How Lingering Neck Injury Could Impact Yu Darvish Early in 2014

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterMarch 25, 2014

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Yu Darvish has been great since joining the Texas Rangers, but a neck injury has forced the team to bench its ace, according to Darvish has a sore neck and is heading back to Dallas for more tests. It is very likely he will start the season on the disabled list.

More worrisome for Rangers fans is that Darvish hasn't been able to shake what was initially described as simple neck stiffness. Darvish continues to describe the pain as minor and that it initiated when he "slept on it wrong." 

Now, he's headed to see Dr. Drew Dossett in Dallas. Dossett is one of the world's top spinal surgeons, but don't read too much into it. Dossett is a team physician for the Rangers as well as the Cowboys. Some might remember Dossett as the doctor who made the final call on Tony Romo's late-season surgery.

There are many possibilities for this condition, with the most likely being some small herniation of a cervical disc. If so, the nerve would be irritated, causing the pain. The disc could be inflamed for many reasons. Trying to calm that aggravation can be handled with injections or, in an extreme case, surgically. If Darvish needs even minor spinal surgery, such as a microdiscectomy, he would miss two to three months. If it's something minor, it's more about how he responds to the treatment and when he can get his arm ready to come back.

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There are several pitchers who have had similar injuries. The comparable that makes the most sense to me is Clay Buchholz, who missed much of the last half of the season with a similar-sounding neck injury. Buchholz's is more serious, in that it moved into his shoulder due to nerve impingement. Other pitchers with similar cases are Shaun Marcum and Ted Lilly. The range of days lost to these goes from 16 to 84, according to my injury database.

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There's another sports comparable that NFL fans will note: Peyton Manning. While Manning eventually had to have a single-level fusion, where the disc was removed and two vertebrae were locked together with a titanium cage, he'd previously had two microdiscectomies, plus a number of other minor treatments, and was able to play at a high level for at least five years.

With Darvish out for the Opening Day game with the Philadelphia Phillies—which just sounds odd, doesn't it?—the Rangers are left scrambling. They will already be without Derek Holland for the first half of the season after knee surgery, and without Matt Harrison for at least a few weeks, if not more, after his three surgeries with Dr. Dossett last year. 

That leaves Martin Perez as the likely Opening Day starter, with no clear favorite for the now-open No. 5 slot. The Rangers may be forced to convert another reliever to the rotation, with Tanner Scheppers now possibly the No. 2 starter and Robbie Ross in the lead for the No. 5 spot. That will leave the pen thin in front of as many as four starters who are coming off injuries or just converted to the rotation. Mike Maddux has his work cut out for him to be sure.

The Rangers do get a little help from the schedule. With two off days in the first two weeks, the team could elect to go with a four-man rotation for the first two times through, but that would leave them needing a fifth starter in an important divisional series with the Seattle Mariners

The Rangers start the season in a very tough spot. They're down three of their expected five starters as well as Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto. Elvis Andrus isn't feeling so well, either. Ron Washington is going to have to rally a team that's going to look very unfamiliar for the first few weeks of the season in order to not fall behind an improving AL West.