2012 preseason injury watch: Relievers

As you prepare for your 2012 fantasy baseball season, injury stories from last season are undoubtedly a factor. A number of players either had their seasons end prematurely due to injury or limped into the offseason with health concerns. Now spring is around the corner, and you need to know how concerned you should be. Since the top predictor of injury in one year is injury the year before, it's hard to feel confident about anyone who lost significant time in 2011. That said, some athletes appear to be on the verge of bursting back on the scene this spring while others cast shadows of uncertainty all around them. Here's what we're hearing about some of the players with major injury concerns surrounding their names.

We'll be splitting up the injury reports by position to make it a little easier to find information about the players drawing the most attention.

Relief pitchers

Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants:
What a difference a year makes. After helping guide his team to a World Series championship, Wilson was one of the favored closers heading into 2011. Unfortunately, injuries played a part in Wilson's inability to produce a repeat performance. It was back spasms out of spring training, but the more worrisome issue was the elbow pain that ultimately led to Wilson's season coming to a close. In fact, when Wilson's elbow was acting up in August, he paid a visit to Dr. James Andrews, who had performed Tommy John (ulnar collateral ligament) reconstruction surgery on Wilson during his LSU days. Andrews reassured him that the elbow was stable and Wilson remained on a rehab program. Ultimately, his season ended somewhat prematurely but there were no hints of serious worry on the part of the Giants.

Heading into this season, Wilson is optimistic about his health but naturally there are a couple of concerning factors. While not terribly dramatic, the fact remains that Wilson's injury was season-ending last year. In other words, there is no proof yet that Wilson can fully overcome this issue. He also revealed recently that he had been playing with elbow pain through the entirety of last season (which might explain some of his location issues) along with flare-ups of his hip and back. According to the San Jose Mercury News, after a recent bullpen session Wilson declared the elbow "pain-free, no ailments or inflammation." The Giants are certainly hoping that will remain the case this season, and as of now Wilson is on track to be ready for Opening Day.

Al Alburquerque, Detroit Tigers:
For all who enjoyed the emergence of Alburquerque in the majors last season, you're going to have to wait a while before you see him again. Alburquerque had surgery on his right (throwing) elbow in December to stabilize a non-displaced stress fracture. Bone typically requires four to six weeks to heal, and he will not throw before there is sufficient evidence of such healing taking place. Adding in the time it will take to restore all of his pitches and build back his strength and endurance, Alburquerque is not expected to be ready until after the All-Star break.

Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees:
Chamberlain tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing arm in June and underwent subsequent Tommy John surgery. The announcement that Chamberlain would need surgery came as a surprise given the less-than-dramatic fashion in which the injury came about. Chamberlain had an episode of tightness in his throwing elbow in early June, which was originally thought to be a flexor strain. An MRI helped confirm the ligament injury and surgery soon followed.

The good news is that Chamberlain has recently resumed throwing off a full mound and reportedly felt "great" afterward. So far, so good, but he still has a ways to go in terms of his throwing progression before he can return to competition. While the timetable is not fixed, look for Chamberlain to be available in the second half of the season.

Mike Adams, Texas Rangers:
Adams underwent sports hernia surgery in early January, a procedure that typically requires about six weeks to return to competitive activity. Given the abdominal demands on a pitcher, the time to return to form can take longer but Adams has a cushion before the regular season gets underway. He may not need it, though. As of this writing, Adams has already begun facing live hitters and is on target to be ready for Opening Day.

Jose Contreras, Philadelphia Phillies:
Contreras underwent surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right (throwing) elbow in September. The flexor tendon is the anchor for the muscle group that controls flexing of the wrist and attaches on the inner aspect of the elbow, adjacent to the ulnar collateral ligament. His rehab has gone well and he is currently throwing bullpens in spring camp, but requires additional rest between sessions. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Phillies plan to take it cautiously with their 40-year-old veteran this spring to help keep him fresh heading into the regular season. The team hopes he will be able to appear in spring training games sometime in March. If all continues to proceed according to plan, Contreras could be on track to perform when the season gets underway.

Cole Kimball, Washington Nationals:
No sooner did he get called up to the majors than Kimball's season came to a disappointing close. In July, Kimball underwent surgery on his rotator cuff and is now in the midst of a lengthy recovery. As of this writing, the Washington Post reports he is playing catch at the Nationals' spring training facility. The Nationals hope to be able to call on him in the second half of the season.

Bobby Jenks, Boston Red Sox:
There's a first time for everything … and for Jenks it's also hopefully his last. This past year Jenks suffered, among other things, a pulmonary embolism (clot in his lung), a potentially life-threatening situation. Once that issue resolved medically, he underwent back surgery to address bone spurs in December. A subsequent unexpected back surgery, the result of complications following the first operation, took place less than three weeks later. Jenks told the Boston Globe he was "leaking spinal fluid" and had an infection. "It was a combination of everything that could have gone wrong went wrong," Jenks said. Not only has the healing process been extended as a result, but Jenks lost a significant amount of weight.

Jenks has been placed on the 60-day DL and it is unclear just when he will be ready to return. At this point, the hope is that the symptoms which plagued him earlier will no longer be an issue, but it's no surprise that his strength and conditioning are well behind. It may take Jenks quite some time to return to throwing; restoring the stamina to deliver effective pitches will take significantly longer. There is no clear timetable for his return.

Stephania Bell is a physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine.