We are less than two weeks into the new MLB season, but there have already been a handful of notable injuries around the league, and you can add Josh Hamilton to the list of players set to miss significant time.
The Los Angeles Angels outfielder left Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners with a thumb injury, and while X-rays yesterday were negative, an MRI on Wednesday revealed a torn UCL (not to be confused with the elbow ligament of the same name) that will require surgery.
That will keep the slugger on the sidelines for six to eight weeks, according to a tweet from Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
Josh Hamilton: torn ulnar collateral ligament, surgery will keep him out 6-8 weeks.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) April 9, 2014
However, our own B/R injury expert Will Carroll reported there is also damage to the inside of the thumb as well, and Hamilton could wind up missing more time than the original siix-to-eight-week projection as a result.
More damage inside the thumb as well for Hamilton. That 6-8 week estimate could be on the low end for this type of repair and rehab.— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) April 9, 2014
No injury is a good injury, but this one is particularly tough for Hamilton as he was off to a great start this season and looked to be on his way to putting a rough first season with the Angels behind him.
"The news sucks," Hamilton said via a tweet from Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. "Any time you're playing hard and having fun, last thing you want to do...is miss time, hurt the team."
After signing a five-year, $125 million contract last offseason, Hamilton struggled mightily out of the gates and finished the season with a less-than-impressive line of .250/.307/.432 with 21 home runs and 79 RBI over 576 at-bats.
That was a far cry from the monster numbers he had during his final season in Texas, when he finished fifth in AL MVP voting on the strength of a .930 OPS to go along with 43 home runs and 128 RBI.
After hitting .333/.378/.606 over 33 at-bats this spring, Hamilton had continued raking on into the regular season and was 12-for-27 with two home runs and six RBI over his first eight games.
The injury came in the seventh inning of what was an 0-for-3 night for Hamilton on Tuesday. In an effort to leg out an infield grounder, Hamilton slid head-first into first base.
He walked off the field smiling after doing it, and everything seemed to be fine, but he was later lifted for pinch-hitter Ian Stewart in the ninth inning.
Video of the play can be seen here, courtesy of MLB.com.
For as much as you want to call it giving your all and hustling, sliding head-first into first base remains one of the dumber things you can do on a baseball field. It actually slows you down as far as trying to beat a play out, and players come up injured time and again as a result.
The question now is not only when Hamilton will be able to return to the Angels lineup, but what type of player he'll be upon returning.
For a 32-year-old with a rich injury history, expecting him to pick up right where he left off once he gets back on the field may be wishful thinking.
Dustin Pedroia suffered a similar injury last season at the end of May, suffering a full tear of the UCL in his left thumb, but he opted to play through it for the remainder of the season.
Pedroia still turned in a solid season overall, hitting .301/.372/.415 and ranking second among all second basemen with a 6.6 rWAR, per Baseball-Reference, but his power was clearly sapped.
The clear takeaway from those numbers is that Pedroia was having trouble elevating the ball, and when he did hit the ball in the air it was not finding the seats nearly as often as usual. The result was just nine home runs in 641 at-bats, the lowest HR-rate of his career.
This is what Pedroia was able to do playing through the injury, and it will be interesting to see how much better off Hamilton will be this season after he goes under the knife.
For someone like Pedroia who can help the team in a number of ways, the injury was not a huge deal. However, for someone like Hamilton who is going to earn his $25 million salary with his power, it's a serious issue.
Can Josh Hamilton return to his impressive early-season form post-surgery in 2014?
Without an offseason to rehab and recover, Hamilton will be thrown right back into things once he's healthy, and the results could be another disappointing season in year two of his mega deal.
For a Los Angeles Angels team that seemingly had a window of opportunity with the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers both dealing with significant injuries this spring, it's a serious setback as well.
J.B Shuck and Collin Cowgill will likely take over for Hamilton in left field as a platoon, and while both are solid fourth outfield candidates, they'll come nowhere near the potential impact a healthy Hamilton provides.
Here's wishing Josh a speedy recovery and a productive remainder of the season once he does return, but he looks to have his work cut out for him turning 2014 in a positive campaign.
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