This week brought more thumb-wringing for fantasy owners, and not just because of the headfirst slides that sent two potential NL All-Stars -- Jason Heyward and Chase Utley -- to the DL recently. The head-first dive (in an attempt to catch a fly ball) made by Cleveland Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo stung quite a few teams as well.
The good news: It appears Choo will not need surgery on his injured thumb. The bad news: He has a sprain, and the Indians could be without him for several weeks. Any sprain of the thumb requires a period of immobilization to allow the involved ligament(s) to heal. The no-surgery decision suggests that the bone was intact and that there was little to no instability, but in order to prevent the injury from worsening, it must be rested adequately. Choo owners can breathe a sigh of relief but still should prepare to be without him for a while.
It seems as if the run-up to the All-Star Gamehas been filled with as much injury news as at any other point this season, and the timing of the three-day break in the midst of DL assignments makes interpreting these injuries a bit more difficult. Teams benefit from the three-day break since the days do count toward the 15-day minimum of a disabled list stint. In other words, a player is able to sit out three days but not miss any games during that time. Without that break, the DL might be less attractive, especially if a team could return a player after 10-12 days for an important series.
Put a different way, if there is any question right now as to the severity of an injury and whether there would be a risk in returning the player too soon, the team is likely to move that player to the DL and benefit from a roster replacement. Additionally, if that player is an All-Star candidate, the move to the DL immediately removes him as an option (which also removes the temptation for him to participate in the event and risk a setback) and allows another player the opportunity to take part.
Take these two examples:
Manny Ramirez suffered what the team referred to as a minor hamstring strain last week. By the time he had an MRI two days later, he was showing signs of improvement. While the MRI confirmed the injury, the real question became whether to place Ramirez on the DL or not. If he improved enough within the week, he could be useful in the important pre-All-Star series between Manny's Dodgers and the Cubs. But if he aggravated the hamstring by returning too soon, the Dodgers could be dealing with a longer-term problem. The Dodgers ultimately decided to place him on the DL, and while Ramirez will miss the Cubs series, if he indeed returns when eligible, he won't miss any games beyond that.
Meanwhile, Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo hit the DL this week because of an oblique strain, giving the All-Star Gameyet another injured player. While it already appeared Gallardo would not be able to pitch next week, the official transfer to the DL confirmed it. The Brewers have indicated that Gallardo's strain is minor, but if that is the case, they surely do not want to risk exacerbation by having him throw in the All-Star Game, even if he's feeling better. Opposite-side oblique strains in pitchers (which is the case with Gallardo, a righty with a left oblique injury) average four to six weeks, depending on the degree of injury. If the Brewers believe he can return in a somewhat shorter time frame, then caution is definitely warranted, which explains the DL move.
In addition to the injury scenarios involving these key players, there have been a string of setbacks for a few players who were seemingly on the road to recovery. In turn, there has also been some encouraging news. Let's get to the injury updates:
Erik Bedard, SP, Seattle Mariners (60-day DL, 3/26): It was just too good to be true. All signs pointed to Bedard returning on July 6 from his long absence following shoulder surgery, and right up until the witching hour it appeared he would. But Bedard was scratched from that start because of inflammation in his throwing (left) shoulder. Manager Don Wakamatsu told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Bedard is scheduled to throw a bullpen this weekend, and even went on to suggest that if the bullpen goes well, Bedard could potentially be penciled in for a start right after the All-Star break.
Hmm. Color me skeptical. I still maintain my concern about Bedard, and it'll take more than a few bullpen sessions and probably even more than one or two healthy starts for me to believe in him again.
Brad Penny, SP, St. Louis Cardinals (15-day DL, 5/22): Penny has been on the DL so long that fantasy owners might not remember that he ended up there because of a batting episode. Penny hit a grand slam back in May and felt the consequences in the form of a strained latissimus muscle in his upper back. At the time, the diagnosis was positive -- many thought it was an injury to his rotator cuff -- and the early projection was him missing just a few weeks. Obviously that was optimistic. In fact, when it became clear in mid-June that Penny's absence would be protracted, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "The injury was probably underestimated."
But Penny appeared to be making progress recently, and he threw off a mound Monday. As I've often said, though, throwing from a mound is a distinct progression that results in a ramped-up delivery. It is a key testing phase, as setbacks are likely to happen around this transition. And this seems to be what happened with Penny, who could not complete the outing because of soreness in his throwing shoulder. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that partway through the session, Penny complained of stiffness in his triceps, near the location of his original injury. Penny is scheduled for additional evaluation Wednesday, including an MRI, but the team remains hopeful that this is not a significant setback. Given that Penny had just begun throwing from a mound, fantasy owners should presume at least a few weeks (rest, return to throw, throw from mound, rehab starts) before he returns.
Meanwhile, yet another member of the Red Sox left a game (Tuesday) because of an extremity injury. Kevin Youkilis left Tuesday's game in the fourth inning because of a right ankle injury, but before anyone gets too upset, please note that Youkilis has already hinted that he could play Wednesday. According to Associated Press reports, Youkilis' ankle acted up in a bizarre fashion. Youkilis described it as feeling "like I had a cramp in my ankle." Assuming this turns out to be nothing significant, Youkilis might still make the All-Star roster. If so, he'd be one of the few Red Sox candidates healthy enough to play. For instance, teammate and starting pitcher Clay Buchholz was not so fortunate; even though his left hamstring strain is considered minor, he could not avoid the DL, and his placement on the list forfeited his spot on the All-Star roster.
On the good-news front, Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury might be back with his team this weekend. Last we heard, Ellsbury was still recuperating in Arizona while working out at Athletes' Performance. The Boston Globe is reporting Wednesday that Ellsbury could rejoin the team in Toronto if he is ready to resume baseball activities. Fantasy owners need to bear in mind that this would not mean he is ready to return to play, just that he is making progress. A return to actual major league play is still likely weeks away.
Braves outfielder Jason Heyward just might pop up in Anaheim after all. According to the Braves' official website, Heyward's thumb has responded well to the forced rest it received while splinted, and if he continues to progress well, he might take batting practice Friday. Naturally, the primary goal is for Heyward to be ready for competition after the All-Star break, but if he is able to swing freely without pain, it's possible that in addition to making the trip to Anaheim, he might actually participate in Tuesday's game.
The Cincinnati Reds will have pitcher Edinson Volquez back in the rotation soon; it just won't be on July 7, as was originally projected. Volquez, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, had been throwing well in rehab outings, but in his latest appearance he exhibited one of the classic hallmarks of a pitcher returning from this procedure: lack of command. It's no secret that pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgeries often have ups and downs in their first few months back, most markedly in the area of control. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, that almost assuredly means another rehab outing, which translates to a delayed return. Volquez is not far off and this is certainly not alarming news, but it does serve as a reminder to fantasy owners that this is what you can expect in the near future.