MLB Spring Training Concerns Already Emerge
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Baseball is in the air—at least in the warmer climates of the country.
Spring training is well under way as players prepare for the grueling six-month, 162-game season ahead.
This early exhibition period is crucial for players to shake the rust off their swings and for pitchers to get back to regular-season form after spending the last few months away from the game.
As exhibition play begins, there are a number of growing concerns among certain teams as Opening Day approaches.
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto's Casey Janssen throws a pitch in a game against the New York Yankees, Aug. 24.
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After taking over as closer for the Blue Jays last season, Casey Janssen thrived.
The right-hander was successful on 22-of-25 save opportunities. But in October, he felt pain in his pitching arm, and his numbers declined. In August, Janssen made 13 appearances, allowed three earned runs, recorded six saves and had an ERA of 2.08. However, in September, the six-year veteran hurler made just nine appearances, and recorded just two saves with a 5.00 ERA.
Janssen insisted all he needed was to rest his arm, but by mid-November, the pain was still persistent. He then opted to have surgery to shave the clavicle in his collarbone to help relieve the irritation.
As the Blue Jays began spring training, Janssen admitted he’s still not 100 percent, despite having the surgery.
“Am I little bit behind? Yes,” Janssen said, courtesy of AOL.SportingNews.com. “Have I always been a couple of weeks early, chomping at the bit to get out of spring training? Yes. Now I’m going to be ready at the end of camp instead of 10 to 14 days earlier and going nuts from wanting to get out of it.”
If Janssen experiences a setback during his recovery, the Blue Jays could be in trouble. Sergio Santos would be the guy to assume Janssen’s duties in the event of a setback, though, he is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
Chicago's Matt Garza throws a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals, July 21.
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Matt Garza and the Cubs avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $10.25 million deal this offseason.
But the injury bug hit Garza during the first week of full-squad workouts. On Feb. 17, Garza ended a scheduled 40-pitch throwing session after tossing just 20 pitches due to discomfort in his left side.
According to MLB.com, the 29-year-old right-hander is making progress.
“Right now, I just want to get ready to throw, get ready to start pitching for opening week, and that’s where my timeline’s at,” Garza said, courtesy of MLB.com. "Spring starts—of course, they matter—but I’m more concerned about being ready for Opening Day."
Garza arrived at the Cubs’ spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., feeling good after missing more than two months last season due to a sore right elbow, which ultimately ended his season.
“Maybe that’s what it was—maybe I came out too strong, too fast,” Garza said, according to MLB.com. “It is what it is, and now it’s time to get back to work.”
The Cubs can’t afford to lose their ace for an extended period of time. The seven-year veteran started 18 games last season, going 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA.
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols drives a ball against the Chicago White Sox, Sept. 22.
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Two years ago, the Angels plucked free-agent Albert Pujols off the market, and signed him to a monstrous 10-year, $254 million contract.
His first season with the Angels began with an early slump. Pujols went 27 games without hitting a home run, and posted a .217 batting average in April.
The 33-year-old first baseman underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October, and continues to rehab his knee. Pujols isn’t expected to suit up during exhibition play until mid-March.
“We’ll see where he is week to week,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told reporters Wednesday, according to MLB.com. “Right now, he feels really good targeting Opening Day being ready. If he’s playing by mid-March, he’s fine. That’s probably the back end of what he needs. I think if he’s ready sooner, fine, we can work him in. I think he’s approaching it the way he needs to.”
Pujols suffered a right calf injury last season, but finished with 30 home runs, 105 RBI and a .285 average.
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets
Daniel Murphy launches a ball against Miami, Aug. 7.
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After their first full-squad workout of spring training, the Mets were dealt some bad news.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy experienced discomfort in his right midsection after working out with the team on Feb. 18.
According to the New York Times, general manager Sandy Alderson is concerned with Murphy’s intercostal muscles.
ESPN.com reported Murphy received a cortisone shot after the injury.
“I think we want to be proactive and get me up to New York, especially with all the success they had with David [Wright] and Scotty [Hairston] last year,” Murphy said, courtesy of ESPN.com. This seems to be the best course of action. The best-case scenario would be take a couple of days off and it’ll be fine. But from everyone I’ve talked to, the shot is not a bad thing. It’s a good solution to the problem. But I can’t say what’s going to happen. I just know we’ll go up there and get it checked out by the doctors.”
According to the New York Times, Wright and Hairston experienced a similar issue during spring training last year.
Meanwhile, Murphy said he dealt with related pain symptoms last season, and played through it.
“An encouraging part for me is I was able to play through it last year,” Murphy said, courtesy of ESPN.com. “If I needed to play, if we had a game, I would play. But I think that right now, as an organization, they just want to play it smart. It’s better to miss the first week of spring training than the first week of the season.”
The 27-year-old hit .291 with six home runs, 65 RBI and 40 doubles for the Mets last season.
Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Derek Jeter is helped off the field after breaking his ankle against Detroit in Game 1 of the ALCS, Oct. 13.
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Derek Jeter has played the game forever. He broke into the majors in 1995, and has a lot of hardware to show for.
He’s a 13-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner and the active leader in career hits, with 3,304.
As he prepares for his 19th major league season—all with the Yankees—Jeter’s health appears to be finally catching up with him.
Jeter suffered a broken ankle last October after diving for a ground ball in the 12th inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against Detroit.
According to the New York Daily News, Jeter’s offseason was troublesome, to say the least.
Rehabbing his surgically repaired ankle has been both challenging and taxing, but the 38-year-old insists on returning for Opening Day, April 1 against Boston.
“Why wouldn’t it be realistic?” Jeter said, according to the New York Daily News. “I broke my ankle in October; it’s been quite some time. I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I’m going to have to push myself, but Opening Day has been the goal all along.”
Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals
Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal attempts to turn a double play against Pittsburgh, Aug. 27.
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The Cardinals took a big hit when Rafael Furcal tore a ligament in his right throwing elbow in late August, which ended his season.
He refused to have surgery to repair the torn ligament, opting to have a plasma injection in September, accompanied with extensive rehab.
Though, the injury has crept back up on Furcal during spring training. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the 35-year-old shortstop continues to be bothered by the pain.
“It still hurts. A lot,” Furcal said, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch. “When I’m throwing.”
For now, Furcal—a switch-hitter—is only able to bat from the right side of the plate.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Furcal and the Cardinals continue to say that Opening Day is not a concern.
Of course, Furcal has been a consistent name on the injury report in recent years. He missed a good portion of the 2008 season after having back surgery. He dealt with hamstring and back ailments in 2010, and suffered a fractured thumb and oblique strain in 2011.
If Furcal continues to experience pain, then his season will be in jeopardy.
Lance Berkman, Texas Rangers
Lance Berkman drives a pitch against the Chicago Cubs, July 27.
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Lance Berkman underwent two operations on his right knee last season, and was limited to just 32 games with the Cardinals.
The 37-year-old signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Rangers over the offseason.
Only a few days into spring training, Berkman landed on the injury report with a mild calf strain.
“It’s slightly more than normal muscle soreness, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” Berkman said, according to the Star-Telegram. “If it was the World Series, I’d be in there.”
Berkman is expected to get most of his at-bats as the Rangers’ designated hitter this season, and his bat will certainly be needed after the departures of Josh Hamilton, who signed with the Angels, and Mike Napoli, who signed with the Red Sox.
Matt Thornton, Chicago White Sox
Chicago's Matt Thornton fires a pitch against Detroit, Sept. 17.
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The White Sox arrived at their spring training facility last week for full-squad workouts. However, left-handed reliever Matt Thornton has already hit the injury report.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the nine-year veteran was held out of drills after experiencing soreness in his elbow. MRI results revealed inflammation in his elbow.
“We have so much time it’s just safer to slow him down and get him out of drills, make sure he’s comfortable with it,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times. “You’re concerned every time a guy has that. I don’t know what level it’s at but the beauty is you can give him this time off and he can catch back up if there’s nothing wrong with him.”
Thornton was an important component to the White Sox bullpen last season. The 36-year-old reliever made 74 appearances, going 4-10 with a 3.46 ERA. Though, he was sixth in the American League with 26 holds.
Injuries are nothing new to Thornton. In 2003, he underwent Tommy John surgery, and was on the 15-day disabled list with left elbow inflammation in 2010.
Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Francisco Liriano winds up for a pitch against Cleveland, Sept. 25.
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Injuries are common among major league pitchers. However, Francisco Liriano suffered one of the most bizarre injuries ever over the offseason.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Liriano broke his non-throwing arm on Christmas after slamming it into a door in an attempt to scare his children, who were in the next room.
“At first, [my agent] thought I was joking,” Liriano said, courtesy of NESN.com. “It was sad and disappointing a little bit. Things happen. I wish I could take it back.”
Last season, the left-hander spent time with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins, and made 28 combined starts. He went 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA.
On Dec. 21, Liriano agreed to a two-year, $14 million contract with Pittsburgh. After injuring his arm, he then agreed to a baseline one-year, $1 million deal.
Liriano underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in 2006, and has had trouble controlling his pitches lately. Over the past two seasons, Liriano has averaged five walks per nine innings.
Phil Hughes, New York Yankees
The Yankees' Phil Hughes throws a pitch against Detroit in Game 3 of the ALCS.
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The Yankees will be without starting pitcher Phil Hughes for at least two weeks, according to MLB.com, after doctors revealed the right-hander has a bulging disc in his upper back.
“There’s concern, because we’re not going to see him doing anything, really, for 10 days to two weeks,” manager Joe Girardi said, courtesy of MLB.com. “Hopefully, everything is OK after that [and] we get him back out doing what he’s supposed to be doing. I am pleased that he feels a lot better than he did a couple days ago, but we’ve still got to worry about it.”
Hughes is coming off a 16-win season, which saw him make 32 starts while working over 191 innings.
If Hughes is sidelined for an extended period of time, the Yankees will be forced to look elsewhere for another starter.
Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
The Yankees' Curtis Granderson breaks his bat in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against Baltimore, Oct. 12.
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Toronto's J.A. Happ had a favorable 2-2 count against New York's Curtis Granderson during an exhibition game Sunday.
The next pitch proved costly, as Happ drilled Granderson on his right forearm, causing him to leave the game.
Initial reports suggested it was just a bruise. However, X-rays revealed Granderson suffered a broken forearm.
According to ESPN.com, the Yankees announced Granderson will be out for 10 weeks, making him game-ready by early May.
"Obviously it's a big bump in the road," Granderson said, courtesy of ESPN.com. "To be down, pout, all of those things isn't going to change anything. We just continue to move forward."
The injury could prove drastic for the Yankees, who are looking to rebound after losing to Detroit in the American League Championship Series last October.
Now, manager Joe Girardi is faced with replacing Granderson, who tied for second in the American League with 43 home runs last season.
"He's not an easy player to replace, but we've got to find a way," Girardi said, courtesy of ESPN.com. "You look at guys internally now. That's the only thing we can do."
The Yankees will be forced to fill the void left by Granderson for the first month or so of the season.