It's a scary week in the land of fantasy baseball when you drop three places in your league's standings with less than a month to go until the playoffs. It's a terrifying week in the world of real baseball when three players get dropped by high-speed balls connecting with their heads.
The topic of batting-helmet protection was front and center last week when a New York Times article discussed the potential introduction of a new, reportedly safer helmet. The new helmets, designed with the goal of increasing protection for the player's head and its very important contents (yes, the brain), were largely rejected by players in an informal sample survey because of their "look." Many players found them unsightly, and Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur was quoted as saying, "I am absolutely not wearing that ... We're going to look like a bunch of clowns out there."
Interestingly, Mets third baseman David Wright spoke in favor of the new helmets, saying, "If it provides more protection, then I'm all for it. I'm not worried about style or looking good out there. I'm worried about keeping my melon protected."
In a twist of irony, Wright was one of the three players to suffer a baseball to the head this past week. The image of Wright lying motionless on the ground was disturbing, emphasizing the point of just how serious these injuries can be. Also injured was Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who was without the benefit of any head protection as he took a comebacker to the forehead while on the mound. The third player hit, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, was fortunate to escape a concussive injury when he was hit in the head by a pitch in the eighth inning of his first game back from the DL for a hamstring strain. While Kinsler was able to stay in the game, Kuroda and Wright are still recovering. It will be interesting to see if any players rethink their position on a safer helmet now.
Meanwhile, fantasy players might be wondering when, or even if, these athletes will be able to return. With that in mind, we take a closer look at their injuries and other updates around the league.
Hiroki Kuroda, P, Dodgers: Rest assured that the Dodgers will take no chances when it comes to Kuroda's return from a concussion, which might translate into a DL stint. Kuroda - whose hit in the head might have posed the biggest scare since he was without a helmet at the time of impact -- had what trainer Stan Conte described to me as "pure, unadulterated luck." Conte added that the impact of a line drive at that speed could have been life-threatening, and not only was Kuroda lucky to come away with only the relatively minor symptoms he has (a headache, some nausea), but that he didn't even suffer a cut where the ball hit him. Given how easily the face and head can be lacerated, this is very unusual.
Nonetheless, all precautions will be taken before returning Kuroda to the mound, including the elimination of all symptoms at rest, followed by elimination of all symptoms with physical exertion and normalization of neurocognitive tests (which measure brain function). Although the Dodgers are optimistic that Kuroda will be able to play again this season, a 15-day absence would not come as a surprise.
David Wright, 3B, Mets: It's unfortunate that Wright felt "embarrassment" over his delegation to the DL in the wake of a frightening concussion. Athletes go to the DL for a multitude of reasons, and while some might debate the merit of any given athlete's injury warranting extended rest, it seems reasonable to think that a brain injury would qualify as unarguably serious. After all, concussions are brain injuries by definition, and there is no room for trying to "tough it out" when dealing with the brain. Wright's desire to be there every day is admirable, as is his work ethic, even in the face of his team's disastrous season. That aside, his protection not only of his athletic future but of his overall well-being could depend on how he proceeds.
The good news is that Wright seems to be feeling remarkably well, considering how he looked at the time of injury. But subjective reports can be misleading, and Wright no doubt will undergo neurocognitive tests that will help assess his readiness to return. One of the challenges with concussions is that seriousness cannot be determined at the time of injury, and symptoms do not necessarily correlate with loss of consciousness. In fact, loss of consciousness is not required in order to sustain a concussion. Just ask Hiroki Kuroda. Although statements suggesting Wright's season could be over might have been premature, there is really no way to determine how long he will be out. This is a day-to-day evaluation, and Wright, along with fantasy owners, will need to be patient.
Chad Billingsley, P, Dodgers: Tuesday night was a test ... and it's safe to say Billingsley passed it. In an amazingly quick return after a Grade 2 hamstring strain, he delivered a solid performance, allowing only three hits while securing a win for the Dodgers. It certainly looks as if there are no lingering worries about the hamstring.
On the mend...
• It certainly appears as if Roy Oswalt's back is still bothering him. He has not been himself in his past two outings, both of which came after a flare-up of a bulging disc in his back. While Oswalt says he's feeling pretty good, that does not necessarily translate to full strength. It would be surprising if his symptoms completely disappeared this quickly after an episode that was severe enough to warrant a cortisone shot. Whether he continues to progress -- both in terms of how he feels and his performance -- or whether he just guts it out for the rest of the season remains to be seen.
• Peavy update! ... White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy is one step closer to making a start for his new team. He made his first rehab start last week and delivered three scoreless innings. Not bad for a guy who has not been on the mound since June. He told the Chicago Tribune that while his ankle is "certainly not 100 percent ... it's getting there." He said he still lacked leg strength, which is understandable after coming off a six-week immobilization of his ankle to allow his tendon to heal. Peavy will use his additional rehab starts to build his endurance before appearing in a major league start. Right now he still appears on track for a late August or early September return.
• Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is gradually working his way back toward a major league return. He is expected to make a minor league rehab start soon after a couple of successful bullpen outings. As the Providence Journal reports, manager Terry Francona is particularly encouraged by the fact that Matsuzaka was able to continue to increase his intensity. Although no specific timetable is in place, if Dice-K continues along this path without a setback he could be eligible to rejoin the team sometime in September. The unknown will be whether his arm endurance will suffice to minimize the Red Sox's dependence on the bullpen.
• Meanwhile, Matsuzaka's teammate Tim Wakefield is hopeful about returning to the mound, but the jury is still out as far as the medical staff is concerned. He has been limited by weakness in his leg resulting from a bulging disc affecting his sciatic nerve. Although he says he thinks he can go, as The Boston Globe reports, the Red Sox have to evaluate the potential risk of his condition worsening and how that could affect not only this season but also his future. Wakefield has been throwing and participating in running workouts, but is still limping, a sign that his calf muscle strength is still compromised. Originally scheduled for a rehab start in Pawtucket on Friday, he might have to put that on hold depending on the outcome of his conversation with team doctors.
• Braves pitcher Tim Hudson continues his progression back from Tommy John surgery, which was slowed a bit recently due to a hamstring strain. He has recovered enough to move to rehab starts, and his improvement has been steady. He is already throwing in the low 90s as he works out the kinks of adjusting to his reconstructed elbow. Hudson's services could be available to the team in September.
• Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran has been running increased distances this week and might soon attempt to run from first to third, according to the New York Daily News. Beltran spent last weekend shagging fly balls and performing drills in the outfield and told The Star-Ledger his knee did not bother him. He added that he is "working harder than when [he] was playing every day." While that might be true, and while his intent to return is admirable, there is still some question as to how much he should really push the knee. Remember, it was Beltran who wanted to increase his workout activity despite precautions from team physicians who were concerned about the lack of evidence of healing on imaging. Beltran, who was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee, is scheduled to have another MRI at the end of the month. According to The Star-Ledger, he says if he feels good, he wants to play, regardless of what the tests show. While it's certainly true that how a player feels factors into the decision of when and how to progress him, the condition of his knee is not to be taken lightly. The tests of base running and rapid acceleration and deceleration will likely stress his knee to a greater degree than anything he has done so far. How he reacts to the next level of activity might be the key in determining whether or not he is able to return this season.
• Beltran's teammate, shortstop Jose Reyes, continues to receive therapy treatments to address the scar tissue in the region of his ailing hamstring. The Mets have been very quiet on this front lately. In this case, the saying "no news is good news" does not apply. Although the team has not made any definitive statement with regard to his status, it's hard to imagine him returning this season.
• As if the Mets needed any more disappointments or setbacks, first baseman Carlos Delgado, recovering from May hip surgery at age 37, now has a strained right oblique. Although it's not altogether uncommon for an athlete to suffer a muscle strain while working his way back from surgery, the reality of this latest ailment is that it makes his return this season look all the less likely. And to think just a few weeks ago he looked like the most likely to return of the Mets trio.