Injury update: Braun, Kemp, Harper, more
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 to count on them or not.
All projected return timelines should be considered fluid.
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports Ryan Braun's thumb injury may keep him on the disabled list much longer than expected.
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (placed on DL June 10): Despite the Brewers’ initial suggestion that Braun would return when eligible (or close to it), it no longer appears that that will be the case. Braun consulted with hand specialist Dr. Don Sheridan in Phoenix, a visit referred to at the time as a matter of “due diligence.” While Sheridan did not reportedly recommend any more substantial intervention, he did instruct Braun to scale his activity back even further, as in completely, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. Braun was advised to extend his rest period and then gradually work his way back toward baseball activity. The obvious goal is to see if Braun can return to functioning like his former self, as opposed to playing with pain and a power-sapped swing. Still, there are no guarantees that a couple additional weeks of rest will allow the contusion to resolve entirely. It’s possible that as Braun returns to swinging, the symptoms will flare up again even with the medical staff’s best attempt to buffer the contact between bat and thumb with padding. As manager Ron Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "He may not get rid of [the pain] completely until the offseason." Translation: There’s no way to know what results Braun can deliver at the plate even when he does return.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals (placed on DL retroactive to May 27): Harper is increasing his activity, but there seems to be some disagreement between Harper and manager Davey Johnson as to just when he might return. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post outlined the details of their differing viewpoints, highlighting the challenges of coordinating between medical personnel, players and managers in choosing an appropriate time to return to play. Clearly, medical personnel have the overriding authority to keep a player out if they believe a return to be unsafe. But as a player gets healthy enough to return, some may want extra time to regain the “feel” of being their normal game-ready selves, whereas managers may believe the best final stage of rehab is major league play. That disparity seems to be at the heart of the disagreement between Harper and Johnson.
This much we know. Harper is performing fielding drills and was scheduled to take batting practice on the field Monday. He is no longer having pain and the effusion (swelling) has dissipated. Harper appears on track to start a rehab assignment this week if all continues well, although the start date and the length of assignment are up in the air. He has turned a corner in his rehab effort and is approaching a return to his team either late this week or next. There is no denying the problem could become aggravated with another Harper-style crash into a wall, a diving slide or even an awkward lunge. But at some point, Harper will have nothing left but to re-enter the big leagues and test it.
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (placed on DL May 30): Kemp is recovering from two ailments, a mild right hamstring strain and a more serious case of struggling at the plate. He began a rehab assignment Saturday, presumably to get both back in major league shape. After going 0-for-5 in his first outing and 1-for-3 in his second, it’s hard to feel supremely confident about either. Of course, that is a small sample size and part of his struggle can be attributed to his extended absence from the game. And Kemp did score from second on a single Saturday, indicating he gave the hammie a little test, and it responded well. It’s not clear just how long Kemp will remain on the DL as he tries to get himself ready to return, but he could rejoin the team later this week.
Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals (day-to-day): Werth left Sunday’s game in the fourth inning due to a groin strain, a day after sitting out of the lineup with flu symptoms. According to the Washington Post, Werth acknowledged feeling dehydrated before the game began and felt it put him at risk. Werth strained his right hamstring earlier this season, attributing that injury to dehydration and cramps as well. It’s unclear whether he will end up on the DL; last time he sat out for a week, then moved to the DL when the hamstring did not improve. This injury is on Werth’s left side and does not appear directly related to his previous soft tissue ailment, but the cumulative wear and tear may be adding up. Now 34 years old, the injuries seem to be taking a toll on Werth, who, before last season’s wrist fracture, had not been to the DL in four years.
AP Photo/Morry Gash Carlos Gomez, one of this season's biggest surprises, may need a few days, at least, to recover from a shoulder injury.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (day-to-day): The shoulder injury Gomez suffered Sunday looked painful enough that anyone who saw it immediately thought it was serious. Gomez made a great play at the wall, but as is often the case, his body paid the price. The contact his left shoulder made with the wall left Gomez in clear discomfort. Later reports indicated Gomez had suffered a “sprained shoulder” and was considered day-to-day, a much better diagnosis than first anticipated.
However, this diagnosis is still vague. The typical “sprain” a player suffers after slamming his shoulder into a wall is to the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. (This is the injury that Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders suffered earlier this year, causing him to miss roughly three weeks.) However, Gomez's injury was somewhat different. Gomez actually got his elbow pinned behind him as he made the catch, which put his shoulder (glenohumeral) joint itself in a precarious position. According to the Brewers’ official website, Gomez felt his shoulder pop out and back in, otherwise known as a subluxation (where it slips briefly out of position but doesn’t dislocate). It’s hard to know whether the force when he hit the wall or the translation of the force up through the arm as he got jammed contributed to the injury. Regardless, Gomez, who suffered a fractured clavicle (collarbone) on the same side two years ago and required surgery to repair it, had to be relieved this wasn’t a repeat performance. Still, his shoulder is bound to be sore and swollen, which will make it difficult to move for a few days. The sooner he regains his motion, the less down time he will likely require. The Brewers aren’t talking DL at the moment, but much will depend on what happens over the next few days. Fantasy owners should not plan on having him available this week.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks (placed on DL April 15, expected to return Tuesday): Last week, I outlined Hill’s progression toward a return, despite the presence of a non-union fracture. He has now been officially activated by the Diamondbacks and is expected to play his first game in over two months on Tuesday. Judging from his performance during his rehab assignment, Hill has been able to function quite well despite the fact that his hand has not fully healed. The hope is that this will translate to the big leagues. While it’s always possible the hand could become problematic down the line (and he will likely require an offseason procedure), it’s also possible his discomfort has stabilized to the point where he can function just fine going forward. Only time will tell.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants (placed on DL June 9; due back today): The left foot strain that had Sandoval limping around in early June has healed significantly, and Sandoval was activated Monday. His strong performance in his rehab outings suggested that the foot was not affecting his power swing, and he was convincing enough running the bases to quell any other concerns. Expect Sandoval in the lineup as the Giants face the Dodgers in one of the few Monday night games.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees (started season on DL; due back after All-Star break): There’s no doubt that Rodriguez is making stepwise progress in his recovery from offseason hip surgery, but when that progress will translate to game play is not yet clear. Although reports from the New York Daily News indicated that Rodriguez was medically cleared to begin game play July 1, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman refuted that statement. According to ESPNNewYork, Cashman said, "He has not been cleared by our doctors to play in rehab games yet." However, it does sound as if that time is rapidly approaching. Rodriguez has been performing baseball activities such as hitting and fielding at the team’s spring training facility in Tampa. The natural next step is to incorporate the activities into game situations. It’s unclear whether he would DH initially or return to third base duties, but he is likely to be eased gradually into innings of play. As far as his timeline, Rodriguez is on target with the activities he’s been doing thus far. If all continues well, he could rejoin the team right around the initial projected return of just post-All Star break.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians (placed on DL June 4, could return this week): Cabrera has been gradually working his way back from a quadriceps strain and could be ready to go before the week is out. Quad strains are not unlike hamstring strains in that sometimes the only way to truly test the final phase of recovery is by returning to action. Cabrera progressed from pool work initially to land drills that incorporated hitting, fielding and, ultimately, running. At this point, it appears the Indians are satisfied enough with his progress that he may not be sent on a rehab assignment, but that also means he won’t have been tested in game situations. Sprinting out of the batter’s box down the first base line and situational running are hard to simulate, so until he survives those activities without a setback, he won’t be out of the woods.
Dan Haren, SP, Washington Nationals (placed on DL June 23): Haren has not been himself; this is something upon which everyone can agree. As for whether an injury is truly responsible for his poor performance is up for debate. Still, Haren finds himself on the DL as he attempts to sort through what has troubled him the first half of the season. Reportedly dealing with stiffness in his throwing shoulder, Haren downplayed the problem when speaking to the Washington Times. “… My shoulder’s been bugging me the last two, three starts … nothing I haven’t pitched through in the past,” Haren said. As for the move to the DL, Haren indicated the team wanted him “to get 100 percent,” but was quick to point out the shoulder was not to blame for his performance early in the year. As he told the Times, “That was more due to lack of execution, instead of an injury.”
The good news is that the “injury” sending Haren to the DL is not overly concerning, although he is scheduled for an MRI to take a closer look. Haren has had an amazing health record dating back to his college days, and until he went on the DL last year because of a nagging back issue, Haren had not missed a start in his career. Not a single start! Pretty remarkable when you consider the physical toll exacted on pitchers. After he returned from the DL, his back symptoms were fairly stable, but his performance was inconsistent, and he struggled with giving up the long ball.
When I spoke with Haren during spring training this year, he struck me as an athlete who was very in tune with his body. He was diligent about maintaining a physical regimen during the offseason to proactively fend off a recurrence of back troubles. That regimen included a focus on hip flexibility, an essential component of maintaining back strength, and so far, neither area has been a problem for him this season. (Readers may recall there was some discussion about the health of Haren’s hip when trade options were being discussed.) Unfortunately, there’s no eliminating the wear and tear pitching will ultimately place on a thrower’s arm, and it typically manifests itself in an injury at some point in a pitcher’s career. But given both his and the team’s description of what he’s currently experiencing, there’s no reason to panic about Haren’s health…at least not yet.
Clay Buchholz, SP, Boston Red Sox (placed on DL retroactive to June 9): Buchholz is eligible to be activated this week and the initial thinking was that he might start Tuesday if his Saturday throwing session went well. Apparently it did not go well enough. As ESPNBoston.com reports, Buchholz did not throw a planned bullpen, limiting his throws to flat ground only. Buchholz is still experiencing tightness in his neck and upper right shoulder area, which is not allowing him to throw at full intensity. He says he is making progress although manager John Farrell acknowledges, “…it's going slower than we had anticipated." There remains no timetable as Buchholz’s progression is completely dependent on how he responds to each outing. This ailment dates back to the AC joint soreness he experienced in May after sleeping with his shoulder in an awkward position. The neck stiffness appeared soon afterward and has lingered ever since. It’s a bit concerning that it has not yet resolved, but there have been no reports of numbness or weakness in his arm, which would suggest a more serious problem. As annoying as the slow advancement may be for Buchholz, the Red Sox and fantasy owners, Buchholz is right to wait and not try to pitch through something that could result in compensation and, perhaps, a more serious injury. In the meantime, fantasy owners need to replace him in their lineups for at least another week.
Chris Perez, RP, Cleveland Indians (placed on DL May 27, expected return this week): After being placed on the DL for the first time in his major league career, Perez is hoping to come off it this week. After being shut down with rotator cuff tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, Perez has progressed through his rehab fairly uneventfully. His shoulder has not regressed, but his uneven performance in early outings led to a bit longer time in rehab games. According to MLB.com, Perez will have another rehab outing Tuesday, but if that goes well, he should be activated shortly thereafter. This injury never had the look of something particularly serious and appears to have responded well to the brief downtime.
Rafael Betancourt, RP, Colorado Rockies (placed on DL June 1, could return this week): After reluctantly going on the DL at the start of the month, Betancourt has wisely progressed at a reasonable pace, not rushing back. As reported by the Denver Post, he underwent PRP injections early in the process and has been progressively increasing his throwing activity in the weeks since. He has now been throwing downhill for the past 10 days with increasing intensity over that period. Betancourt is hoping to avoid a rehab assignment, according to the Rockies’ official website and given his relatively short downtime from throwing, that could be a reasonable possibility. The groin issue that sent him to the DL had reportedly been present for quite some time, so this may be a situation to watch. The extended rest was clearly necessary to get him over the hump, but whether it resurfaces as the season progresses remains to be seen.
Ryan Madson, RP, Los Angeles Angels (opened season on DL, no timetable for return): The last time we discussed Madson in this space, we talked about his multiple setbacks post-Tommy John surgery delaying his big league debut. The good news is that Madson is throwing again; the bad news is that he is limited to playing catch and the possibility of a shutdown is looming. According to the Angels’ official website, manager Mike Scioscia acknowledged the prospect. "As the calendar turns, it becomes more of a possibility," Scioscia said. At the end of the day, the important thing is to protect Madson’s arm and not press him into service before he is ready. While an appearance this year is not yet ruled out for Madson, for fantasy owners who didn’t heed the advice in this column last time, it’s repeated again. Time to move along.