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Thursday, February 21, 2013
Preseason injury watch: 2B

By Stephania Bell
ESPN.com

The 2013 fantasy baseball season is right around the corner. Aside from tracking which players have traded uniforms and ballparks, gauging the health of those with injury concerns is of paramount importance. Each position has a few key fantasy players -- we've addressed only those players in the Top 150 for now -- with question marks by their names entering the spring. Although teams limit the details of players' medical histories, there is still significant information to be gleaned from an understanding of the athlete's condition and status report updates as to his activity. As the regular season approaches, these situations will evolve because many players recovering from injury or surgery will progress their activity accordingly or, in some cases, encounter delays or setbacks.

Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates: Walker's season ended prematurely as a result of a herniated disk in his back. He is reportedly feeling much better heading into 2013, but the challenge with spine problems is their tendency to be chronic. Disk injuries can also be associated with hamstring strains, either directly (leg weakness as a direct result of nerve compression) or indirectly (postural associations, for example). An offseason program focusing on training the stabilizing core musculature and addressing any underlying flexibility issues certainly helps; maintaining that regimen during the season is equally important but not always as easy to do.

Walker seems to understand the need for maintenance. He recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "As long as I'm doing what I need to do with my exercises and keeping my muscles strong, there's no reason why this should ever be an issue again." His approach is certainly the correct one, but sometimes the triggers are beyond the athlete's control. A long plane flight -- and there are many for major league teams -- can be enough to lead to an episode of back pain. Walker could indeed end up playing through the season unscathed, but the odds suggest that he is more likely than not to have a recurrence of back pain at some point in his career. (See: Rafael Furcal.)