Under the Knife: Latest MLB Injury Updates
This is a column about injuries, but I have to pause and contemplate what Ichiro Suzuki has done. Since coming to America, he's been one of my favorite players to watch. His impossible swing, his crazy lines to the media and his unquestionable talent have kept me up late watching Seattle games (and now Yankee games) too many times. For years, my fantasy team name was "Ichiro's Dog."
Four thousand hits, even if you translate the Japanese hits, is an amazing figure and, yes, he could well beat Pete Rose. I don't expect that will be recognized by most, any more than people mentioning Sadaharu Oh alongside Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
But 3,000 hits in MLB? That's a feat for anyone, let alone a player who didn't start his American career until he was 28. He's within reach, if he keeps playing. While he's not what he used to be, he's still plenty good enough to go another couple years without being a liability. I can only hope that somewhere down the line, Joe Girardi lets Ichiro pitch. Then, I can't wait until Ichiro's Hall of Fame speech.
There's plenty of injuries to get to—and every single one this week an All-Star—so let's get to it...
Jason Heyward (Head)
Ninety mph. That's how fast the fastball was that hit Jason Heyward in the jaw. Jon Niese was clearly not throwing at Heyward, but the result is unfortunately the same. Heyward has multiple fractures in his jaw that will need surgical fixation—what we used to call "having your jaw wired shut"—and he will miss somewhere between four and six weeks.
That mark puts the rest of the regular season in jeopardy. With the lead the Braves have, it shouldn't be a big deal for getting to the playoffs, but what Heyward does in the next few weeks will tell us whether he'll be able to help once the calendar flips to October.
The jaw will heal. It's a somewhat common injury, and as with most bones they heal predictably. The problem is that for at least a month, Heyward won't be able to eat solid food. It's not the ideal diet plan, but he's going to lose weight and strength. What he can get through the straw and what he's able to do to keep his functional strength will be key.
It's these kinds of situations that make you wonder why all teams don't have a nutritionist on staff. I see a lot of protein shakes in Heyward's future, but we'll have to wait and see where he is in a month before we have any idea whether he'll be able to help the Braves in the playoffs.
Jose Bautista (Hip)
We don't get all the information on the outside that the team does. Even with my best Peter Gammons techniques, I don't get everything. What we hope for is that teams give us enough information or at the very least that the symptoms match up with the information the team does share.
That doesn't seem to be happening with Jose Bautista. He headed to the DL with a hip bruise, but that's about all anyone can agree on. Bautista says it's a lingering issue, while John Gibbons said it came on quickly, from a sliding catch.
Let's assume that both are telling the truth, that Bautista has a lingering issue that was exacerbated enough that he needs the DL stay. Now the question is whether it's enough to push him to the DL and beyond. A lingering hip injury is much more likely to do that, even to the point of shutting him down, than a simple bruise.
The way Bautista talks about it, it could be something more, such as a sports hernia or even a hip labrum issue. Both can present like this but have longer and more complex injury horizons. This definitely bears watching, though even the worst case has him ready for next season.
Miguel Cabrera (Hip)
Miguel Cabrera is hitting .359 with 40 homers and 120 RBI. I don't care how advanced your stats are, that's good. The fact that Cabrera is going for a second Triple Crown is pretty amazing, whether or not he's got the highest WAR. About the only thing standing between Cabrera and history is Chris Davis and a bad hip.
Cabrera has been dealing with a recurrent hip flexor strain for about a month now. He exacerbated the situation on a swing this week, which could lead to him missing some time, as he did when it first cropped up.
Jim Leyland won't say what the problem is specifically and in Hockeytown, "lower body" is OK with most. The downside here is that while it could be separate but related strains, it could also be a sports hernia. Missing games and opportunities could be the difference in the Triple Crown race.
This doesn't appear to be enough to push him out beyond a bit of rest, but Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand might end up being the key to the MVP race. Unlike last year, the difference isn't going to be an argument over defense, but a discussion about availability.
Derek Jeter (Calf)
The Yankees are surging. If you buy the argument of timing that many are selling with Yasiel Puig, you have to also buy it with Alex Rodriguez. One can only wonder what the return of Derek Jeter might do for this team, especially if he can stay in the lineup for more than a couple days this time.
Newsday had the report that Derek Jeter could be back as soon as this weekend. Jeter is running well and the Yankees sent him to Scranton (Triple-A) for what could be a very quick rehab. The Yanks will be looking to see whether Jeter is moving well and if he has his swing ready.
The question now is whether Jeter will just be a DH. The broken hand that has likely ended the season of Jayson Nix puts the Yankees in pretty dire straits in the infield. If Jeter could come back and play at least part time in the field, it could be a difference maker. Some have even wondered if shifting Jeter to third might help, though I don't think so, especially at this stage in the season.
Jeter is also going to be mentioned more and more with the Rodriguez malpractice case. Many are noting that Jeter did not go to Yankees doctors to deal with his broken leg or his strains, instead heading out for "second opinions." This is a misunderstanding. It's not unusual to go to a specialist, as Jeter did (or as Rodriguez did for his hip surgery), and I'm also pretty sure that the Yankees signed off on the surgical choices, unlike Rodriguez on his clearance to return.
David Ortiz (Back)
David Ortiz has had one heck of a comeback season. Being healthy has helped, though he still gets reminders that he's 37. After playing first base Monday, he was still sore Wednesday, with his back tightening up as the game went on.
While the Red Sox don't think this is serious, the schedule isn't helping them. Interleague play takes the DL away and the Dodgers were expecting Ortiz to play a couple games in LA at first. (This hurts Mike Napoli as well, though his hip hasn't been the issue that many, including the Red Sox, worried about this year.) If he's not able to stay healthy and play first, Ortiz may be pushed out of the lineup until next week.
The rest could help in the long run, as any back injury for a power hitter, let alone an older power hitter, is worrisome. Watch to see that Ortiz's power is intact. I'll be looking for small signs like a lack of follow-through or even signs of pain on his face during swings.
Clay Buchholz (Shoulder)
Chasing teams like the Yankees and Rays aren't the only ones that might be helped by a returning player. The Red Sox are as well, with Clay Buchholz's potential return a possible game changer for the team.
The Boston Herald is reporting that Buchholz is headed to a rehab assignment after a couple side sessions and sim games went well. He'll start in Lowell (Single-A), close to home, and will go only about 50 pitches. That would put him on track for an early September return, assuming he can up his pitch count over a few starts.
As Buchholz tries to return from his shoulder strain, we'll have to watch the basics of command and velocity, as well as see if he's able to throw with his normal mechanics. The Sox have to hope that John Farrell, brought back for precisely this kind of situation, is able to manage Buchholz through this process. With the bullpen thin and overworked, it would be difficult to pair Buchholz with someone or to worry about him going out short.
Assuming Buchholz does come back as expected, he could be auditioning for a playoff spot. It's unlikely that the Sox will go five-deep with starters, so Buchholz could end up fighting with John Lackey and Ryan Dempster for a spot. Dempster has relieved in the past, so he's the natural choice, but only if Buchholz is healthy and effective on his return.
Jonathan Broxton (Arm)
The recurrence risk for flexor tendon strains seems to be higher than what we'd expect. There's an element of Joel Zumaya to Jonathan Broxton. Both are big guys that throw so hard, it's a wonder they hold together at all.
Broxton came off the mound Wednesday night and headed almost directly to the DL. While he told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the injury was to a different part of the elbow than what had him on the DL previously, it's reasonable to assume they are related.
Broxton will see a doctor Friday, with surgery possible. Even without it, his season is likely done, pushing the Reds to shuffle the back of their bullpen again. With Sean Marshall no closer to a return, Dusty Baker is now going to have to play matchups in the seventh and eighth. That's not his strength.
The DL move also came with some roster shifts. Johnny Cueto was shifted to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster. Cueto would be eligible to come off the list at the end of August, but since he's barely throwing at this point and not close to a rehab start, the move is academic.
David Wright (Hamstring)
Players want to play. It's usually that simple. When David Wright says he wants to return, I don't doubt it a bit. It also doesn't change what I reported a couple weeks back, that the Mets seemed more willing to shut Wright down given the severity of his hamstring strain.
In the same way that pitchers have to be protected, often times the medical staff, along with the front office, has to make decisions that the player doesn't like. David Wright told ESPN New York that he "has no doubt" of a return, but the part about the medical staff not giving him any timetable is far more telling.
Nothing in baseball happens without a plan, especially in an organization run by Sandy Alderson. His military precision is one of the hallmarks of his leadership. That statement is telling to me.
While it's still possible that Wright could come back this season, I still think the inclination of the Mets is to let Wright heal up. Maybe there will be a cameo at the end of the season, a last game where pictures of Wright next to Matt Harvey will help sell tickets for next year.