Predicting Return Dates for MLB's Most Crucial Injury Comebacks

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystApril 30, 2013

Predicting Return Dates for MLB's Most Crucial Injury Comebacks

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    Stints on the disabled list are as much a part of baseball as peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

    We not only care if our favorite players will ever get back, but how quickly they can recover from their various ailments.

    Let's take a look through 14 of the most important names currently on the disabled list, and project when we might expect to see them back out on the field.

Big Names Returning This Week

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    There are a handful of star players expected to return in the next few days. They definitely deserve to be mentioned here, but they don't necessitate their own slide because of how little guesswork is still involved in their comeback.

    Michael Bourn (CLE CF): Bourn is eligible to come off of the disabled list on Tuesday, but the Indians may very well wait until the weekend to activate him. Cleveland has two mid-week games against Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee before a day off on Thursday, so there's no rush to get him in there against two very difficult pitchers if his finger isn't yet 100 percent.

    Brian McCann (ATL C): The distribution of playing time between McCann and Evan Gattis will be a hot topic, but McCann should be making his season debut within the next seven days.

    Ryan Zimmerman (WAS 3B): Whether he figures out how to throw the ball across the diamond is yet to be determined, but Zimmerman should return from his hamstring injury this weekend, relegating Anthony Rendon back to the minors.

    Ryan Madson (LAA RP): It's been over 18 months since Madson pitched in the big leagues, as he continues rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He's been throwing in extended spring training and could be back as early as next week.

    Jason Heyward (ATL RF): You and I would probably milk our recovery from surgery for all it's worth, but we've seen baseball players come back from appendix removal in far fewer than 15 days. Despite Monday's revelation that he might not be back until the end of May, I still think we'll see Heyward back to every day action within the next 10-15 days.

Curtis Granderson (NYY CF: May 13)

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    Curtis Granderson made it a whole five pitches into spring training before suffering a broken forearm courtesy of J.A. Happ.

    Original projections had him returning to action in the first week of May. However, it wasn't until the final week of April that he first took indoor batting practice. Odds of him returning in the next several days are slim to none, but he shouldn't be out too much longer.

    From May 7 through May 22, the Yankees play 17 games in a span of 16 days. Chances are he'll return to action somewhere near the end of that stretch, and he'll be welcomed back with open and exhausted arms. Brett Gardner hasn't received a day off yet this season, while 34-year-old Vernon Wells and 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki have received just two days off each.

    They have a doubleheader against the Indians on May 13. If he's anywhere near 100 percent, they'll probably bring him back to take part in some of those 18 innings.

Francisco Liriano (PIT SP: May 15)

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    The left-handed pitcher should be returning from a broken right arm within the next two weeks. Current speculation is that he'll come back for a start against the New York Mets on May 10, but we'll see what the Pirates do if Jeff Locke adds to his current streak of 13 scoreless innings this weekend against the Washington Nationals.

    If Locke does well, the Pirates shouldn't be in any rush to bring up Liriano. The Nationals did something similar with Chien-Ming Wang last season, keeping him on a rehab assignment in the minors for perhaps a few weeks longer than necessary because of how well his replacement (Ross Detwiler) had been doing. Wang only made four starts before being re-replaced by Detwiler.

    It should be noted that there's an atypical clause in Liriano's contract—which should be in the contract of anyone with an injury history, in my opinion—that bases pay incentives on the amount of time spent on the disabled list. The sooner they bring Liriano up, the more they owe him this season. So, if there's any doubt over whether he's at full strength, the Pirates will have every incentive to let him continue stretching out in the minors.

    Also, it wouldn't be proper analysis of Francisco Liriano if we didn't mention how horrendously inconsistent he can be. Here are his stats from four consecutive starts early in the 2011 season:

    April 27 vs. Tampa Bay: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 4 K

    May 3 at Chicago: 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 6 BB, 2 K

    May 10 vs. Detroit: 3.0 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K

    May 17 at Seattle: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

    Liriano has had an ERA over 5.00 in three of the last four seasons and an xFIP greater than 4.00 in four of the last five. Yet, he could strike out 15 guys or throw a no-hitter at any given time. He may be back soon, but who knows what Pittsburgh will be getting.

Johnny Cueto (CIN SP: May 15)

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    Tony Cingrani's third start of the season was his best yet, fanning 11 Nationals in six scoreless innings of work. But Cingrani is only in the majors right now because of Johnny Cueto's injured triceps.

    What will the Reds do when Cueto is ready to return?

    News on his recovery has been fairly non-existent. Though, he was eligible to return on Monday without any word of that roster move taking place. It's looking like he's still at least a week away from a return, as he would likely need a rehab start or two to test out his arm.

    I'm projecting May 15 for his return because it gives the Reds a chance to see Cingrani two more times before electing to demote Mike Leake.

    These are the Dusty Baker-led Reds, though. They rarely do what makes sense. The only reason Todd Frazier's hot start to the season has caught people off guard is because Baker insisted on keeping Scott Rolen's aging, expensive bat in the lineup for at least one year too long.

    Cingrani is the Reds' only left-handed starter, and fans in Cincinnati might riot if they send the rookie phenom back to Louisville when Cueto returns.

Jered Weaver (LAA SP: May 21)

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    Despite the disturbing amount of torque being placed on his arm in this photo, it's the non-throwing elbow that Jered Weaver fractured on an awkward fall—suffering the injury while trying to avoid a different one.

    He hasn't yet started throwing off a mound, but he's stretching his pitching arm back out with some long toss. Since the injury has nothing to do with his pitching motion, it shouldn't take more than one or two rehab starts to get the Dreamweaver back up and running.

    The timetable for recovery has him coming back in mid-to-late May. My guess is they'll try to ease him back into game shape and confidence with a favorable stretch of opponents. If he's ready by then, he could make his return on May 21 against the Mariners, followed by starts against the Royals, Astros and Cubs.

    Beyond a few starts, you're just guessing at how the pitching rotation will hold up, but his next four projected starts after that would come against the Orioles, Mariners, Pirates and Astros. Not only could he return in a few weeks, but if the Angels schedule him right, he might spend the first six weeks of his return looking like a Cy Young candidate.

    For whatever reason, the Angels don't play a single game against Oakland or Texas between May 2 and the All-Star break.

Matt Garza (CHC SP: June 1)

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    The two worst words in the English language that you can hear together when talking about a pitcher recovering from an elbow injury that caused him to miss half of last season are "James Andrews."

    We aren't quite there yet with Matt Garza, but if there are two other words you definitely don't want to hear, they're "dead arm."

    That's exactly what caused Garza to miss a rehab start last week and what is necessitating at least another four rehab starts before activation from the disabled list.

    Despite playing for a Cubs team that may have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, Garza has a whole lot of incentive to get back on the mound in a hurry. ESPN's Buster Olney nominated Garza as one of the biggest targets at this year's trading deadline.

    Garza will be a free agent at the end of this season, so it's likely the Cubs would love to get some sort of return for him. If he comes back on June 1, he'll be able to showcase his talents against the Arizona Diamondbacks—against whom he's 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 9.82 K/9 over the past three seasons.

Corey Hart (MIL 1B: June 3)

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    Corey Hart is still at least a month away from returning to the Brewers, as he's not eligible to come off of the 60-day disabled list before May 30.

    Without Hart in the lineup, the Brewers have been playing a combination of Yuniesky Betancourt, Martin Maldonado, Alex Gonzalez and Blake Lalli at first base.

    Those guys are batting a collective .207 on the season, and that's with Betancourt putting up better numbers than he had in the past four years. They won't rush his recovery from the meniscus surgery, but he'll certainly be the everyday first baseman as soon as physically possible.

Didi Gregorius (ARI SS: June 17)

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    As timetables seem to be with concussions, this is 100 percent a random guess.

    The Diamondbacks' shortstop of the future took a pitch to the head on April 26 and was subsequently placed on the seven-day disabled list. However, I can't recall anyone actually coming back after seven days.

    Denard Span suffered a concussion on an innocent looking collision at the plate in June 2011 and made just 10 starts over the course of the next 16 weeks.

    Brian Roberts—far from the healthiest person in MLB history—gave himself a concussion in September 2010 by hitting himself in the helmet with the bat in frustration over a strikeout. He suffered another concussion in May of 2011 and missed the rest of that season.

    Justin Morneau was en route to a possible MVP award in 2010 before suffering a concussion sliding into second base on July 7 and missing the rest of the season.

    I'm more optimistic for Gregorius, however, because his injury was more of a single thump than a head and neck injury. Having both had my bell rung and suffered whiplash in my lifetime, I can say the fog clears more quickly when it isn't also radiating pain down your spinal cord.

Zack Greinke (LAD SP: June 22)

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    If you believe in conspiracy theories involving advertising dollars, this guess will either support or debunk that idea.

    On the first Saturday following the conclusion of the NBA Finals, Fox has a chance to promote a nationally televised afternoon game as Zack Greinke's first start in over two months against the team that broke his collarbone.

    How often do must-watch mid-June baseball games come along? Aren't you already excited for that possibility, just to see what happens in Carlos Quentin's first at-bat against Greinke?

    The original prognosis for his recovery was eight weeks, which would put him at a comeback roughly 15 days before my proposed comeback date. I don't want to root for a guy to have his return delayed by a setback, but we're all secretly hoping he faces the Padres in his first game back, right?

Three-Fourths of the Yankees Infield

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    I'm just going to spare all of us the trouble of splitting up Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira into separate slides.

    For starters, no one seems to have any idea if or when any of these guys will be back.

    Teixeira kept insisting he would be back by May 1, but I just checked the calendar and that's tomorrow. As of April 26, his wrist has kept him from even hitting off a tee, let alone facing live pitches or coming close to a rehab assignment. A May 1 return might be slightly optimistic, and at this point even a June 1 return seems a bit overzealous.

    Jeter was also originally projected for a May 1 return but is now out until at least the All-Star break. I would guess he'll be back in late July, but I wouldn't be surprised if we never see him play again. As much as he's meant to the city of New York for the past 18 years, you don't just bounce back from a serious foot/ankle injury at the age of 39 to play shortstop every day.

    And did you know there are four more years left on Alex Rodriguez's contract after this season? He can barely run on a treadmill right now because of a bad hip, and we're still waiting with bated breath to find out if there will be any fallout from the Biogenesis connections this offseason.

    That's nearly $69 million worth of 2013 salary sitting on the sidelines with no projected return.

Brandon Beachy (ATL SP: July 26)

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    Could we be looking at this year's Kris Medlen?

    Brandon Beachy was lights out before needing Tommy John surgery. Through 41 starts he had a 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and was averaging better than a strikeout per inning. Those numbers are pretty much on par with what Gio Gonzalez did last season.

    Last week, Beachy tossed his first bullpen session since the surgery. He'll have an intensive rehab stint of at least six starts but should be back shortly after the All-Star break to even further bolster a pitching staff that's already among the best in the National League. 

Jose Reyes (TOR SS: August 9)

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    There are some guys who you expect can bounce back from injuries due to a track record with a clean bill of health.

    Jose Reyes is not one of those guys.

    Though the ankle injury that put him on the sidelines was something of a freak accident, it's just the latest instance on a list of leg problems he's suffered. Over his 10 years in the league, he's been on the DL three times for hamstring injuries, twice for calf injuries and now twice for ankle injuries.

    Between playing in the infield with home games on the Rogers Centre's FieldTurf and much of his value coming as a base stealer, there's reason for concern for the health of his legs going forward. Even if he comes back before August 9, I would guess he's back on the DL before the end of the year, playing a maximum of 50 more games by the end of the season.

Matt Harrison (TEX SP: August 13)

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    Matt Harrison had surgery last week to repair an inflamed nerve in his lower back and is expected to be out at least until the All-Star break.

    As someone who gave up on a pitching career because of chronic lower back problems, I wish him the best of luck on a speedy recovery.

    If Texas is able to remain in a pennant chase without him, it'll be a fantastic mid-season "acquisition" when he returns. Over the last two seasons, Harrison has a 3.33 ERA and 1.27 WHIP—although he struggled mightily in the playoffs in 2011, including being on the hook for two of the Rangers' four losses in the World Series.

    Without Harrison in the rotation, both Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm are being counted on every fifth day, despite having just nine career starts between them. It should be interesting to see where the Rangers are at three months from now.