Injury Updates on Derek Jeter and Other MLB Stars Recovering This Offseason
The image of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter writhing in pain behind second base in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers was not a pretty sight.
Jeter suffered a fractured ankle on the play, and his Yankees succumbed meekly to the Tigers in four straight games.
The Yankees were then left to ponder a possible life without Jeter to start the 2013 season.
Jeter and several other MLB stars suffered serious injuries last season that derailed their careers. All of them are working diligently to get back on the field as quickly as possible.
Here are updates on their progress this offseason.
Chad Billingsley: Los Angeles Dodgers
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Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Chad Billingsley was headed towards another solid season last year. In mid-August he was 10-9 with a 3.44 ERA heading into his Aug. 24 start against the Miami Marlins.
In fact, Billingsley was on one of the best runs of his career, having won his six previous starts with a sterling 1.30 ERA.
However, he was pulled in the fourth inning of his start against the Marlins with right elbow pain. Billingsley was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Rather than go under the knife for ligament replacement surgery, Billingsley opted to treat the elbow with platelet-rich plasma injections.
He was shut down for a full month and resumed throwing again, reaching 94 MPH in a simulated two-inning game in November. He was ordered to shut down again and started throwing again in December.
Dave Stewart, Billingsley's agent, said his client was optimistic about his progress.
"Physically, Chad's doing great, and he's excited about the year," said Stewart. "He sounds confident. I'm not in his head, but he sounds like he's relieved that the throwing program worked out well. He's pain-free. He said he's right where he needs to be."
Billingsley is slated to be ready for spring training, and the Dodgers are hoping that the plasma therapy was enough to keep him healthy.
They'll find that out soon enough.
Victor Martinez: Detroit Tigers
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It's been almost a full year since Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee while working out during the offseason.
It was that injury that prompted the Tigers to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Martinez, now 34 years of age, began a running program last week under the supervision of Tigers trainer Kevin Rand at the club's training facility in Lakeland.
Martinez has also begun swinging the bat and has progressed to the point that he's facing live pitching.
“Victor told me that he has not had any issues hitting,” Rand said. “He’s now being pitched to and will come here at the beginning of February to begin hitting daily with (hitting coach) Lloyd (McClendon).
"Victor is progressing very, very well.”
According to Rand, Martinez is on track to be ready by Opening Day. That's big news for a team that is clearly looking to win now.
Brian Roberts: Baltimore Orioles
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For the past three seasons, Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts has suffered through a spate of injuries that have limited him to playing in just 23.7 percent of his team's games.
Roberts was attempting to come back last season from a concussion when he tore the labrum in his right hip after just 17 games.
Roberts originally hurt the hip in early July and attempted to rehab the hip in Florida. He finally shut it down after the pain persisted in a rehab outing for Class-A Aberdeen.
Surgery was deemed a success and Roberts has been working out at the team's spring training facility.
He called into 105.7 The FAN radio on Tuesday to talk about his ongoing recovery and what he plans to do to try and stay healthy throughout the 2013 season.
A healthy Roberts in the Orioles lineup changes the dynamics of their offense and adds a productive table-setting bat at the top of the order. Anything the Orioles can do at this point to keep Roberts on the field will be a major factor in their hopes for a postseason berth in 2013.
Carl Crawford: Los Angeles Dodgers
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Left fielder Carl Crawford suffered through a miserable 2012 season. First, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist in mid-January. At the time it was thought that Crawford would just miss the first few weeks of the season.
Then, while Crawford was rehabbing the elbow during extended spring training in Florida, he started experiencing pain in his left elbow.
Crawford was shut down again and attempted to rehab the elbow after being diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament.
Crawford briefly came back following the All-Star break, appearing in 31 games and hitting .282. But the pain in his elbow persisted, and he finally opted for season-ending Tommy John surgery in late August.
Now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Crawford has begun throwing again and is on track to be ready by Opening Day.
Dodgers president Stan Kasten appeared on 710 ESPNLA radio on Tuesday to discuss Crawford's progress.
"At no time has he felt he wouldn't be ready for Opening Day," Kasten said. "That's exactly how we feel."
Rafael Furcal: St. Louis Cardinals
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The St. Louis Cardinals are hoping they can hold shortstop Rafael Furcal together for one more season, using duct tape and bailing wire if they have to.
Furcal injured his right elbow in a game against the Washington Nationals on Aug. 30. At the time, Furcal was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and he opted to treat with a platelet-rich plasma injection instead.
Furcal has been cleared for full baseball activities and will be ready for action in spring training. The Cardinals are certainly hoping that Furcal's elbow holds up through the final year of his contract before they move on with a younger, more long-term option.
Brian McCann: Atlanta Braves
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Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann gamely played through pain in 2012, and his numbers suffered as a result.
McCann hit just .230 with 20 HR and 67 RBI, ending his streak of six consecutive All-Star appearances and four straight Silver Slugger awards.
McCann was bothered by a sore right shoulder for much of the season and had surgery in mid-October to repair a torn labrum.
McCann's original recovery timeline had him out of action until early May. However, he recently indicated that he's aiming for a return on Opening Day.
"Being three months out of surgery, I feel like I'm ahead of schedule," McCann said. "I feel better each day, and I'm very encouraged by the signs that I have received recently. Now that I've had the surgery, I can tell a huge difference with my range of motion and flexibility. This is as free as my shoulder has been for a few years."
McCann could begin a throwing program by the end of the week. In the event he's unable to go on Opening Day, Gerald Laird will be the starting catcher.
Albert Pujols: Los Angeles Angels
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Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols slid awkwardly into second base in a game against the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 22.
He injured his calf and right knee on the play and missed the next four games. Pujols served as the DH in 24 of the final 34 games of the season, playing through pain along the way.
In mid-October, Pujols underwent a minor operation to clean out that knee. He is now fully recovered and expects to represent the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Pujols will make that decision after he begins testing his surgically-repaired knee when he reports to spring training in mid-February.
All indications are that Pujols is on the mend and will be fully ready to resume bashing in the middle of the Angels' lineup on Opening Day.
Mariano Rivera: New York Yankees
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Whenever anyone goes through surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, it carries a certain amount of risk.
However, when you're 42 years of age, another element of risk is added.
New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera went down awkwardly on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium while shagging fly balls during batting practice prior to a game with the Kansas City Royals on May 3.
He suffered a torn ACL and had surgery six weeks later.
Rivera was expected to begin his throwing program this week and he fully expects to be ready by Opening Day.
"It is not 100 percent," Rivera said. "I would say it is 95 percent, but, by the time spring training finishes, it will be 100 percent."
Matt Garza: Chicago Cubs
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The Chicago Cubs signed Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to help bolster its starting rotation.
They're also counting on the healthy return of Matt Garza.
Garza last pitched on July 21 against the St. Louis Cardinals, leaving his start after just three innings with cramping in his right triceps.
Garza was shut down indefinitely and placed on the 15-day disabled list in early August.
Garza has been throwing since December and he fully expects to be ready by Opening Day.
If spring training started tomorrow, I would be ready to go," he said. "I'm not ready to pitch six innings today, but I will be ready to go when the season starts. I will be ready to go Opening Day, that's guaranteed."
A healthy Garza at the top of the rotation for the Cubs will make a huge difference. Based on last year's trade speculation, whether or not Garza lasts the full year in Chicago is another story entirely.
David Ortiz: Boston Red Sox
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Heading into the dog days of summer last season, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz was sizzling.
Ortiz was hitting .316 with 23 HR and 58 RBI with a 1.024 OPS after 89 games, clearly headed towards another outstanding season.
Ortiz then got hurt rounding the bases on an Adrian Gonzalez home run against the Chicago White Sox on July 16. The original diagnosis was a sprained Achilles heel tendon.
Ortiz sat out for over a month and attempted a comeback in late August. That was a no-go—Ortiz was shut down again after only one game.
Ortiz was expecting to begin hitting and agility drills in January, and the Sox fully expect their star slugger to be ready to go on Opening Day.
Matt Kemp: Los Angeles Dodgers
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With all of the changes that have occurred for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the past six months, they still look at star center fielder Matt Kemp as their go-to guy on offense.
Whether or not he'll be ready to deliver on Opening Day remains to be seen.
Kemp saw his streak of 399 consecutive games played end last May when he suffered a strained hamstring. He went back on the DL for the second time in June after re-aggravating the hamstring.
A crash into the Coors Field wall in late August further added to Kemp's injury-filled year. He suffered knee and shoulder injuries that severely curtailed his offense throughout the final month of the season.
Kemp underwent surgery on Oct. 5, and the damage to his shoulder was more severe than originally thought. Surgeons repaired a torn labrum and performed minor debridement of the rotator cuff.
Kemp has resumed baseball activities and will reportedly be ready to go for spring training. The extent of his involvement during spring training games won't be determined until he's evaluated during early workouts.
Derek Jeter: New York Yankees
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New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is used to playing through pain. He's done enough of it in his 18-year career.
So when pain in his left ankle began in September, Jeter gamely played through. He re-injured the ankle in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. He continued playing on.
In the 12th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, Jeter moved to his left to field a ground ball up the middle.
The ankle, however, wasn't up to the task.
Jeter crumbled to the ground in obvious pain, his ankle fractured as a result.
Jeter shed the walking boot last week and has begun rehabbing at the Yankees' training facility in Tampa. He's confident that he'll be back in his normal position for the Yankees on Opening Day.
“I do,” Jeter said. “I feel good. I am where I need to be (physically). I am right where I should be.
“I feel good about it,” he went on to say. “Why wouldn’t I?”
I'm certainly not willing to bet against that return.
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.