The most recognizable name on the Miami Marlins roster will no longer be visible in the starting lineup for at least a few weeks. Giancarlo Stanton, the power-hitting outfielder who looks like he would be equally comfortable on a football field, will not be on any field in the near future as he rests his ailing right hamstring.
Stanton has been diagnosed with a Grade 2 (moderate) strain, an injury he suffered in the 10th inning of Monday night's game against the Mets as he tried to beat out a grounder. As Stanton crossed first base, he displayed the universal "I just pulled my hamstring" sign when he abruptly shortened his stride and reached instinctively for the back of his thigh. Stanton then fell forward to the ground, pounding his fist in clear frustration. He was able to get up and amble off the field gingerly, but it was obvious to anyone watching this was more than a mild cramp.
The Marlins' prompt move to transfer Stanton to the DL confirmed the seriousness of the injury; there would be no wait-and-see period for Stanton, as is usually the case when a mild strain is suspected and the team is hoping for a quick return. After undergoing an MRI on Tuesday, Stanton's hamstring injury was officially designated as a Grade 2.
A Grade 2 strain conveys a wide spectrum of possibilities in terms of the extent of tissue damage, making it difficult to ascertain how long Stanton's recovery will take. While Grade 1 is considered minor with little to no true tearing of muscle or tendon fibers, a Grade 3 is considered a complete tear where enough of the fibers are torn to render the muscle or tendon completely nonfunctional. A Grade 2 injury is everything in between. These are the injuries that are typically referred to as partial tears. The range for recovery can be as little as three weeks or as long as three months. Some of the variables that will affect recovery are how much pain and spasm is present, how much bleeding of the tissue there is (which shows up as bruising along the back of the thigh) and whether the tear is located in the muscle belly itself or the musculotendinous junction (where the muscle and tendon meet).
Initial treatment is directed at minimizing pain and swelling while protecting and preserving pain-free range of motion. As the athlete regains normal range of motion and the ability to walk without a limp, strength exercises can be progressed. The activity eventually progresses to running, ultimately incorporating sprinting and sharp deceleration along with directional movements and peaking with a return to baseball activity. There is no magic way of knowing with absolute certainty when an individual is ready to return to play. That decision is made based on functional pain-free performance of gradually increasing intensity. Then, fingers are crossed in the hopes that the body withstands the demands of actual competition.
As for Stanton, he did struggle with a right hamstring issue late in the 2011 season, but it was never enough to send him to the DL. He missed a handful of games at the time but was able to recover during the offseason. In 2012, he underwent surgery to remove loose bodies from his right knee, which led to him missing a month in the second half of the season, but the hamstring itself was not reported to be a problem. Earlier this month, Stanton had a bruised shoulder, which seemed to be affecting him at the plate and ultimately sidelined him for six games. Finally, it seemed things were looking up. He hit his first home run of the season Saturday, followed by a second and a third on Sunday. Now this. His discouragement was evident when he told reporters after Monday's game, "If we could just erase all of April, that would be lovely."
April can't be erased, but if Stanton is able to recover well and return strong, it may be able to be overlooked, at least by fantasy owners. The hope is that his age (23) and physical conditioning will aid in his recovery and that the injury will not result in excessive scarring, which could make re-injury more likely. He will not be rushed, precisely to avoid aggravating the injury, meaning everyone -- Stanton included -- will need to be patient.
At this point, it appears likely to be June before we see the familiar name of Stanton back in the Marlins lineup.