It seems there have been plenty of viruses floating around baseball this spring.
First it was the "back spasm" virus that pitchers Josh Beckett and Andy Pettitte caught. Luckily, that virus was short-lived, and both pitchers have recovered nicely to return to their respective rotations. Then, along came the "hamstring strain" virus, which seems to have felled hurlers (Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine) and hitters (Carlos Pena, Howie Kendrick) alike. Most recently, the "quadriceps strain" virus has infiltrated several teams, and apparently it is contagious. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez went down with a quad strain over the weekend, only days after Derek Jeter returned from one. Atlanta's Chipper Jones is also fighting off this particular virus.
Of course these injuries are not viruses at all, but their rapid dispersal among so many clubs is reminiscent of viral behavior. It does make one wonder if there is something to be studied here to try to understand why baseball players seem to be more susceptible to certain types of ailments. Hmm. In the meantime, let's look at the recent injuries.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: In a move that took many by surprise, Rollins was placed on the DL Sunday because of the left ankle he sprained nearly two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the move could not be made retroactive to a prior date since Rollins pinch hit in Saturday's game, so it will be at least two more weeks before we see him return to the lineup.
Rollins told Peter Gammons during ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" that his ankle sprain did not seem severe, with only minimal swelling initially, but his improvement had reached a plateau that was short of game readiness. Rollins was still having trouble with lateral movement to his left, not an uncommon final hurdle for ankle sprains, and given the demands of his defensive position and his role as a base stealer, Rollins felt he couldn't perform close enough to his ability. The pinch-hitting episodes likely didn't help either since the rotation required to swing a bat no doubt stressed the ankle and might have been one of the true indications that Rollins was not quite ready to return. In fact, Rollins swung at the first pitch in his pinch-hit appearance Saturday, and he told MLB.com that he was a "one-legged hitter after that."
The challenge with any rehabilitation process is that sometimes it is only after testing the injured area with high-level activity that it becomes clear that the athlete is not fully ready. Might it have been better to place Rollins on the DL right away? Sure. In hindsight, he needed the time. But based on the reported initial findings and Rollins' relatively minor symptoms, it is difficult to argue with the course of events. The team has now decided to remove him from baseball activities completely and have him focus instead on rehabilitating the ankle to restore his functional ability. Despite the frustration for Phillies fans and Rollins' fantasy owners, in the end, if this course of action helps Rollins stay healthy for the remainder of the season, it will have been well worth the wait.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees: Rodriguez left Sunday's game against the Orioles with a strained right quadriceps. Watching him take off out of the batter's box in the sixth inning, you could see that the quad was bothering him, and apparently he tweaked it during the actual swing. An Associated Press report says that Rodriguez, who went back to New York on Monday to see a physical therapist, will join the Yankees in Chicago on Tuesday and be re-evaluated then. Coincidentally, according to a Newsday report, the Yankees were expecting Rodriguez to perhaps miss a few games this week to be with his wife for the birth of their child anyway. Combining a day off and some personal time might be just what A-Rod needs to allow the thigh to rest and fully heal. For those with daily-lineup settings, be sure to check Rodriguez's status before Tuesday's game. If he doesn't play Tuesday, it wouldn't surprise me if he misses at least the next couple games as well.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves: Within minutes of Rodriguez's exit, Jones left Sunday's contest against the Dodgers with a strained right quadriceps muscle. Jones had been experiencing some problems with the quadriceps starting on April 9, when, according to the Braves' official Web site, he felt it while baserunning on a chilly night at Coors Field. Two days later, Jones admitted to feeling soreness in the quad while trying to run hard and was even removed early from the following day's game for the same reason. It seems that the muscle never really fully recovered and this episode appeared to be a bit more serious in nature.
Nonetheless, Jones played Monday night, stressing that his presence is "not worth taking a day off at this point." True, he is batting .458 with 18 RBIs, but is he really healthy enough to play? According to an ESPN report, Jones thinks he is because he can "go out there and temper it as much as possible." He added that he will just take it game by game but acknowledged that the injury does affect his defense as well, particularly if he must "extend for a ball to [his] left, toward the hole." The team is trusting that as a veteran, Chipper knows his 36-year-old body well enough to determine whether he can play.
The concern here is that the quad appears to have gotten worse overall, not better, since the initial injury. By continuing to press it into service, Jones potentially runs the risk of aggravating it to the extent that it becomes disabling. Not every situation can be anticipated, and if he suddenly changes direction, accelerates or even slides (which appears to have been the trigger Sunday) and forcefully contracts the muscle, it could become more serious. Also, Jones has a history of muscle strains, making him potentially more susceptible to experience another. In the meantime, Jones and the Braves continue to benefit from his hitting presence; he delivered an RBI in Monday's game. But it should be noted that he did commit an error on a throw to first base. Time will tell whether playing through this muscle strain was a wise decision, but for now it looks as if Jones will avoid the DL.
Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Astros: Rodriguez left his Saturday start after four innings because of a strained left groin. It's easy to see how a left-handed pitcher could strain his left groin muscle; he lunges into his delivery with his right leg forward and left leg extended behind him, which stresses the left groin muscle.
What makes Rodriguez's situation potentially more complicated, however, is that he suffered a strained left oblique muscle in mid-March after throwing only two pitches in a spring game against the Tigers. He had a week off, followed by a few minor league starts, then returned to the team. His first outing was not great statistically, but he was able to get through it without pain. Just when it appeared that the oblique issue was behind him, Rodriguez suffered the groin strain and is now on the disabled list. The oblique and the groin muscles both have attachments to the pelvis, and stability of the trunk and pelvis is critical for effective delivery. A strained groin can linger for a period of time, so the Astros are wise to put Rodriguez on the DL so that he can hopefully sort these injuries out.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: Pena was pulled early from Friday's game because of tightness in his hamstring. Pena said he might have "exceeded his speed limit," and the leg gave him a warning. He was not limping after the game, and it did not appear serious. Since Friday, Pena has served as a DH twice, allowing him to hit but still decrease his overall workload, in order to give the muscle some rest. His success so far suggests that the injury is minor, and he should return to full duty soon.
Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: Granderson, out since spring training because of a fractured right third metacarpal (knuckle bone at the base of the third finger), has had hitting success in his rehab starts as he prepares to return to the Tigers' lineup. Now the team is just working on getting him game-conditioned so that he can play a full game without fatigue. Jason Beck of MLB.com says that the earliest Granderson would be called up is Wednesday, following a Tuesday night game in Triple-A Toledo.
Gary Sheffield, DH, Tigers: Sheffield said last week that he has been having tightness in his surgically repaired shoulder and told the Detroit News that there have been "many days" in which the joint has not moved freely. Sheffield has asked to be evaluated by a physician to assure himself that there is nothing to be concerned about and to help him better understand what is going on with the shoulder. This is a bit surprising given how good Sheffield said the shoulder felt during spring training. Now that he has worked the shoulder harder than he did this spring, however, he might be feeling the effects of cumulative use. Perhaps, like many postsurgical shoulders, his has developed adhesions (thickening of scar tissue), which would limit his range and cause some discomfort. Sheffield told the Detroit News that he has tried to press through it, but swinging harder seems to slow it down further (a hint that there might be some inflammation present). Of course, he also suffered a finger tendon injury early in the season. It would not be a surprise if Sheffield does a tour on the DL to allow everything to settle down, but unless there is a new injury, this should be something Sheffield can recover from within a relatively short time frame.
That will do it for this edition of the injury blog. Keep an eye on those players who are questionable to miss time and watch for those returning from the disabled list. If you put the Brewers' young ace, Yovani Gallardo, in your lineup this week in his return from knee surgery, it paid off. If he still can be had in your league, get him. His knee, not to mention the pitching arm, looks healthy to me!