Between the number of players who began the season on the DL and the many more who have joined them in the first three weeks of the season, it can be tricky to field a consistent team.
But the news isn’t always bad, especially when it concerns guys who are returning to action. It’s one thing to have them back on the baseball field, but what everyone would really like to know is whether they can be productive right away.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: Gomez is just one of the notables sidelined early in the season with a hamstring strain. Originally projected to miss two to three weeks when he went on the DL in mid-April, Gomez is on track to return on the short end of that timetable. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gomez hopes to return Saturday. His rehab progression and his relatively short absence bode well for Gomez to pick up where he left off. It is worth noting that Gomez sat out a spring game due to hamstring tightness. The short interval between the tightness episode and the regular-season game in which he suffered a DL-worthy injury does raise some concern about the possibility of a recurrence. The hope is that the work Gomez did in rehab will help prevent a repeat injury, but only time will tell.
Jake McGee, RP, Tampa Bay Rays: McGee has yet to make his 2015 debut. He has been recovering from offseason surgery to remove debris from his elbow joint, but a return is nearing. McGee began a rehab assignment Tuesday with Class A Charlotte, pitching a perfect inning. The expectation is that he will pitch in a game again Friday, and if all continues well, he could return to the majors at some point next week. McGee has enjoyed a fairly smooth rehab process as far as the elbow and should ease right back into major league competition. McGee has already been through Tommy John surgery, missing a year after undergoing the procedure in July 2008. His performance the past few years also proves he was able to return successfully. Later clean-up surgeries are not uncommon following Tommy John surgery and are often relatively minor in nature, as appears was the case with McGee. If his remaining rehab outings look as good as the first, then the outlook for McGee should be positive.
Jarrod Parker, SP, Oakland Athletics: Parker represents one of the newer entities in the Tommy John surgery club; he is approaching a return from his second such surgery within a five-year period. Parker underwent his first UCL reconstruction in the fall of 2009, before he even reached the majors. He returned to pitching in 2011 and was brought up late in the season to make his first big league start (with the Arizona Diamondbacks). In 2012, he moved to the A’s organization, joining the major league club in late April. In the early days of camp in 2014, persistent forearm discomfort turned into revision TJ surgery in March, and Parker has been rehabbing ever since.
Understandably, caution is warranted with his actual progression and the expectations for his performance when he returns. There have been no reported setbacks along his rehab track thus far, and Parker has returned to competitive pitching at the minor league level. After two rehab starts at high-A Stockton, Parker is headed to Triple-A Nashville, where he will continue to stretch out his starts and build endurance. There is no date set for his return, and there really isn’t much of a road map when it comes to the two-timers. The sample size is small enough -- with many of those who have undergone revisions either relief pitchers or transitioning to a relief role -- that clubs and medical staffs have to rely on their judgment and player feedback to determine the optimum return date and strategy (starter or reliever). That said, there’s no denying that Parker is progressing to the point that the next stop, presuming he continues without a setback, is a big league return. Look for him to potentially rejoin his big league teammates in early June but, just as with any pitcher returning from this surgery even the first time, temper expectations out of the gate.
Hunter Pence, OF, San Francisco Giants: It feels like forever since Pence has taken the field for the Giants. The last time he played with the big league club, it was during spring training. That came to an abrupt halt when he was hit by a pitch and sustained a fractured left ulna (forearm bone). The Giants initially expressed optimism that he would return before May, but given the time for fracture healing (approximately six weeks) plus the need for enough at-bats to make up for Pence’s lost spring games, it’s not surprising he is still in rehab mode.
For a while there wasn’t much to update as Pence’s hitting progression awaited the bony healing process, but recently things have become more interesting. For about a week, Pence has been taking swings off a tee and taking soft toss, all without incident. On Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy told reporters Pence had his “best day” of rehab and it appears he will graduate to live batting practice within days. A rehab assignment is sure to follow and it could be a few weeks before Pence is on a major league field, but the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into view. Unlike the power or consistency issues that often accompany hand or finger injuries, there should be no concerns for Pence at the plate as he accumulates his reps. If he hits effectively on his rehab assignment, there’s no reason to think he won’t carry that right into his big league return.