with his declaration that he is symptom-free. The Mets certainly have to hope so. He is set to pitch on Opening Day in Cincinnati and will no doubt be a big draw to the new Citi Field, not to mention a key to the Mets' postseason aspirations. Whenever a pitcher has elbow pain there's reason to be cautious, but in Santana's case it's not time to be overly concerned -- yet.
Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley
Much was made of Utley's offseason hip surgery and how far into the 2009 season it would be before he could return. Well, surprise, surprise. Utley has been a model patient, working diligently to exceed his rehab targets while being mindful not to overdo it and create a potential setback. Utley has clearly demonstrated his readiness to return by not only offensively hitting for power this spring, but also defensively by sliding, throwing hard across his body and even diving for balls without hesitation. Manager Charlie Manuel has already proclaimed Utley a member of the Opening Day lineup, and he will continue to be a regular fixture thereafter.
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Chicago Cubs: Rich Harden
He is awesome when he plays. But his health history leaves everyone on the edge of their seats wondering when the injury bug is going to strike again. Harden had his highest number of starts in four years in 2008, and his shoulder, which had limited him previously, appeared much improved. It's also worth noting that his outings were carefully managed, and he will continue to be monitored for pitch counts in 2009. So far this spring, the only thing to affect him was an unpleasant round of food poisoning. The Cubs have to be keeping their fingers crossed that this is the worst thing Harden has to deal with this year.
Milwaukee Brewers: Trevor Hoffman
Yes, Hoffman might be older than a couple of his teammates combined. Sure, he's starting the season on the DL with a strained oblique. But don't count this guy out. The all-time saves leader appears to have a relatively minor version of this injury and has already returned to playing catch. As a closer he needs fewer innings to prepare for the season, so he could join the club within the first two weeks. Baseball years do add wear and tear to the arm, however, and oblique injuries can recur. Hoffman will be consistent when present; the Brewers just hope he can be consistently present.
St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter
Carpenter's past two seasons can be summed up as follows: bone spur removal, Tommy John surgery, nerve problems in shoulder, nerve transposition surgery at the elbow. After more than two years, Carpenter can finally say that he feels good. And it shows. His performance this spring has been both impressive and inspiring. The Cardinals are optimistic, albeit cautiously so, but it does appear that Carpenter is headed for a stellar season.
Houston Astros: Lance Berkman
The Astros' first baseman began experiencing soreness in his left (throwing) shoulder in February. As recently as last week he was having trouble lifting his hand above his shoulder. The team is calling it biceps tendinitis, and Berkman is brushing it off as no big deal. They had better hope it is just a little spring training aggravation and not a sign of something that continues to flare up during the season. After all, those chronic, nagging injuries generally start out as small annoyances. Only time will tell, but there is reason to keep a close watch on Berkman's status; it may become more of an issue if he cannot get back to the field at the season's start.
Cincinnati Reds: Bronson Arroyo
When you hear the diagnosis of "carpal tunnel syndrome" it usually conjures up the image of an overworked software programmer whose hands are going numb from endless hours at the keyboard. But this injury is affecting the Reds in a different way. The electric-shock-like pain in Arroyo's thumb and index finger is keeping him from writing; playing guitar; and, most important for the Reds, pitching well. The plan, along with anti-inflammatories and intermittent rest, is for Arroyo to pitch through this, something he has done in the past. But the level of symptoms he is experiencing, on top of the fact that this is a chronic condition, makes it impossible to guarantee that Arroyo will be able to do so. Don't be surprised if he is forced to endure a stint on the DL early on.
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Pittsburgh Pirates: Jack Wilson
Wilson was at an all-time low in 2008. He played in his fewest games, largely as a result of injury. After a torn calf muscle and broken right (throwing) index finger derailed most of his season, Wilson wasn't sure he would still be in Pittsburgh this year. But in Pittsburgh he remains, and although he's not going to be a rock star, the hope is that he'll be healthy enough to continue to provide primarily a solid defensive presence. Despite missing a few days with a bruised knee in spring training, he's hoping he'll have his best attendance record in years in 2009.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Eric Byrnes
Byrnes, formerly known for his speed, had a terrible 2008 when both wheels came off, as in both hamstring muscles were injured. Byrnes opted for a conservative treatment approach (meaning no surgery) and has recently been showing that his legs are healthy this spring. Although Byrnes is not currently slated to be an everyday player for the Diamondbacks, the ability to slot him in anywhere in the outfield makes him valuable off the bench. He still has plenty left in the tank, and is already looking speedier than before he was injured last year. Don't overlook him.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Manny Ramirez
With all the concern apparent in Dodgerland when it initially seemed as if Manny might not be signed in 2009, there had to be similar concern when Manny was sidelined by a hamstring strain almost as soon as he joined the team. No doubt beads of collective sweat began to form in the Dodgers' front office. That concern has been for the most part alleviated as Manny has returned to both hitting and fielding duties. But, you may ask, don't hamstring problems tend to recur? Yes -- more beads of sweat -- but in this case, there are several things working in the Dodgers' favor. First, the injury was a minor strain. Second, because of the timing of the World Baseball Classic, Manny could actually be brought along more slowly, limiting his running early in his recovery, enhancing the healing process. Third, the Dodgers have an all-star medical staff. Relax. Manny can just be Manny.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki had a rough 2008 season. First, he was sidelined for weeks with a torn left quadriceps (not his fault). Shortly after his return from that injury, a laceration requiring 16 stitches to his right (throwing) hand kept him out for two additional weeks (his fault -- he slammed his bat, and it broke and bit him back). After an offseason to heal his leg fully and to settle down his frustration with last year's numbers, Tulowitzki should be in good shape for a strong 2009 season.
San Francisco Giants: Noah Lowry
Health issues have challenged Lowry in the last few years, most recently wiping out his entire 2008 season. This has to be disheartening for a young pitcher who showed so much promise when he first joined the bigs. Remembering that first season is perhaps why he continues to plod along through each rehab stint. Lowry, shut down last year with compartment syndrome in his left (throwing) forearm followed by elbow surgery, has already been bothered by shoulder pain this spring. A visit to Dr. James Andrews resulted in an injection into what was otherwise termed a structurally sound shoulder. Lowry is still optimistic that he can provide an option for the Giants later this season, but cumulative arm injuries do not historically bode well for pitchers.
San Diego Padres: Chris Young
Young has Ivy League smarts and toughness. No one could doubt the mental fortitude of this Princeton graduate after he came back to the mound just 10 weeks after taking a pitch to the face. The impact resulted in not only a broken nose, but also a skull fracture. Despite post-surgical sinus and ear infections, a strain in his throwing forearm forced him onto the DL again in August. Given his injuries last year, Young's spring tendinitis and poor outings have some concerned. For his part, Young says that both are typical of his spring performance and that he will warm up as the season approaches. Last year's injuries should have no carryover effect. Young has every reason to be optimistic in 2009.