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Friday, March 18, 2011
Furcal, Ethier, Justin Upton look healthy


The mood was festive on St. Patrick's Day in Glendale, Ariz., as the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers sported green jerseys and caps in honor of the occasion and there were leprechauns on hand for the opening ceremonies.

The best sight for fans of both teams, however, had to be the uneventful (read: healthy) participation of several key players.

Rafael Furcal
Rafael Furcal was limited to just 97 games in 2010 because of injuries.

For the Dodgers, shortstop Rafael Furcal batted in his usual leadoff spot. Furcal has battled hamstring issues in the past that have caused him to miss significant time. Questions about his durability (he is now 33) and whether he will be able to maintain his speed have crept up. But Furcal is also known for being an exceptionally hard worker who takes his health seriously. The Dodgers have to be hoping that he will be able to replicate a season healthwise similar to 2009, when he played in 150 games.

Right fielder Andre Ethier scored a run in the bottom of the fourth when fellow outfielder Matt Kemp hit one out of the park that brought him home. Ethier, who had a tricky right pinkie injury last season that affected his performance at the plate, is eager to have a healthier 2011. As the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year, Ethier also dealt with knee and ankle issues in 2010, which affected his play especially late in the season. If Ethier is able to finish out this year the way he started the last one, the Dodgers could be in for a treat.

The Dodgers do have a couple of players who are nursing injuries. Pitcher Jon Garland is out with an oblique abdominal injury and likely will start the season on the disabled list, according to the team's website. Perhaps more noteworthy than Garland's injury is the fact he has been on the DL only once, in 2001 after he was hit by a line drive. With right-handed starters who sustain this injury averaging just over 30 days on the disabled list, the Dodgers have to be hoping that Garland is indeed "average." If all goes well, he could return in April, but the primary goal is to ensure that there are no recurrences once he does return.

Pitcher Vicente Padilla underwent surgery on his right (throwing) forearm in February to alleviate pain caused by undue pressure on the nerve there. Nerve entrapments of this type are commonly seen in individuals with highly developed musculature in the forearm yet are not frequently reported in pitchers. The Dodgers' website reports Padilla is expected to be sidelined until May. His return to competition will undoubtedly depend on how his throwing progression proceeds over the next several weeks.

The Diamondbacks could use a little luck of the Irish after dropping nine straight games in Cactus League play. Their good fortune may lie in the health of a couple of key players who dealt with injuries in 2010. Outfielder Justin Upton has showed no signs of holding back at the plate this spring. Upton injured his left shoulder late last year in what he called a "freak" injury (swinging at a bad pitch), according to the Diamondbacks' website, and his season ended prematurely as a result. Upton did not require offseason surgery, instead undergoing a course of rehab to strengthen his shoulder. So far it appears to be working for him.

Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero is off to a fresh start this spring as well. Last year, Montero tore the meniscus in his right knee, a particularly challenging injury for a catcher, given the amount of time spent in the crouch position. His offensive performance upon his return seemed to take a step back and, according to the Phoenix examiner.com, Montero never felt fully healthy. With the long-term health of his knees a consideration, Montero skipped winter ball, instead staying in Phoenix to train over the offseason. If he stays healthy, there's no reason to think he can't deliver on the expectations set for him a year ago.