Under The Knife: Deep talent bases help Rays, Rangers handle injuries
I spent the weekend in Texas and got the chance to see some great baseball, as well as eat some great burgers. Seeing Jurickson Profar and the Frisco RoughRiders in their beautiful suburban park was a good start, but being a couple rows behind Nolan Ryan on Saturday night was pretty good, too. Arlington is electric right now, packing the stadium not just for a key matchup between the Rangers and Rays but for nearly every game. To call it an energized fan base doesn't do it justice.
Profar is coming, but there's really nowhere for him to play. He's too good to be a backup, and at just 19, there's plenty of time for him to wait. With Elvis Andrus signed long-term, it's more likely that Profar ends up as trade bait. The Rangers could be creative, shifting Ian Kinsler to 1B and Profar to 2B, but there's no indication this is likely. It's not really a problem to have "too much talent," as the Rays have shown over the past few seasons. Maybe Kinsler will look at Ben Zobrist and think he could play the OF, adding to the team's flexibility. I have a feeling that the Rangers and Rays will be meeting again in October, though to do that, they'll need to avoid the injuries they're already racking up. Powered by an amazing weekend deep in the heart of Texas, on to the injuries:
Hamilton came out of Sunday's game holding his back, but video showed he was having the spasms even before that. A quick look showed him twisting when he made it to first and even a bit in the on-deck circle. I don't know his routine well enough to say definitively, but there's certainly something going on. The back spasms appear to be painful but manageable. Hamilton was out on Monday, mostly due to the travel between Dallas and Toronto, but he's expected back shortly. Being in Toronto is also an issue due to the turf, so if Hamilton misses the whole series, I wouldn't be surprised. The Rangers will be conservative with the oft-injured Hamilton and have the roster flexibility to go a man down on the bench. A couple days at DH won't really help, since the most taxing activity for Hamilton will be the twisting force of swinging. He'll be checked daily, not only to get him back, but to try and figure out what set this off so as to keep it from recurring.
The last thing Heyward needs is another reason to have Fredi Gonzalez keep him on the bench. Heyward has gone from the next big thing to a platoon player in a hurry, so a strained core muscle (the Braves have been vague, but the time frame tends to be the same for all of the core/torso muscles) is problematic even when it's as minor as this one appears. Heyward is expected back on Thursday, but even a minor core strain can recur, so there's going to be a question about it even after he comes back. There's an element of risk here that's complicated by his playing situation. Sources I spoke with are tentative about it, so I think you should be as well.
Is Youkilis breaking down? Yes. Youkilis' series of muscular injuries this season, on top of last year's issues, indicate that the hard-charging style is catching up to him at age 33. His comparables give pause as well. Trot Nixon? Dante Bichette? The upside might be Moises Alou, who fought through injuries and stayed productive in a limited role until age 40. The back strain isn't serious in and of itself, but in pattern with the rest of things, it's no wonder that Will Middlebrooks is getting a lot of attention in fantasy leagues. He's worth a stash, but Youkilis' production could make him a buy-low candidate if you're willing to take on some risk and have a good backup. (Would it stun you if I told you Youkilis had less than 1,000 career hits? I know it did me when I looked up his career line.)
So here we are in May, which is when I thought Howard would be back. He's not, so let's move on. Howard is getting closer and has been cleared for full activity. Howard will go to Clearwater to amp up the workouts, with full-on hitting coming later this week. He should begin a rehab assignment shortly thereafter and could be back with the Phillies quickly. The wound from the surgery is not completely healed, according to GM Ruben Amaro, so there's still a slight chance of more setbacks. I don't anticipate that, and while Howard is slightly behind the timeline doctors gave me in February, I'm more comfortable that he'll return in May and be effective than I am with the statements people have made putting his target time as July.
Utley has been a tougher read, essentially a black box. He's still in Arizona working on his arthritic knees, but is scheduled to be back with the Phillies sometime this week. He'll adjust his routine from his physical therapist to Phillies Trainer Scott Sheridan to see how things go, then head to Clearwater to get in some baseball. Utley played in only nine games last year before he was activated, so that's possible again here. If he shows that he's healthy, why waste what might be a limited number of games on A-ball? (This holds true for Howard as well.) The one worrisome statement this week came when two people, Amaro and a source, both mentioned stability being a problem for Utley. That's not something that's been addressed previously and indicates a structural issue beyond what anyone has suggested. My sources have been admittedly mixed when it comes to Utley the past few years, so I'm going to wait and watch on this one.
Morneau has had more than his share of injuries, so there's plenty that can recur. His wrist is the current problem. There was pain and swelling with no proximal cause, leading the Twins to wonder if a swing had broken something loose ... or broken something. An MRI offered some good news, with nothing apparent. It could be something as simple as an irritant or scar tissue, though it could be the start of something chronic. Watch to see if Morneau loses any bat speed when he returns. Spray charts would be the ideal, but you can look to see if he's getting more balls to 3B if you don't have access to more granular data. Sources sound positive but guarded, which makes sense here.
The NL West might turn on two ankles. Buster Posey is having a nice return, which the D'backs think is a good comp for Drew. They may play different positions, but the challenges of both amount to something similar. Drew will try to play in three XST games this week, including one back-to-back set. If that goes well (and the team expects it will), then Drew will shift to a minor league rehab stint. This one could be a bit more extended as they'll want to test his ankle and get him swings without overdoing it. Drew could take nearly the entire 20 days for the rehab, so saying he'll return in about 20 days seems reasonable, if inexact. Drew is a nice stash now if you're looking for SS help.
After Pettitte took the witness stand in US v Clemens on Tuesday, there are some things that bear discussion. First, Pettitte admitted to the use of HGH during 2002. Pettitte's use has been cast as therapeutic, and in his deposition, he suggested that his elbow injury was significantly aided -- "healed" -- by the use of the substance. This was not monitored by a doctor, though the elbow injury was, so it would be interesting to see how much, if any, the doctors saw of results. The downside here is that the injections didn't actually heal things. At best, it got him back on the field for a season and change, before he needed surgery in '04. Barry Bonds had similar issues due to his usage, though there's no suggestion that Pettitte's use was causative. There's as much evidence of negative consequences to PED use as their are positive effects. The trial shouldn't affect Pettitte's return plans. He went 96 pitches in an XST game over the weekend and should have a minor league start later this week.
Details matter. The difference between "frayed" and "torn" is huge when it comes to the labrum.