Pre-Spring Training Injury Updates for MLB's Top Recovering Stars
Injuries are an inevitable part of baseball, just as they are in every other sport, and they tend to pop up at the most inopportune times.
More than a few high-profile players saw their 2013 seasons cut short by various ailments, while others played through the pain and dealt with their injuries after the season came to an end. For some, the injury bug didn't rear its ugly head until this winter, leaving their status for Opening Day in doubt.
How do things look for these players as the start of spring training rapidly approaches? Let's take a look.
Chad Billingsley: Tommy John Surgery
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly expressed some concern that Chad Billingsley, who underwent Tommy John surgery towards the end of last April, will try to do too much too soon, as he explained to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick: "I think this is the dangerous time for him. He's going out there with the other guys and he can't go to another level, trying to keep up with the Joneses."
After listening to the 29-year-old right-hander's comments, it's easy to understand why his skipper feels that way. "My arm hasn't felt this good in a few years. I feel like I have a whole new arm," Billingsley told Gurnick. "They keep telling me, don't throw 95 [mph] yet."
Thus far, Billingsley has only thrown off of a mound a handful of times, limited to pseudo-fastballs in the low-80s. He believes that he could be cleared to start throwing curveballs by the end of the month and, by the end of March, be able to get into some game situations.
Should everything go according to plan—something that is far from a certainty with the oft-injured Billingsley—he could be ready to rejoin his team in early June. But Billingsley knows that nothing is carved in stone at this point, saying, "Nobody knows when I can come back. I just continue one week at a time."
Miguel Cabrera: Groin Surgery
Miguel Cabrera might be the reigning American League MVP—an award that he's taken home in each of the past two seasons—but the slugger looked nothing like a MVP candidate down the stretch or in the playoffs for the Detroit Tigers in 2013. His ability to produce was limited by a painful groin injury that required surgery to repair.
It wasn't until after the New Year began that Cabrera began to feel like himself, according to George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press in an article written at the end of January. “Like two weeks ago. I was feeling more strong. I was able to run 100%,” Cabrera said, adding that his offseason workout routine was back to how he normally prepares for spring training.
The move across the diamond from third base back to first base, where Cabrera won't have to move quite as much, will certainly help to limit the wear-and-tear that his body—and his surgically repaired groin—deal with on a daily basis.
Barring any unexpected setbacks, Cabrera should be good to go when Opening Day rolls around.
Jesse Crain: Right Biceps Surgery
Expected to anchor a rebuilt Houston bullpen this year, Jesse Crain told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart that it's simply too early in his rehab process to know whether he'll be ready to take the ball from manager Bo Porter on Opening Day:
It's going to take time to get my arm strength back to where it needs [to be in order] to be able to get back on the mound. We haven't gone through the whole [rehab] program, but we'll increase it every week how much we throw, and hopefully the sooner the better, if my arm gets stronger.
While that might not sound like someone that's overly optimistic about his chances to start the regular season on the team's active roster, the 32-year-old reliever, an All-Star with the Chicago White Sox in 2013, is encouraged by how his surgically repaired arm feels so far, stating that, "It feels good, and I'm headed in the right direction."
Just like his new team, which is finally headed in the right direction after years of ineptitude, things are beginning to look up in Houston.
Matt Harvey: Tommy John Surgery
If Matt Harvey has his way, he'll be toeing the rubber for the New York Mets before the end of the 2014 season, as he explained to Dan Martin of the New York Post:
If I get to throw a couple of innings in August or September and then have a normal offseason without having to go into next year with all those questions still out there, that would help me significantly. In my mind, that’s what I’d like to do instead of just pitching in the fall league.
It's good to have aspirations and dreams, but Harvey realizes that, ultimately, the decision isn't his and that erring on the side of caution may be the best approach to his rehab. “I completely agree that I shouldn’t come back too soon,” the 24-year-old told Martin.
That said, Harvey is itching to start throwing a ball again, and he has a pretty good idea as to when he wants to do just that:
They said I should be able to start throwing four months after the surgery and that’s Feb. 22, and I haven’t had any setbacks. I can’t wait. Even if it’s 10 feet, I just want to pick up a ball. As if right now, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to do that.
Regardless of when Harvey is able to begin throwing, it would be shocking to see him back on the mound for the club until next spring, when the team can be sure that his elbow has fully healed.
Derek Holland: Left Knee Surgery
We've all seen the signs that read "Beware of Dog," but no dog owner ever expects that they'll need to take caution around their own pup.
Texas starter Derek Holland tore cartilage behind his left kneecap and underwent microfracture surgery after Wrigley, his pet boxer, clipped the back of his leg as they were playing at home. While he's frustrated by the injury, he doesn't harbor any resentment towards his dog, saying to ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett, "It's a dog. What am I supposed to do? Accidents happen."
It's a costly accident, however, one that is expected to keep Holland on the sidelines until after the All-Star break. Holland has yet to fully test the knee, only lightly pedaling a stationary bicycle thus far, and he checks in with team physician Dr. Keith Meister once a week for regular checkups.
Holland says that he feels good and is already bending his knee at "90 degrees" on his own, but he realizes that he's a long way from being able to step back on the mound. "I feel very good with the way things have been going. But I can't rush anything," Holland said.
As to whether he'll be in camp with the club, Holland remains unsure, stating, "I want to be with the guys, but at the same time I don't want to be a distraction."
Derek Jeter: Multiple Left Leg Injuries
“Derek (Jeter) looks amazing. That’s awesome,” New York Yankees pitcher David Phelps told the New York Daily News' Anthony McCarron recently after watching the team's captain in action at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. Phelps also added:
You can tell he’s determined to go out there and do well. If you had to place a bet on it, you know he’s going to go out there and have a good year. I’m really looking forward to seeing him play again. He’s having a lot of fun right now.
Jeter, who never fully recovered from a fractured left ankle that he suffered in the 2012 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers and was limited to 17 forgettable games in 2013, told McCarron that there is no comparison to be made between 2013 and 2014:
Last year, to be quite honest, I want to forget about it. You can’t really compare the two offseasons. Last year was like starting over from scratch — not even starting from scratch because I had to build back up to where I was before I got hurt and then try to build up, so I never really got on track.
Everything’s good, man, so far, knock on wood. Everything’s been fine. Everything’s normal schedule.
Getting Jeter back to normal will go a long way towards the Yankees returning to the playoffs in 2014, perhaps even more than some of the team's high-profile additions this winter will.
Josh Johnson: Right Elbow Surgery
Josh Johnson knew early on that 2013 was going to be a long season in Toronto, as he explained to MLB.com's Corey Brock recently:
Spring Training [in 2013], [the elbow] felt good, but there was something in there that wasn't bothering me yet. We got to April and it started creeping in. You could tell that something wasn't quite there. I couldn't get to that extension.
Johnson suffered through a miserable, injury-filled season and underwent surgery in October to remove bone spurs from his right elbow before signing an incentive-laden, one-year deal with the San Diego Padres this winter.
Working out near his offseason home in Nevada, Johnson has gotten rave reviews from UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers, reviews that have given him optimism that his troubles are behind him, per Brock:
He walked up to me and said, 'I can see a difference in just you playing catch' at the 75 feet or what it was at the time. That was huge. I've felt good but then to have someone else say I can see a difference, can see the extension ... that was nice.
Being ready for Opening Day remains a goal of Johnson's, though Padres manager Bud Black made it abundantly clear to the veteran that San Diego is going to take things slow with the newest addition to its starting rotation this spring. "I talked to Bud and he was saying you might not go [pitch] every other day and we're going to play it by ear and see how you're feeling," Johnson told Brock.
As long as Johnson continues to feel good and his arm continues to get stronger, that Opening Day goal may become a reality.
Matt Kemp: Left Ankle and Left Shoulder Surgery
Matt Kemp has learned from his past mistakes and isn't about to rush back into action for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The former All-Star outfielder recently told Dylan Hernandez from the Los Angeles Times:
If I'm ready to play, I'll play. If not, I'm not going to play. I don't want to come back at 80% and get hurt again. I want to be 100% the whole year and give everybody what I can give them with a full year of me being healthy.
He's not yet tested his surgically-repaired ankle outside, limited to running on a machine that takes most of the strain off of his legs, and he'll be following a different routine than his teammates when camp officially opens.
It's Kemp's ankle, and not his shoulder, that will likely keep him out of action when Los Angeles opens its season in Australia against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 22, though he joked that he's got "a little swag in his step" these days.
As for the shoulder, which gave him major problems in 2013, Kemp is ecstatic: "My shoulder is pain-free and I'm excited about that. It's been a while since I haven't felt anything in my shoulder."
Whether he's ready to go on Opening Day or not, the two-time All-Star believes that it's only a matter of time before he reclaims his place among baseball's elite players:
Of course I do. I never thought I wasn't one of the best players in the game. I work hard at this game. It's something I love to do. I've had some pretty good success at it. You've got to consider yourself one of the best to be the best and I do.
Only time will tell if his confidence is justified or not.
Manny Machado: Left Knee Surgery
Dr. Neal ElAttrache couldn't be more pleased with how Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado has progressed since undergoing knee surgery back in October to repair a torn medial patellofemoral ligament. He explained to ESPN's Stephania Bell, "He has worked exceptionally hard to get where he is. And we haven't rushed him. It's just a function of who he is as an athlete."
Where Machado is, roughly four months after going under the knife, is ahead of schedule. He is now cleared to ease his way back into some baseball activities. "He can hit, he can field ground balls, he can run," ElAttrache told Bell.
That said, Baltimore's 21-year-old third baseman remains unsure as to whether he'll be ready to go on Opening Day, as he explained to MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli:
Once I start playing I can give you a better, more or less, of an idea. Not a full-go yet. It's a process. Little by little, I'll be able to get back out there. It was definitely good to hear some good news from the doctor.
His teammate Adam Jones tells Ghiroli that he believes Machado will be in Baltimore's lineup on March 31. Given the way that Machado's rehab has gone thus far, it's hard to find fault with Jones' optimism.
Mark Teixiera: Right Wrist Surgery
More than 10 months after tearing the tendon sheath in his right wrist during batting practice before an exhibition game for Team USA as it prepared for the 2013 World Baseball Classic—and more than seven months since having surgery to repair the injury—Mark Teixeira is taking things slow.
"It's respecting it (the injury)," Teixeira recently told ESPN New York's Matt Ehalt. "There's plenty of guys that come back from injuries and come back way too fast and get reinjured. That's not in my plans this year."
Back in January, MLB.com's Bryan Hoch reported that Teixeira's wrist was still a little stiff, but that the New York Yankees first baseman had begun hitting off of a tee and was working on strengthening the wrist, something he spoke about on the YES Network:
Right now, I'm six months out of surgery. Will I be 100 percent Day 1? I hope so. But even my doctor said, it's going to keep getting looser, keep getting stronger. That's just the way surgery goes. That's just the way it is.
According to Hoch, Teixeira is expected to begin facing full-speed pitching later this month and, perhaps by the first week of March, be ready to take some at-bats in exhibition games.
Justin Verlander: Abdominal Surgery
Justin Verlander told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press and other media members that he'd catch up with them next week this past Saturday, at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, but his teammate, reliever Phil Coke did.
While he's not a doctor, Coke likes what he's seen from Detroit's ace as he works his way back from surgery to repair a core muscle last month:
He seems to be progressing at a good rate, especially for somebody who takes care of himself as well as he does. He’s right on track as far as I know, but I don’t know the details of his day-to-day or any of that stuff.
I know what I see, and I see J.V. getting himself back in the saddle as quickly as he can.
Coke's take on the situation, coupled with GM Dave Dombrowksi's positive outlook on things last month (per MLive's Chris Iott), should have Tigers fans optimistic that Verlander will be able to make his seventh consecutive Opening Day start for the Tigers, a streak that stretches back to 2008.