Carlos Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in the National League, but over the past few seasons, he hasn't been healthy enough to turn that into production. With Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki taking up space in both the payroll and the training room, it's no wonder that Walt Weiss' team has struggled. Gonzalez is now dealing with tendinitis in his knee, noted by the Denver Post, something that's often difficult for similar players to overcome.
Gonzalez says he's been dealing with the inflammation since early last season, but that should hardly make anyone feel good. This type of situation with a chronic leg injury indicates that while he's able to play through it, the Colorado Rockies medical staff hasn't been able to clear up the situation.
While the Rockies have not said which tendon is affected, it is most likely the patellar tendon. The patellar tendon runs over the front surface of the knee. It is strong and thick but very exposed and can be injured easily. There are studies that show a connection between patellar tendon issues and ankle sprains.
Tendinitis is, by definition, a swelling of a tendon. Rather than a stretching or tearing of fibers as in a strain, the inflammation is caused by a chronic situation and can be quite painful. If the condition goes on long enough, it can morph into tendinosis, which is even more serious. With those changes in tensile strength, a rupture of the tendon is more likely.
Gonzalez has an extensive injury history, but none seem to be involved with the current issue. Last season, Gonzalez had an offseason appendectomy and a sprained finger that cost him much of the second half. In 2012, Gonzalez had wrist issues that derailed him and the team. He's avoided leg problems for most of his career, with his steal totals indicative as they have held steady over his career.
This type of injury is difficult for speed players. While Gonzalez has more than one tool, his ability on the bases and covering the big outfield in Denver is key to his value. Patellar tendinitis often creates problems with quick starts and jumps—it is also known as jumper's knee—which will certainly come into play for Gonzalez.
Normal rehab for this kind of injury is simple rest, but that obviously isn't the best solution for a player who is going to try to play at a high level. Ice is often the best tool, but there are also anti-inflammatories and other modalities. Using anti-inflammatories is difficult for a chronic condition since flareups will lose effectiveness, especially for over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. The body builds up a tolerance for ibuprofen with regular use and higher doses can cause serious medical issues.
As with any issue the Rockies have, many will ask if altitude is a contributing factor. For a chronic condition like Gonzales is dealing with, there is no indication that this is the case. There's no indication that Gonzalez is having more trouble at home than on the road or that there's any sort of difference given trips. It can safely be ignored if not denied outright.
Keeping Gonzalez and his big-dollar contract healthy is key for the Rockies. Along with Tulowitzki, they make up 28 percent of the team's payroll, according to Spotrac. Adding in Brett Anderson, the talented but oft-injured pitcher the Rockies acquired that is currently on the DL with a broken finger, pushes that figure up over 33 percent.
Watch for Gonzalez to show any sort of problems in the field, especially if he's forced to alter either his normal shallow setup or his routes to balls, which would indicate that he's getting a slower release. He's likely to run less, but check to see that Gonzalez is still able to go first to third as necessary. In some situations, Gonzalez may show a problem by sliding in a "stand up" situation, which would indicate he's avoiding hard stops.
The Rockies medical staff will be challenged to keep Gonzalez functional and productive despite the kind of chronic issue that would sideline or sidetrack similar players. How it keeps him functional may decide whether the Rockies are competitive this season or if they stay stuck in the NL West cellar for yet another year.