Under The Knife: Injuries are heating up at baseball's hot corner
Ryan Zimmerman will need six weeks to get into baseball shape after surgery
Pablo Sandoval's conditioning will help him retain power after wrist operation
Chase Utley played simulated game Sunday and is on pace for mid-May return
The headline fairies put "third base curse" in the title line a couple days ago and I kind of giggled. "Curse, shmurse," I said, looking at facts and figures, talking to doctors and scientists. Then the weekend happened and there were injuries -- or significant downgrades -- to six more third basemen. It's still not a curse, but it is a trend.
Is there something about the position that's causing some sort of problem? The simple answer is no. The six 3Bs that lead today's column couldn't be more different. Three are youngish, three are older (in ballplayer years.) Some are plus defenders, some ... aren't. One wasn't even a 3B last year and one nearly ate himself out of baseball. I once joked that if you took the four best pitchers of the last 20 years -- Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Rogers Clemens, and Tom Glavine -- and lined them up, they barely look like the same species, let alone the same occupation. (The same could be true of Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and Tim Lincecum today.) We like to see patterns, trends and conspiracy theories (if you're Frank McCourt), but it's mostly coincidence. The hamate fracture of one player on the West Coast has nothing to do with the hernia of another across the country. It would make things cleaner if trends had underlying reasons, but they don't, which is why we continue to build our knowledge through data collection and close observation. Powered by Hoosier Momma, on to the injuries:
There are a lot of questions about how Zimmerman went from playing through pain to DL to surgery in what appears to be a rapid progression. As one of my Twitter followers @dannimal asked, "Was Ryan Zimmerman's abdominal issue a new (post DL) injury, missed diagnosis, or known issue they hoped wouldn't need surgery?"
The truth is unlikely to be known, but this isn't a new injury, so it's one of the latter two possibilities. After talking to sources this weekend, it seems like the latter is the closest to the truth, as the team hoped that Zimmerman would be able to play through it, though there's some obvious frustration in the organization that Zimmerman wasn't clear about what he was feeling back in spring training. Once Zimmerman has the surgery, he'll need somewhere north of six weeks to recover, plus some time to get his swing back. There can be some overlap there, but putting the date at or near the start of July seems reasonable. There's been some discussion of the All-Star break, which would be a bit longer than the normal range for recovery, though the sample size is small.
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The Giants got a lot of breaks last year as they brought home a title, but they didn't want this kind of break this season. Sandoval fractured his hamate and will need surgery to correct it, forcing him to miss between a month and six weeks. Given the force Sandoval generates, it could be toward the long end of that timeline. With Mark DeRosa already out with his own chronic wrist issue, losing Sandoval to an acute wrist issue is a harsh injury stack. The surgery will come on Tuesday. The worry is that Sandoval will lose some power on his return, as is normal after this kind of surgery. Aside from that short-term issue, Sandoval should come back fine. One insider suggested a re-focus on his conditioning could also help.
There's no way to diminish how serious an infection like the one Blake has can be. This one was caught early and should have no long-term repercussions, but when complications include "loss of limb" and "death," it's serious. The incursion of MRSA (an antibiotic resistant staph infection) across America has made some inroads into sports. The enforced closeness of a team and a locker room, combined with often lax hygiene, has put more of a strain on medical staffs. The fact that we don't see more of this is a testament to the work they do, especially in football. Blake should be fine, but will need about six weeks to recover, assuming there's no structural issues or residual infection.
Is the hip bone connected to the shin bone? Not directly, but the issues that Youkilis is having with his hip connect to that ball he fouled off his shin. While it looked like he and the Sox had dodged a bullet when that was nothing more than a bruise, there's a high likelihood that small changes in how Youkilis walked and stood led to the inflammation in his hip. The injury is not serious, but has to be calmed down so that further activity doesn't send this flaring up every few days. This is something that needs to be calmed rather than maintained, an important distinction. Youkilis will need to rest for a couple days, but the Sox will watch this closely and if there's not a significant reduction in symptoms, a DL stint is possible -- unlikely, but possible.
The Reds are acknowledging that Rolen won't come off the DL when he's eligible this week. That's no surprise, but it is surprising that Rolen hasn't even begun swinging yet. There's still some residual weakness in the shoulder and even the lighter activities have exacerbated the symptoms. The Reds medical staff is still working on how to control the situation and that's going to have to be worked out before they even start thinking about how long or where he's going to get swings in. The ERD is very fluid and is going to require Rolen to start swinging a bat in the next week. Any rehab Rolen goes on is going to be short, likely to Dayton or Louisville due to proximity, assuming their schedule has them home or close.
Freese just seems unlucky. After last season was nearly lost to a series of injuries, Freese won his 3B position in the spring and showed why he was missed last year by putting up an 878 OPS. One pitch to his hand later (without any sort of protection, of course), and Freese is now lost for at least a month. It could be longer, depending on whether or not he needs surgery and how well it heals. Given the slow pace of healing last year, it's hard to tell how much that can be used to help project the pace of healing this year. The Cardinals have a lot of options, including Nick Punto and Allen Craig, who is likely to be brought off the DL as Freese goes on.
Ryne Sandberg is the manager of the Phillies AAA franchise. It's hard for me to think of my boyhood hero in an Iron Pigs cap (even though I own one ... great name and great hat), but it's easy for me to think of Sandberg having some tips for Utley. They could be together very soon as Utley continues to make not just steps, but leaps forward. Utley took part in a simulated game on Sunday, playing both the field and batting. Utley has one more of these scheduled on Tuesday, but the next move is sending him to XST for a "quick tuneup," as one insider called it, and a rapid progression to real games. "It's not going to take long," I was told. I'm also told that the Eagles had a lot to do with this, given their work a few years ago with Brian Westbrook during similar knee issues.
The situation regarding Brown's return from a fractured hamate is as much about roster rules at this stage as it is about the injury itself. Brown was activated from the DL (which is why you don't see an ERD above) and immediately optioned to the AAA Iron Pigs, where he's been on a rehab assignment. Since Brown still has options left and there's some question about service time issues, the Phillies are doing the smart thing. In essence, they're continuing Brown's rehab while using a roster procedure to do so, potentially saving themselves money in the future. Brown still is likely to be back with the Phillies at some point in the near future, but like most prospects, he's going to have to force his way up, convincing Ruben Amaro and the Phillies that he's ready to contribute to a playoff team.
As I made my calls and sent my texts and e-mails to people in New York City Sunday night, none of them were returned. I guess something's going on there. The news on Sunday was that Cano was having "precautionary" X-rays on his left hand. The story going around Sunday was that Cano hurt his hand when catching a pick off attempt on Saturday, but that's a bit of a stretch. (Then again, do we have any sort of radar gun numbers on non-pitches? I'd be curious about the speed of pick off throws and throws from the left side to 1B. Will FieldFX have that kind of data?) Cano is expected to play on Monday and if he does, there should be no real problems going forward.
On this historic occasion, I will simply say "Go Navy" ... Josh Beckett's start was pushed back. Peter Abraham is hearing he needs the extra rest. This bears a very close watch ... Daisuke Matsuzaka's elbow checked out after being pulled from his Friday start. He's on schedule for his next start, though the Red Sox rotation is in a bit of flux ... The Jays pulled Jose Bautista on Sunday due to what they termed a "sore neck." Bautista downplayed it after the game, but as always, it bears watching given his fantasy impact ... The Reds think Homer Bailey will be ready to come off the DL on May 10. His rehab assignment is nearing the max as he makes one more start, this time for Low-A Dayton ... Hong-Chih Kuo came off the DL Sunday and got torched. Kuo said after the game that his back was not to blame. The Dodgers have a lot more questions in their pen than answers right now ... Andres Torres is expected to be activated from the DL later this week, but watch to see how he's running once he comes back before activating him ... The Pirates are going to wait a few days on Jose Tabata, to see if his hamstring can heal up without a DL stint. If he is forced out, the Pirates are likely to call up Alex Presley ... Carlos Lee was hospitalized after a collision on Sunday. He's in significant pain where his ribs took the brunt of force from a sliding Angel Sanchez. He'll have more tests Monday, but it is unclear so far how much time he will miss ... Is a two-week suspension enough for Roger McDowell? I only hope the fans that will taunt him when he returns show some restraint or no one wins ... The next Inside Fantasy podcast will be up shortly. This week's interview is with Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady. Eric and I will be talking fantasy mid-week, including a closer look at the Atlanta Braves.