Matt Kemp and 15 Injured MLB Players Whose Return Will Have the Most Impact
It took Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp exactly two rehab games with Triple-A Alburquerque to get back in the groove, smashing two home runs and looking completely healthy. The Dodgers are expected to activate Kemp in time for Tuesday night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
At 32-16, the Dodgers survived without Kemp in the lineup, going 9-5 during that time. However, don't think for one second that Kemp's return won't put a charge into the Dodgers' offense.
Thus far in 2012, injuries have taken a toll on many teams who have scrambled to find suitable replacements just to keep their heads above water until their stars return.
Which MLB star's return will impact their teams the most? Let's take a look.
Stephen Drew: Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew has not played in the major leagues since last July 20 when he fractured his ankle, and his return to the lineup would definitely give his struggling teammates a lift.
The Diamondbacks are floundering at 22-27, a full 10.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. Drew is working on building up his strength at extended spring training in Phoenix, and the D-Backs are hopeful that he can begin a rehab assignment within the next two weeks.
D-Backs' shortstops are hitting .299 this year in Drew's absence, so they're certainly holding their own. However, Drew's extra-base potential and veteran leadership will be a huge boost when he does eventually return.
Cody Ross: Boston Red Sox
From the moment that free-agent outfielder Cody Ross signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, experts saw the signing as a good thing for both Ross and the Red Sox.
Ross' dismal 2011 season with the San Francisco Giants was not a concern, as many felt that Ross' swing was perfect for Fenway Park and would provide the impetus for a turnaround season.
Sure enough, Ross got off to a great start, hitting .271 with eight HR and 28 RBI in his first 37 games. However, Ross suffered a non-displaced fracture of the navicular bone after fouling off a ball on his left foot on May 18th.
With both Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury already down with significant injuries, it was certainly a severe blow for the outfield-thin Red Sox. Ross isn't due to return until at least early July, so the Sox will have to continue to limp along with a patchwork outfield until then.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became one of the elite players in baseball last season after a campaign that saw him finish second in American League MVP voting to Justin Verlander.
Much was expected of Ellsbury this year, especially with left fielder Carl Crawford out for a significant portion of the season. However, on April 13, Red Sox fans watched as Ellsbury suffered a dislocation of his right shoulder attempting to break up a double play against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ellsbury just recently started throwing, his first baseball-related activity since suffering the injury, and likely won't return until at least early July. However, his return will give the Red Sox a certain boost, and the returns of both Cody Ross and Carl Crawford sometime in July or August certainly won't hurt, either.
Carl Crawford: Boston Red Sox
A trio of outfielders on the disabled list for any team would likely have a significant impact, and for the Boston Red Sox, it certainly hasn't helped.
With Cody Ross, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford all sidelined, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine has been forced to use a lot of creativity with his lineup, even playing first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in right field to help fill the void.
Crawford was originally sidelined with a wrist injury, but while rehabbing started feeling tenderness in his left elbow. Crawford was then diagnosed with a sprained UCL in that left elbow, sidelining him indefinitely.
Crawford has begun hitting off a tee with no reported soreness, so he will continue to progress until he is ready for a minor league rehab. A return at the All-Star break is not out of the question. While Crawford suffered through a miserable first season in Boston, his return gives Valentine many more options for his lineup along with the added speed and extra-base capability that the versatile outfielder brings to the table.
Carlos Quentin: San Diego Padres
On Monday at Wrigley Field, San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin, acquired by GM Josh Byrnes from the Chicago White Sox to add pop to a struggling offense, made his first appearance of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in March.
In his very first at-bat, Quentin laced a double into the ivy in left field scoring the game's first run. The Padres would go on to lose 11-7, but Quentin's debut was exactly what was envisioned by Byrnes when he acquired him.
The Padres entered the game with the second-worst offense in the National League, so Quentin's return was certainly a welcome sight. Will it be the magic elixir for the offensively-challenged Padres? No, but it will at least help somewhat.
Austin Jackson: Detroit Tigers
It must really suck to get hurt when you're having a breakout season.
That had to have been the emotion felt by Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson on May 16th when he suffered an abdominal strain in a game against the Minnesota Twins. Fortunately for the Tigers, Jackson, who was hitting .331 with a .414 OBP prior to the injury, is expected to come back this Friday.
Jackson was providing great table-setting skills at the top of the lineup, so manager Jim Leyland will certainly welcome his return, as will his teammates in the heart of the batting order.
Jonathan Lucroy: Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers seem to be cursed this year. At least that's what their fans have to be thinking after the latest injury to one of their key players.
The Brewers have already lost Mat Gamel, Alex Gonzalez and Chris Narveson to season-ending injuries, and had been playing without the services of Travis Ishikawa (oblique strain) and Cesar Izturis (hamstring) when manager Ron Roenicke learned of the bizarre injury suffered by catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy was reaching under his bed to retrieve a sock when his wife apparently moved a suitcase, falling on Lucroy's right hand and fracturing it.
Lucroy was having a breakout season of his own, hitting .345 with five HR and 30 RBI to go a .388 BA in the month of May. Out for at least 4-6 weeks, the Brewers are likely completely out of contention for a playoff spot now, if they hadn't been already with a record of 20-28.
The Brewers just can't catch a break. Lucroy certainly caught a break, but not in a good way.
Brett Gardner: New York Yankees
The New York Yankees received some good news on Monday, as they learned that their starting left fielder, Brett Gardner, resumed baseball activities.
Gardner, who suffered a strained right elbow on April 18th, began working out once again after aggravating the injury last week. Although no return date has been set, it's likely that Gardner could return in as little as two weeks if all goes well with his current rehab.
With Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones both filling in during Gardner's absence, left field has been a void in the Yankees' lineup (just a .206 batting average with five HR and 17 RBI). Gardner changes the complexion of the Yankees' lineup with his speed and on-base capabilities.
Freddy Sanchez: San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez is fast approaching one year since he's been on the diamond, and his date for return is still up in the air.
Sanchez, who originally suffered a ruptured labrum in his right shoulder, is now dealing with back pain, recently receiving a second epidural shot to relieve pain in his lower back.
Sanchez had been working out at third base in hopes of returning to the Giants' lineup with Pablo Sandoval sidelined with a broken hamate bone. However, his return is now completely up in the air.
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Ryan Howard/Chase Utley: Philadelphia Phillies
The right side of the infield for the Philadelphia Phillies has seen several different faces this season, and none of them are the faces that Philly fans want to see.
Nothing against Freddy Galvis, John Mayberry, Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix, but Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are indeed sorely missed.
Utley has been taking infield practice with the team for almost two weeks, but his ailing left knee still hasn't progressed enough at this point to warrant a minor league rehab. His timetable remains uncertain.
Howard, who tore his Achilles heel during the last at-bat of last year's NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, has participated in simulated games at the team's spring training complex in Florida, but no timetable has been set for his rehab, either.
It's looking like at least late June/early July for both Howard and Utley, and hopefully by that time it won't be too late for the last-place Phillies.
Michael Morse: Washington Nationals
Outfielder Michael Morse has yet to play in a game this year after enjoying a breakout campaign in 2011 that saw him hit .303 with 31 HR and 95 RBI.
Morse has been sidelined all season with a torn left lat muscle, and while the Nats are in first place in the NL East, their offense has struggled, hitting just .245 and scoring just 188 runs in 48 games (13th in NL).
Morse begins a rehab assignment at Single-A Potomac on Tuesday, and if all goes well could be back in the Nats' lineup sometime next week.
Chipper Jones: Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones has not appeared in the starting lineup since May 18th, going on the disabled list with a left leg bruise on May 25 after missing several games.
Jones did make a pinch-hit appearance in a game on May 23, but his absence from the lineup has coincided with the Braves' current free-fall, losing nine of their last 10 games, including a current eight-game losing streak.
This year was supposed to be Chipper's swan song after he announced his retirement in late March. However, it's now evident that Jones' presence in the lineup is still valuable and still needed.
Lance Berkman: St. Louis Cardinals
In a game last week against the Los Angeles Dodgers, first baseman Lance Berkman, who had already spent time on the disabled list with a pulled left calf muscle, reached up to take a routine throw from shortstop Rafael Furcal and immediately crumpled to the ground in pain.
Cardinals feared the worst, and so did Berkman for that matter. The dreaded torn ACL was feared in his right knee, which would mean the end of the line for Berkman this season.
However, during surgery that was performed on Friday, Berkman had his torn meniscus repaired, and doctors found no significant damage to the ligament, meaning that Berkman could return as early as late July.
Certainly good news for the Cardinals, who are already suffering from injuries to John Jay, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals are still on top of the NL Central, but any hopes for a defense of their World Series championship rests on the return of Berkman to full health, along with Craig and Jay.
Evan Longoria: Tampa Bay Rays
During a game on Monday, April 30, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was playing his usual aggressive style, attempting to steal second base in a game against the Seattle Mariners.
Unfortunately, his aggressive nature cost him two months of the 2012 season.
Longoria tore his left hamstring on the play, sidelining him until at least mid-to-late June. Tampa Bay is keeping pace with the Baltimore Orioles at the top of the AL East standings, but Longoria's return will have a huge impact on the offense and take pressure off the starting rotation with added run support.
Matt Kemp: Los Angeles Dodgers
Fans at Dodger Stadium will cheer loudly on Tuesday, as star center fielder Matt Kemp makes his return to the lineup after suffering a strained hamstring and ending his consecutive games played streak at 399 games.
However, fans should also applaud the entire Dodgers' team for stepping up in Kemp's absence as well.
Without Kemp, LA was 9-5 and retained their comfortable lead in the NL West standings. The addition of Bobby Abreu was a big help, as the veteran has batted .339 with seven RBI since joining the Dodgers.
However, Kemp simply can't be replaced. With Triple Crown capabilities, Kemp is the straw that stirs the offense, so fans will be cheering loudly tonight.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.