The bad news: There are more injured players this week than there were a week ago. The good news: Not every one of them has required a trip to the disabled list.
Take Joe Mauer, for instance. What sounded potentially very serious at first turned out to be not so bad after all. That said, there are several more injured players who still might end up on the DL. It's important to take it all in context, though. It's May. Teams have learned over time that it's better to play it safe in May and have an athlete put the injury behind him. No one wants to lose a star in the middle of a late-season pennant race, especially if it's because of a recurring injury.
On that note, here are the players I'm looking at this week:
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies (status unknown): Tulowitzki made an early exit from Sunday's game after making an awkward movement in the fifth inning while attempting to turn a double play. It was later reported that he had suffered a quadriceps (the large muscle on the front of the thigh) strain and that the injury was not considered serious.
In 2008, Tulowitzki did suffer a serious quadriceps (or quad) injury that kept him out for months. But it was his left thigh that was hurt two years ago when he actually tore the tendon attachment away from the bone. According to the Rockies' official website, this injury is to his right quad. Tulowitzki described it as "the same spot, but a different leg." His status is currently being described as day-to-day, but he did undergo an MRI on his leg.
The hope here is that Tulowitzki will be able to avoid a trip to the DL, but muscle strains have repeatedly shown us that it's not always clear-cut at the outset. In fact, if the injury is near the tendinous attachment, it might be slower to heal. Given the fact that he has a history of a serious injury in the same area on the opposite leg, it would not be surprising if he is brought back slowly. Fantasy owners should make alternate plans for this week.
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins (back in lineup): Mauer's deep heel bruise has progressed faster than manager Ron Gardenhire expected when he initially called it a "week-to-week" injury. From last week to now, Mauer has shown drastic improvements. He was able to pinch-hit Saturday (although he struck out and didn't have to run), then served as a DH on Sunday and showed no ill effects from the injury. According to the Twins' official website, Gardenhire said of Mauer, "He was fine, swinging, running the bases. ... He said his foot felt really good." It now appears Mauer will resume catching Tuesday.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers (15-day DL, April 27): It took Cruz a while to be placed on the DL as he tried to play through what he described initially as a hamstring "cramp." A few ups and downs later, it was clear that he needed more time to rest the injury, or he risked making it much worse. The extra few days seem to have been a big help. Cruz has been running full-speed for several days and is now poised to begin a brief rehab assignment.
According to the Rangers' official website, Cruz will travel to Oklahoma City on Tuesday and play two games with the Triple-A club. He is then expected to rejoin the Rangers and be activated Thursday or Friday. There's never any certainty when it comes to hamstring strains, but Cruz has had no flare-ups for several days and appears on track to pick up where he left off.
Chris Young, SP, San Diego Padres (15-day DL, April 7): Young is frustrated, and so are his fantasy owners. Young (shoulder) is not close to returning from his DL stint; in fact, he now has more questions than answers.
The most puzzling aspect is the timeframe of this particular setback. Young had an unusually smooth recovery and rehab. He traveled the road from August shoulder surgery (for a labral debridement) to return to pitching in spring training without so much as a speed bump. But in April, he began experiencing discomfort. Since proactively going on the DL to make sure he did not exacerbate anything in the shoulder, Young has struggled in his most recent throwing sessions and has not been able to get through a rehab assignment game.
In an effort to get to the root of his persistent soreness, Young had a repeat MRI with contrast, according to the Padres' website, and those pictures were forwarded to Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. (Contrast scans are often utilized in the shoulder to better visualize the joint.) Young also underwent a standard MRI later in the week, the results of which did not offer anything of note. This is simultaneously both good and bad news for Young. It's good in that there is no major structural issue that would compromise his season, but bad in that Young does not get the definitive answers he is looking for. It is unclear at this time whether Andrews' opinion on the contrast scan has come back.
Presuming there are no new findings, this represents an all-too-common scenario in a pitcher's shoulder. The athlete experiences discomfort and a failure to perform without a clear-cut reason. All a pitcher can do in that case is continue with the rehab process and forge ahead, one small step at a time, as his symptoms allow.
Young is too diligent with his rehab and too determined of an athlete for us to write off his season just yet. Sure, he has had some injury challenges, but one of those was a comebacker that broke his nose and caused small fractures in his skull, hardly something that could have been prevented. In the meantime, it might be time for his fantasy owners to replace him on their roster since it will be another few weeks before he is even re-evaluated and could be much longer still before he returns.
Ryan Madson, RP, Philadelphia Phillies (60-day DL, April 30): Here's another example for all you young ballplayers reading out there on why not to hit or kick things in frustration. Those "things" have a way of winning a confrontation. Madson recently broke his left toe when he kicked a metal chair after an outing. And he didn't just give himself a hairline crack. No, he managed to break his toe so badly that it required surgery to insert multiple pins to fix it. The healing process will take so long that the Phillies just transferred Madson to the 60-day DL. The hope is that the team has him back after the All-Star break, but keep in mind that it will be a challenge to keep his throwing arm strong while his toe recovers.
Miguel Montero, C, Arizona Diamondbacks (15-day DL, April 11): All was quiet on the western front when it came to news of Montero's rehab -- until Friday. The Arizona Republic reported that Montero is starting to feel better now, three weeks after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. Although Montero says he'd like to return before the six-week timetable the team set initially, it doesn't sound likely. "The trainers don't want to take chances," Montero told the Republic. "And neither do I. I want to be 100 percent healthy so I don't go out there and hurt myself again." Given that he also indicated he has a ways to go with his rehab, six weeks is looking optimistic.
Mike Cameron, OF, Boston Red Sox (15-day DL, April 20): Cameron (abdominal strain) continues to make solid progress. Apparently he looked good enough in batting practice and drills before Sunday night's game that he is heading out on a rehab assignment. The Boston Globe reports that he will DH on Monday for Triple-A Pawtucket and will progress to playing the field Tuesday. He will then be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Something to remember, though, is that there was some discussion initially as to whether Cameron might need surgery. So far he has been able to move forward with the rehab process, but he has yet to truly test the injury by running at full speed. These types of injuries can be deceiving because an athlete can have no signs or symptoms whatsoever ... until he tries to explode at full speed. While there is reason to be encouraged by how quickly he has come along, count me among the cautious until he crosses this final hurdle.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (15-day DL, retroactive to April 12): After several days of taking batting practice, it appears Ellsbury is starting to improve. However, according to The Boston Globe, Ellsbury is not quite ready to join teammate Cameron on a rehab assignment. Since this is a pain issue, along with the fact that Ellsbury's four cracked ribs have had a month of healing, this is not necessarily about fear of reinjury. It really just comes down to performance. The Red Sox need assurance that Ellsbury is comfortable making plays when necessary, going full bore and without hesitation. Until he's ready to test the uncontrolled, unpredictable environment of playing in a game, he will continue with the current program.
Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets (15-day DL, retroactive to March 26): Beltran claims he's feeling better since receiving a custom-fitted knee brace on his last visit to Colorado. The big issue at that time was that Beltran was not able to run without pain when tested and was therefore not cleared to return to running activities. Beltran told the New York Daily News that he thinks he will be able to start running soon and that the only limitation is, well, running. He says he is hitting the ball well and feeling stronger, but as he points out, "Running is the thing that will dictate everything." How true that is.
While the brace might help shift some stresses in Beltran's knee, the question is whether it will be enough for him to tolerate the high impact of running. Again, the procedure Beltran underwent in January did not fully restore his knee to pristine condition; the goal was to allow him to be functional. If he can't progress beyond his current status in the near future -- meaning if he can't get to a point soon where he can actually run -- one must wonder what the next step will be.
Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks (60-day DL, April 4): Speaking of moving targets on return dates, Webb's has been pushed back too many times to count. His last regular-season game was in April -- of 2009. A few weeks ago, Webb said he felt like he had made good strides in his rehab, according to the Diamondbacks' website. It's important for players who are going through lengthy, arduous rehab programs to find the glass-half-full moments since they must keep themselves motivated. Webb's activity this week will tell fantasy owners whether they should be motivated to keep Webb on their DL roster. He is expected to throw from the mound this week, something he has not yet been able to do consistently because of his shoulder. We will be watching closely to see if the results are different this time around.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Atlanta Braves (15-day DL, retroactive to April 30): Escobar is looking to return from a left adductor (groin) strain this weekend when eligible to come off the DL. Escobar has had no setbacks since taking batting practice and running, according to the Braves' official website. Clearly the most challenging concerns with this type of injury at his position are the explosive, unexpected movements. Just like Rafael Furcal with his hamstring strain and Jimmy Rollins with his calf injury, Escobar as a shortstop needs to demonstrate that he can move quickly without pain or limitation. Assuming he continues well, look for him to return to the lineup Saturday.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (15-day DL, retroactive to April 28): Speaking of Furcal, don't forget he is eligible to come off the DL this week. He was operating at close to full recovery when he was actually placed on the DL. Fantasy translation: The team just wanted a little more insurance time and his roster spot, and Furcal should come back full-speed when able to return Friday.
If you have any injury questions you want answered in the blog, drop a note in my mailbag, or stop by my Tuesday chats.