The Dodgers are hoping star outfielder Matt Kemp can get back to the field quickly.
With the Super Bowl over and spring training commencing in under a week, the start of the baseball season is legitimately within sight. And given that, it’s time to continue to preview the season.
The Dodgers head into 2013 with more injury questions than one wants to see before the season has even started—and the majority of those uncertainties are key players whom we should keep an eye on as the calendar unfolds.
MLB.com’s injury report lists three Dodgers as of February 3: Chad Billingsley, Scott Elbert and Matt Kemp. I will add a fourth—Josh Beckett—as he is recovering from career-threatening thoracic outlet syndrome.
Recent Billingsley reports are positive, according to Dodgers.com’s Ken Gurnick. The 29-year-old righty is recovering from last season’s Tommy John surgery and has already thrown four bullpen sessions. According to Gurnick, “[assistant pitching coach Ken] Howell said he was very impressed with [Billingsley’s] progress” and “club officials have targeted the All-Star break for Billingsley's return, but he might be ahead of that schedule.”
This is potentially significant news because of the relative instability at the back of the Dodger rotation. Dan Haren has thrown fewer than 180 innings each of the past two seasons, and Josh Beckett—see below—is recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome.
If Billingsley can provide a couple months of production, that will be valuable in helping the Dodgers get through the regular season.
Dodger fans may have forgotten about Elbert, and that is probably with good reason. That same Gurnick piece discusses Elbert’s potential return as follows: “Elbert had his surgery two months after Billingsley and was expected to throw his first bullpen session this week. Elbert has had three elbow operations since he last pitched for the Dodgers on Aug. 26, 2012.”
Those three elbow surgeries are the cause for concern. Even if Elbert can return towards the end of the season (the MLB.com injury report offers an optimistic speculative return date of June), there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to hold up for any length of time. After all, his innings high since 2010 is his 55.2 in that 2010 season.
Kemp is obviously the big question. If he misses extended time the way he did in 2013, the outfield logjam resolves itself. If he’s back but not fully healthy, then he simply takes innings away from healthier and (presumably) more productive players while at the same time depressing his trade value. If he’s back and fully healthy, then he has the potential to return to the level of his magical 2011 season.
A recent report from Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times does not give us a happy picture. Kemp “might not be ready to play on opening day” and is planning on being “on a different training program” from the rest of the Dodgers during spring training.
So, while we might hope for a quick and easy resolution to the outfield problem, it doesn’t appear as if we will get one. Instead, we will have to see if Kemp returns to his 2011 level.
There is no recent news for Beckett, which has to be a good sign considering the severity of the injury and surgery that he underwent last season. The latest significant update is again courtesy of Dodgers.com’s Ken Gurnick (via Twitter) and states that Beckett is expected to be ready for the spring.
While this is not necessarily surprising—he’s not even on MLB.com’s injury report—Beckett’s status is worth keeping an eye on because of the nature of the surgery.
This is a fantastic piece from Blog to the Score that looks at pitchers' recoveries from thoracic outlet syndrome and concludes that the success rate is remarkably low—which clearly calls into question Beckett’s ability to fully recover.