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Greinke injury echoes Ellsbury's 2010 rib saga

Maybe the Brewers learned something from Jacoby Ellsbury's bruised rubs-turned-hairline fracture a year ago. Maybe they should have learned more than they did.

The question remains: Why in the world did Zack Greinke pitch two spring games with a hairline fracture of his ribs? He is now ruled out for the first three starts of the season, a blow to his draft position that will be discussed more below.

First, we have to warn about the difficult nature of rib injuries. If you followed Ellsbury's 2010 roller-coaster ride, you are afraid. Be very afraid.

Repeatedly trying to come back too soon from the rib injury kept Ellsbury from making any impact last season. It rendered him useless to his fantasy owners -- and the Red Sox -- and one of the biggest busts of the year.

Greinke is on a similar ride to the danger zone.

"Until it heals there's nothing you really can do," Greinke told the Associated Press. "You just need to let it heal."

Here is what this writer learned from the Ellsbury case study last year: Any broken bone requires four weeks to heal. Some take six. A rib, which is in a part of the body where blood flow is less heavy, tends to heal more slowly. A break is more severe than a fracture (in this case a hairline one), but it is also a greater trauma that alerts the body to aggressively heal it by pumping blood flow to it. A hairline fracture tends to get ignored or at least neglected, therefore, healing more slowly.

So, yes, like Ellsbury, Greinke can play with this injury. But Greinke could learn it won't completely heal if you do and it might even get worse, as in the case of Ellsbury.

"If it were the playoffs, he'd be throwing with it,'' Brewers team doctor William Raasch told SI.com's Jon Heyman.

Yeah, sure. But could he try to return from it too soon now and make it through a whole season as opposed to a few playoff starts? Doubtful.

Ask Ellsbury or his fantasy owners: No way and no thank you.

Before you drop Greinke on your draft boards, you have to weigh exactly how much time he will miss. Since the injury occurred two weeks ago and the MRI trumped the inconclusive X-ray on Monday, showing the fracture, Greinke could start pitching again in 2-4 weeks.

That makes him a late spring returnee to a mound, and the initial diagnosis on this injury is usually the best-case scenario. Then, he will need a series of rehab outings to build up to 90-plus pitches.

Greinke is said to be positioned to miss his first three starts of the season. That makes him a mid-April returnee, at best.

If he can maintain this timetable, dropping him a mere four spots in the starting pitcher rankings from No. 20 to 24 makes sense. We should know by late March, or around draft day, whether that looks doable.

The news -- as it kept doing for Ellsbury a year ago -- can only get worse than that.

Here is how Nos. 19-25 will look in SI.com's starting pitcher rankings update next week:

19. Yovani Gallardo (MIL)20 Clay Buchholz (BOS)21. Phil Hughes (NYY)22. Tommy Hanson (ATL)23. Dan Haren (LAA)24. Zack Greinke (MIL)25. Josh Beckett (BOS)

This drops Greinke from No. 58 to 73 in SI.com's Top 300. We will keep Greinke ahead of Beckett until the news gets worse. The guess here, judging by the history of hairline rib fractures, is it will get worse.

Ellsbury looks like he can be a beast again. In Jupiter, Fla., on Tuesday afternoon, he had three hits in his first three at-bats -- two of the infield variety, he can fly! -- and his first stolen base of the spring. (Although freak things tend to follow his head-first style: He was hit in the helmet by the catcher's throw. He was fine, though.)

Not only does it look like all systems go for him, but he was in the leadoff spot and the Red Sox want him to remain there, despite Carl Crawford's presence.

That is noteworthy because it was thought Ellsbury might have to hit ninth, a spot that would affect his plate appearances and RBIs over the long haul.

"We all understand we want him as a leadoff hitter. We want him to get on base," hitting coach Dave Magadan told the Sports Xchange. "But he can't be passive at the plate. He's still got to be in that aggressive mode, and I think when he's in that mode and he's ready to hit from the first pitch, he tends to have better pitch selection."

Here is what the Red Sox lineup might look like now:

1 Jacoby Ellsbury CF2 Dustin Pedroia 2B3 Carl Crawford LF4 Adrian Gonzalez 1B5 Kevin Youkilis 3B6 David Ortiz DH7 J.D. Drew RF8 Marco Scutaro SS9 Jarrod Saltalamacchia C

That is one scary lineup. Salty isn't having a great spring, so Jason Varitek could get more at-bats than initially thought. Also, Jed Lowrie is going to be a valuable, versatile fantasy player as the super utilityman. Even if he believes he could start at shortstop for most teams in the major leagues, he bears the burden of being a jack of all trades and a king of none.

"It's an age-old discussion with more guys than just me," Lowrie said if versatility keeps him from being a regular. "What am I going to say? I know where I am as a player. I know who I am.

"If that's what [the Red Sox] think of me, I'm not going to get caught up in that."

Lowrie was this writer's guess to finish last season as the Red Sox's starting shortstop. He did, although his injuries and that of Scutaro made it happen in the unconventional way. Scutaro is better served as the super utilityman at this stage of his career. Perhaps the Red Sox are using Lowrie this way because they feel glove man Jose Iglesias is the future at the shortstop position.

It might be more likely Jose Reyes, via midseason trade, is in Boston. Wouldn't that be scary?

Chase Utley's knee situation appears to sound more dire by the day. It reeks of Carlos Beltran's chronic woes. Simply stated, Utley is a real dangerous early round pick right now.

He is down to 30th overall in CBSSports.com's Average Draft Position (ADP) for head-to-head leagues. He is still 19th ADP in Rotisserie.

It is time to move him behind No. 2 Dustin Pedroia at second base and at the back end of the top 30 in the top 300. Missing the start of the regular season would drop Utley down past Ian Kinsler at No. 39, too.

• Dodgers offseason acquisition Jon Garland (oblique) will join fellow rotation candidate Vicente Padilla (elbow) on the DL to start the season. Garland, who hasn't missed a start in nine seasons (nine!), has an oblique issue that might sideline him -- or at least slow him down -- for 4-6 weeks.

• John Ely is moving up the depth chart with the losses of Padilla and Garland. He could be the leading candidate to open the season as the team's No. 5 starter. Consider him an NL-only sleeper late right now.

• Speaking of No. 5 starter replacements, the Brewers need one without Greinke now, of course. They won't consider Kameron Loe out of the bullpen or Manny Parra (neck) who won't be ready by the first time they need a No. 5 starter April 6. So, shoulder surgery returnee Mark Rogers has the floor flinging wide open now. He is a good, young talent with an opportunity. He is a sleeper in NL-only and long-term keeper leagues. He is talented enough to stick in the rotation behind Yovani Gallardo, Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson for the full season.

• Sophomore catcher Carlos Santana got a game at first base with the Indians this week. Don't worry, it doesn't seem to be a function of the Indians wanting to give him the Victor Martinez treatment or his future behind the plate. They just wanted to rest his knees a bit coming off season-ending surgery. Heck, resting a catcher's knees at first base as opposed to DH could keep him in the lineup more. So, view it is good news, potentially.

• Nick Johnson signed a minor-league deal with the Indians, but he is still three weeks away from action because of offseason wrist surgery. It seals his fate as opening the season in the minors.

• Derrek Lee's wrist exam didn't reveal bad news, but it is still bad news. Just the fact he still needs that once-surgically repaired wrist looked at again, signals he is not right with it. That clinches his status out of the top 15 fantasy first basemen to target on draft day. SI.com already had him pessimistically ranked 20th. He just wasn't dominant last season, perhaps because of the lingering wrist issues. Those never seem to go away ... listen up, David Ortiz lovers.

• Luis Castillo recently got a kick in the pants -- figuratively -- from new Mets manager Terry Collins in the second base mix. That makes Daniel Murphy, despite his subpar defense learning the new position, a nice sleeper on draft day in deeper formats. Murphy has the potential to hit .290 with 15 homers. His last healthy, albeit partial, season in 2009, he did lead the Mets in homers with 12.

• Arizona is back inquiring about Michael Young, a signal they won't be satisfied with Melvin Mora as the everyday replacement for the departed Mark Reynolds. Arizona would be a good park for Young. Mora is a late-round NL-only option at best.

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