• A sound defeat by the Chicago White Sox wasn't the only loss the Los Angeles Angels suffered Monday. The team also saw outfielder Vernon Wells exit the game in the fourth inning after straining his right groin. Wells has been placed on the disabled list, and as he is 32 years old, there's a decent chance the recovery time will extend beyond two weeks. Wells wasn't exactly lighting it up at the plate this spring, but his veteran presence was valued by his teammates and coaches. Although he managed to avoid the DL the past two seasons, Wells dealt with several significant injuries the two seasons prior (shoulder, hamstring and wrist). Considering the workload he has delivered across the bulk of his career, it stands to reason his body might show some signs of yielding to wear and tear, and this injury might be the first evidence. According to the Angels' website, Wells will be evaluated by team doctors Tuesday, after which the team hopes to learn more about his prognosis.
• Meanwhile, Wells' former team, Toronto, is deciding whether to place Adam Lind on the disabled list. Lind has been dealing with back spasms for several days and left Saturday's game early when his back stiffened. According to the Toronto Sun, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell described Lind's condition as "day-to-day right now. He is symptom-free when it comes to neurological, but the spasms are strong." Lind was scheduled for an MRI on Monday, but even in the absence of significant findings, if Lind continues to be limited by pain and spasms, the team could opt to move him to the DL. Farrell hinted that direction, saying, "If there's no improvement, we'd have to consider the next step."
Keeping an eye on ...
We always hear about injuries as they happen, but once players are relegated to the DL, they can disappear off the radar, particularly if they are out for an extended period of time. It just so happens that many fantasy owners have several players whom they are "waiting on" in hopes of a triumphant return. Whether to hang on and continue to wait out their absence or drop them to open up a roster spot can be a constant source of angst.
Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Perhaps no single player's return has been more sought after by fans and fantasy owners than Utley's. Out since spring training with chronic degenerative issues in his right knee involving his patellar tendon (which anchors the quadriceps muscle to the tibia or shinbone) and his patella (kneecap), Utley has persevered through a graded -- and very cautious -- rehab progression in the hope that he can return successfully for the bulk of the season. This approach seems to be paying dividends in terms of the progress Utley has been able to make so far. The biggest question at this point no longer seems to be whether he will make a return (as he appears poised to do just that if there are no setbacks in his rehab outings) but whether he can stay on the field once he does. As I wrote in March when Utley's condition was outlined by the Phillies' team physician: Unfortunately, cartilage damage is not reversible. It comes down to whether the condition can be effectively managed (i.e., whether he can play through it).
ESPN baseball writer Jayson Stark crafted an excellent piece in March that captured the essence of Utley as an athlete who gives 110 percent percent every time he takes the field. As admirable as that quality is from a work ethic perspective, it might challenge Utley when it comes to managing his condition going forward. There is reason to be encouraged. Utley hasn't said much about his knee, but when he has spoken, he has sounded resigned to the fact that this is a slow process that requires careful evaluation after each bump up in activity. When some were suggesting that Utley's light jogging and defensive drills in mid-April signaled an imminent return, Utley was quick to caution about looking too far ahead. Utley told reporters, "The next step is just to continue doing what I'm doing and to hope that it responds well, and so far it has."
His knee has continued to respond well to a very stepwise progression. Utley has participated in two extended spring training games, going 5-for-7 with two home runs in his first outing Saturday. It's worth noting that Utley was taking batting practice in spring training, even when the knee was at its worst, as swinging the bat was never an issue that caused pain. But in that first extended spring training outing, Utley was limited to alternating defensive innings played in an effort to control the activities that typically have been more stressful for his knee. The best news to come out of that outing was not his production at the plate, but the fact that he felt fine the next day. In Utley's second extended spring training outing, he played back-to-back defensive innings for the first time and, as the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, he made a leaping defensive play -- and landed -- without incident. While his 1-for-7 hitting didn't make the newswires that day, his increased defensive activity might have been even more significant.
Tuesday brings the next big test, as Utley will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Clearwater. Not only does this signal a less-controlled environment, but it will be his first time playing on consecutive days. According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, Utley is expected to serve as DH, so he will not be playing the field back-to-back days, another hurdle he will need to cross before returning to the majors. But his return is indeed inching closer since a rehab assignment officially starts a 20-day countdown clock. Barring a setback, the expectation is that Utley will be activated within that timeframe.
Utley's story is encouraging and his success thus far is without a doubt a testament to his unwavering work ethic, not to mention the valuable care and supervision of the rehab staff around him and the organization's support of a slow-progressing program. The question no one can answer, however, is what will happen once Utley rejoins the Phillies. How will his knee hold up over days, weeks, even months? Will he play every day? And should he? As of today, three veteran members of the Phillies' starting lineup, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco -- all age 30 or older -- have yet to have a day off, not counting the forced day off April 16 due to weather. Utley, age 32, is not known for being one to slow down or remove himself at the first sign of discomfort. In the interest of enduring the bulk of the season, he might have to learn to do just that.
Kendrys Morales, 1B, Los Angeles Angels: Morales' activity has stalled in recent weeks as the ankle, which has kept him on the DL since the start of the season, continues to be problematic. Morales underwent surgery last summer after breaking his ankle during a celebration at home plate. His failure to tolerate running has persisted since spring training, and he now is going to visit Dr. Thomas Clanton, a foot-and-ankle specialist, at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo., for consultation. According to the Los Angeles Times, Tim Mead, the team's vice president of communications said, "This is something the Angels recommended to get an optimal course of treatment." Whether the consult results in reassurance and reinforcement, or redirection of his program, Morales ultimately needs to get moving ... literally. As the Times noted, Morales was shut down after receiving an injection into the joint last week, and until he can run full speed, he simply can't play. The team now hints at June as the soonest return date for Morales. Until he has resumed some type of running program, it's hard to be confident in any timetable whatsoever.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: Furcal broke his thumb on a headfirst slide in early April and was so dejected after the injury that he hinted at possible retirement. But the hardworking Furcal turned that frown upside down and got to work. He's made enough progress that manager Don Mattingly says Furcal could be headed for a rehab assignment later this week. Initial projections had Furcal out from four to six weeks, and he currently stands at the one-month mark. He has been doing some drills and taking batting practice but still experiences some discomfort when swinging right-handed. According to the Dodgers' website, Mattingly will not send Furcal on a rehab assignment until that discomfort resolves. "I don't want him going out until he's not feeling that anymore," Mattingly said. "I don't want him to push it and do something that sets him back." Fantasy owners should keep an eye on Furcal, as he could rejoin the team within another week.
• Oakland Athletics reliever Andrew Bailey, out since the start of the season with a forearm strain, is scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday. He is likely another week away at least from returning to the team but is inching closer.
• Philadelphia Phillies closer Brad Lidge has targeted a pre-All-Star break return but still has some work to do to get there. Lidge has a partial rotator cuff tear and has been on the DL since the season began, although he has been throwing on flat ground without incident. The good news is that he has progressed to the point where he could throw off the mound soon. The Philadelphia Daily News reports that test could come within the next 10 days.
• The news is less encouraging for Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma. Aardsma has been on the mend following surgery to repair a labral tear in his hip and now has been shut down for a few days with forearm stiffness. Aardsma underwent an MRI on Friday as a precautionary measure, according to the Mariners' website. While the team indicates this is not a major concern, it still represents a delay in his return. As is often the case with pitchers who miss extensive time, even if the injury is not in the throwing arm, there might be setbacks in returning to competitive form associated with the extended absence from throwing.