Final Spring Training Injury Updates for MLB's Biggest Stars
Spring training isn't just a six-week period of preparation for the grind of the regular season, it's a war of attrition for every team in the sport.
When players take the field for meaningless exhibition games, injuries are an unfortunate byproduct of playing the game. Although every star—regardless of age or ability level—needs some semblance of game action in March to prepare for the season, lingering injuries or new ailments can cast a shadow over what should be the promising start of meaningful baseball.
Of course, not all of baseball's injured or recovering stars suffered from Cactus or Grapefruit League spills. Some are still rehabbing and working back into shape after 2013 injuries or long-term battles with bumps and bruises.
Technically, Opening Day has already arrived in the form of baseball in Australia between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. After another NL West tilt on Sunday night—Dodgers vs. Padres—baseball's "true" Opening Day will arrive.
With spring training coming to a close, here's an update on the biggest stars with injury concerns and ailments heading into April.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and MLB.com, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
For the best pitcher in the world, spring training is in the rear-view mirror. After a typical dominant performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks last weekend, Clayton Kershaw was poised to start again in Los Angeles' third game of the season.
Those plans have been shelved, per the Dodgers Twitter account.
Kershaw's upper back has flared up since the team left Sydney, Australia, forcing the team to proceed with caution in handling its $215 million ace.
For now, keep a watchful eye on Kershaw's trajectory and exactly when he takes the mound next. If this issue is truly just inflammation, the Dodgers will be fine. If it becomes something more, one of baseball's best teams will be in big, big trouble.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees
Blanket statement: New York Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is injury prone.
Indisputable fact: Ellsbury has only played in 140 games in a season three times in seven big league campaigns.
To be fair, some of his past disabled list stints involved fractured ribs, a shoulder injury stemming from a collision and a fractured foot. None are predictors of future health issues for a player the Yankees shelled out $153 million to acquire this offseason.
For a player reliant on speed, calf injuries are another story.
According to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, the Yankees are "wary of a setback" with Ellsbury's currently sore calf. In fact, they might start the season with their expensive center fielder on the disabled list as a precaution.
Until Ellsbury misses his first regular season game, Yankees fans can hold out hope that the signing of their newest star outfielder won't be a colossal mistake.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
With Dodgers star Yasiel Puig, there's always more than meets the eye.
From his special, five-tool skill set to his mysterious path taken from Cuba to the United States to an alleged back injury that spurred his removal from Los Angeles' second game of the Australia series, Puig is gold for media members looking for a juicy story.
He also seemed healthy enough to go clubbing in Hollywood when the team returned back to California last weekend. Perhaps that is the type of behavior that manager Don Mattingly was referring to when he called Puig "the boy who cried wolf" in light of the back issues in question, per Fox Sports.
The good news: Puig is healthy enough to play when the Dodgers reprise their regular season schedule after a week break.
The bad news: Rhetoric—both legitimate and unfounded—around the Dodgers lightning rod won't cease to create a buzz anytime soon.
Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
For the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies, spring training was akin to hitting rock bottom before a pitch of regular season baseball was thrown.
Part of the reason for the ominous clouds that seemed to hang over Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. over the last six weeks: Cole Hamels' plight from shoulder soreness to fatigue to disabled list trip to start the season.
Yet, there's finally some good news to report on the Hamels and Phillies front.
According to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, Hamels pitched two innings—his first competitive action of spring—in a minor league game on Thursday.
At this point, results are far less important than how Hamels felt after the outing. Per Salisbury's report, the 30-year-old lefty uttered five words that could calm a weary group of Phillies fans.
“I felt great out there,” Hamels said.
By expounding, the ace laid the groundwork for what should be a buildup to a return to Philadelphia around the start of May.
“I’m really pleased,” Hamels said. “I feel like I can truly get spring training in now. I feel healthy now and I have the strength to go out and get my reps in and build my pitch count up.”
Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
In a perfect world, baseball fans could have been treated to a Cole Hamels-Yu Darvish battle during a season-opening series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers.
With Cliff Lee as a suitable co-ace in Philadelphia, the Phillies won't go without a top lefty on the mound in Game No. 1.
In Texas, the top-tier depth isn't there to replace Japanese sensation Yu Darvish.
According to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, the Rangers gave their fans some good news on the staff ace and strikeout artist: An MRI showed no structural damage to his neck.
After initially proceeding as if the discomfort was simply the result of sleeping awkwardly, Texas decision makers decided to start the season with Darvish on the shelf, allowing their ace to rest and heal instead of rushing him back.
For Rangers fans, this was a scare. Without Derek Holland, Texas can't afford a long-term injury to Darvish and hope to compete in a loaded American League postseason race. For now, the news is encouraging.
Jose Reyes, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
Be worried, Blue Jays fans.
In 2013, a talented team never gained traction and fell to the doldrums of the American League East. Part of the reason for the failure above the border: Jose Reyes' gruesome early-season ankle injury.
No, the ankle isn't acting up for the athletic, game-changing force set to begin his second year atop the Blue Jays powerful lineup. This time, it's a hamstring strain that is being described as "mild" after the results of an MRI came back to the team, per John Lott of National Post.
Before the test on Monday, Reyes didn't seem overly concerned, per Lott's report.
“I’m not concerned,” Reyes said. “I just want to make sure that everything is all right. We have to find out what it is.”
For now, it's a mild strain that won't put Reyes on the shelf during the waning days of Grapefruit League action.
After an awful 2013 season, the Blue Jays desperately need a hot start in April. In order to achieve that, Reyes needs to be healthy and productive.
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
After seeing his spring training slate slowed by recovery from offseason ankle and shoulder surgery, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp has begun the season on the disabled list. If all goes according to plan, he won't be there for long, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
In fact, Kemp could be activated for Los Angeles' game on April 4.
According to manager Don Mattingly, the decision isn't about Kemp's timing or readiness for game action, but rather up to the Dodgers medical staff to clear the $160 million star, also per Gurnick's reporting.
"We'll see, it's up to medical," Mattingly said. "He's had a ton of at-bats. I'm sure he's feeling the timing is pretty good. It's really left up to how he's feeling. He's had no setbacks. He's up to six innings [per game]. He's getting his self there with the amount of time he's playing."
With three players on this list of injured stars, the Dodgers aren't whole to start the season. If they get there soon, a great season could commence.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Considering how gruesome Manny Machado's knee injury looked last September, the idea of the young Baltimore Orioles star starting the 2014 season on the disabled list wasn't hard to imagine. Yet, after progressing throughout the winter, there was some hope that the 21-year-old would be manning the hot corner at Camden Yards on Opening Day.
As Roch Kubatko of MASN points out, Baltimore's pursuit of third base depth underscores the reality of Machado's rehab in order to reprise his role in the powerful Orioles lineup. Machado will be back soon, but not when the season starts.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis understands why Machado would want to be back for the opener against the defending champion Red Sox, but would rather play a few weeks without his teammate in order for full health to be restored, also per Kubatko's report.
"We need him 100 percent. We don't need him to try to be a hero right now."
Which injured star worries you the most heading into 2014?
Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball.