Injury report: Strasburg, Harper and more
June, 3, 2013
By Stephania Bell | ESPN.com
Every Monday, in this space, we'll provide updates on a variety of players to help you make your weekly lineup decisions. We'll specifically try to hit the players who are day-to-day, have just gone on the DL or are ready to return, so that you can better decide whether you can count on them or not.
All projected return timelines should be considered fluid.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals (placed on DL retroactive to May 27): Last week, I said not to expect Harper's left knee (originally injured crashing into the outfield wall in Dodger Stadium on May 13) to land him on the DL if he could help it. It couldn't be helped. In fact, Harper acknowledged to reporters that he aggravated his knee with a headfirst slide May 25 and it turns out the persistent swelling and soreness was too much to overcome. On Sunday, Harper described his knee as "still swollen and crappy" yet said he hopes to start running and hitting at some point this week. The bottom line is he won't be given the green light to run if he is still experiencing swelling to the point where he continues to walk with a limp, as he reportedly was Thursday night.
There's no magic antidote for the swelling associated with bursitis; rest is perhaps the key ingredient for getting it under control. The bigger concern would be preventing this from turning into a chronic issue over the remainder of the season. Harper's move to the DL reflects the Nationals' desire to curb the problem now and he's not likely to resurface until his progress moves him out of range of the easy threat of a setback. After all, teammate and fellow outfielder Jayson Werth followed a similar pattern of being placed on the DL following a string of consecutive missed games. At the time, Werth expected to return when eligible but was held back when his hamstring continued to nag at him with certain explosive activities. Now it looks as if Werth will rejoin the team Tuesday, so at least the Nationals anticipate getting a player back as they lose Harper, but it's worth noting his absence will have exceeded a month. If Harper's progress remains slow, expect his timetable to be extended because the Nationals know he isn't wired to play at anything less than 110 percent effort, regardless of how his body actually feels.
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (placed on DL May 30): The Dodgers' decision to place Kemp on the DL seems to be more of a proactive effort to keep his injury from worsening than a reactive response to severity. Kemp felt his right hamstring tighten up while chasing down a Mike Trout double on Wednesday and took himself out of the game, perhaps a lesson learned from last year's episode with his left hamstring. Although the injury did not appear serious, the move to the DL forces Kemp to sit out at least 15 days and rest his legs. Last year, Kemp tried to return quickly following his hamstring strain, only to suffer a setback within two days, resulting in another six-week absence. And let's face it, he has not had the best start to his season. Kemp has been struggling at the plate after coming off surgery to repair his labrum, not because the shoulder is bothering him, but he has not rediscovered his swing. While his performance has been below expectations, other power hitters have said it can take months before they feel like their stroke is effortless after undergoing shoulder surgery. The twinge in his hamstring and the forced time off may be just the thing to help Kemp restart his season. No timetable has been issued, but it appears Kemp's leg will not require much beyond the minimal two weeks. Beyond how he looks and feels in running situations, it will be worth paying attention to how Kemp fares at the plate once those rehab games get underway.
Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (day-to-day): Another outfielder, another hamstring issue. These injuries seem to be running rampant among outfielders throughout the league. Crawford, who has been quiet on the injury front so far this year after missing virtually all of last season following wrist surgery and later Tommy John surgery, left Saturday's game with a left hamstring "cramp," according to the Dodgers' Twitter account. Crawford was held out of the game Sunday. A cramping or tugging is often a precursor to something more sinister; the question is whether a few days of rest is enough to clear the issue or whether more downtime is needed. Crawford did have some issues with the same hamstring in the early part of May and sat out one game as a result. In 2011, Crawford went on the DL for a left hamstring injury and missed a month. Other than that one episode, Crawford has not dealt with significant hamstring problems. Naturally, the Dodgers would like to keep it that way. With Kemp out and Crawford potentially out for several days -- or longer -- the Dodgers have promoted top prospect Yasiel Puig to provide outfield help.
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (placed on DL May 4, expected to return this week): Hamstring injuries aren't just for outfielders, as the Dodgers are all too aware. Ramirez, who strained his left hamstring just days after returning from a month-long absence following thumb surgery, suffered a serious enough injury to sideline him another month. As frustrating as this injury has been for Ramirez and everyone else, he finally appears on the brink of return. He has been on a rehab assignment this weekend (with Sunday off) and is expected to play in a game again Monday with a possible activation as early as Tuesday. The key for the Dodgers' comfort level with his return is adequate situational play to stress the hamstring and observe its response. Ideally that would include turning corners running from first to third, which also happens to be how Ramirez suffered the injury in the first place, but that particular test has not presented itself. What the Dodgers cannot afford is for Ramirez to return and re-injure himself. Obviously there are no guarantees but the team at least needs to feel comfortable they have seen enough in his rehab outings to suggest his leg is ready for prime time. It appears this will be the week they get him back, barring a setback, but the specific day he will return is not yet set in stone.
Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers (placed on DL retroactive to May 12, possible return this week): Jackson's strain was not viewed as serious even when the team placed him on the DL, but as hamstrings are wont to do, his recovery time has proceeded slower than expected. Jackson has resumed baseball activities over the past 10 days and ran the bases Saturday, although it is unclear whether he did so at full speed. The expectation is that if all goes well, he will embark on a rehab assignment shortly. Manager Jim Leyland told reporters last week that Jackson would head to Toledo for a short rehab assignment prior to being activated. This gives him the opportunity to test the hamstring in unpredictable, reactionary situations, an important final step before returning to the lineup. If the rehab assignment is uneventful, Jackson could be back with his teammates this week however the Tigers have been clear they do not want to rush him. Should his rehab start get delayed or should they decide they want him to get more games under his belt before returning, he might not make an appearance before next week.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks (placed on DL April 15, no definite timetable): When Hill was first diagnosed with a fracture in his left hand, the projected timetable was his absence was four to six weeks, the standard for bone healing. The problem is that the bone hasn't healed. As reported by the Arizona Republic last week, Hill has a nonunion fracture, and the choices at this point are to try to resume baseball activities gradually and see how he is able to tolerate them, or to undergo surgery. Hill is trying the former option and so far has been able to hit from a tee. The Republic notes the next step will be facing live pitching. Hill would need to work his way through a rehab assignment before considering a return, suggesting he is still at least a couple of weeks out. And that's if the hand doesn't become too painful along the way. There's no clear answer here as to when Hill might return but at least there's some encouragement that he has picked up a bat again.
Brett Lawrie, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (placed on DL May 28): When Lawrie was injured this spring, forcing him to open the season on the DL, a source in the Jays' organization expressed concern to me about Lawrie's ability to stay healthy, given how he plays (a la Bryce Harper). Everyone admires the enthusiasm but knows it comes with a bit of risk. Still, there's nothing that could have prevented Lawrie's left ankle from catching the bag and twisting as it did on a recent attempted steal. In fact, it looked violent enough that it actually brought to mind a similar injury suffered by his teammate Jose Reyes, who has now been out over a month and is still recovering. Indications are that Lawrie's sprain was not as serious, but it still will take time to get back to full Brett Lawrie mode. He is currently undergoing rehab in Florida and will miss the full two weeks, possibly more. Fantasy owners should expect he will need some extra time to push the ankle with agility maneuvers, sliding and turning corners. Don't be surprised if it requires an additional week or two.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals (day-to-day): Strasburg clearly looked uncomfortable Friday night and it didn't take long for the decision-makers to decide to pull him. Originally thought to be an oblique strain, Strasburg is now reported to be dealing with a Grade 1(minor) strained lat (latissimus dorsi) muscle, the large muscle on the back that attaches to the arm and is involved in throwing. Based on how Strasburg was flinching Friday night, rolling his shoulders around in an apparent effort to loosen up, it seemed as if the ailment was not behaving like a typical oblique (the highest oblique muscles attach around the middle of the rib cage and most often players will reach for their side or lean towards one side when that's the issue) and the announcement that it is indeed his lat makes sense. As of now the Nationals say they will be taking it day by day and that Strasburg could test himself throwing a side session Wednesday. This, of course, will happen only if he is pain-free.
It's worth pointing out that Strasburg also appeared to be uncomfortable during an outing in late April. That episode was later reported to be forearm tightness and he did not miss his next start. The Nationals have to be watching him closely for all the body language that would suggest he is less than full capacity, given that Strasburg seems to hold back when it comes to discussing injury. Their worst fear would be not simply an aggravation of a lat strain that could sideline him longer, but a more significant injury to this throwing arm as a result of compensating, especially when he is only recently removed from Tommy John surgery. More information should be available Wednesday after Strasburg's scheduled throwing session.
Josh Johnson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays (placed on DL April 26, expected to return Tuesday): There's some good news finally for the Jays, or at least it appears to be. According to the Jays' official website, Johnson, out since late April with a triceps injury, is expected to rejoin his team Tuesday to face the San Francisco Giants. Johnson has made three rehab starts with generally mixed results but most importantly has not had any discomfort in his arm and feels comfortable throwing all his pitches. The Jays could certainly benefit from his presence but as manager John Gibbons said, "We need Josh to be good when he comes back. He's got to stabilize things." The rehab and offseason maintenance programs Johnson has participated in over the last two years seemed to be paying off for him when he looked strong in his spring outings. If this episode can be viewed as just a minor speed bump on the season -- and there's no reason to think Johnson can't stay healthy for the remainder of the year -- then it really could be good news for everyone, including fantasy owners.
David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (placed on DL May 16, no timetable for return): At least we can see some progress in Price's throwing progression, but he still isn't throwing from the mound. Price has increased the distance at which he's playing catch to 105 feet, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He has now been playing catch for about a week with no reported setbacks and at progressive distances. Still, the vigor of throwing increases substantially when a pitcher throws downhill, something Price could start to do within the week. While the Rays continue to refrain from establishing a timetable, it would stand to reason that Price would need rehab outings prior to a return. First things first. Let's see how his arm responds when he ratchets up the effort.
Rafael Betancourt, RP, Colorado Rockies (placed on DL June 1): When the Denver Post reported in May that Betancourt had inflammation around scar tissue in his right groin area, it seemed unlikely that a few days rest would be sufficient. After all, he had been experiencing what he described as tightness and weakness in the area since April. Even the Rockies indicate he's been dealing with this issue for several years, according to the Post. Betancourt never blamed the injury for his performance but his recent struggles would suggest it has to at least be considered a factor. Now he will have no option but to take some time to see if it settles down. When he returns - and it's possible he could miss only the minimum time - perhaps it will be clearer just how much a factor the groin has been.
Huston Street, RP, San Diego Padres (placed on DL retroactive to May 30): Uh-oh. It's deja vu with Street again. Not only is he returning to the DL, a place he has spent time each of the last three seasons, but he is dealing with an injury to the same part of his body that landed him there last August. Street has a strained left calf and last year it cost him 41 days. Padres manager Bud Black and Street told reporters the injury is less severe this time. According to the Padres' official website, Street had a simple assessment: "Same calf, different spot and a different severity level," he said. Perhaps the quick decision to move to the DL will result in less down time. Last year, Street did try to pitch through discomfort but that ultimately turned to pain and a lengthy absence. Street is hopeful he will only need to rest the leg a week or so before resuming activity. Calf injuries are not unlike hamstring strains in that an athlete often begins to feel better until he tests it at full speed. Fortunately for Street, he shouldn't be faced with sprinting that often and perhaps will be able to return after the minimum time.