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Sunday, April 5, 2009
B.J. Upton and other AL injury updates


AL East

Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts will be a key to many teams' fantasy hopes, especially in steals.

Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts
Roberts has missed a few games late this spring as a result of a respiratory infection and back spasms, which often go hand in hand for obvious reasons. Orioles fans may have become a little nervous when the Baltimore Sun reported that the pain on his left side was near the oblique muscles. Oblique abdominal injuries are notoriously slow-healing and can severely limit a hitter's swing, but it appears that Roberts may have dodged a bullet. He played in the team's final spring games, meaning he'll be ready to start the season. If this is indeed a minor muscular issue associated with his recent illness, there should not be lingering concern for Roberts' health.

Boston Red Sox: John Smoltz
Smoltz was my choice for injury comeback story of the year as of New Year's Day, and if anything, I'm even more encouraged now. Smoltz, who has shown his ability to come back from injury in the past (following multiple elbow surgeries) has been progressing even better than expected after significant shoulder surgery. The historical relationship between members of the Red Sox rehab staff and Smoltz's surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, inspires confidence that he will continue to be brought along at an appropriate pace, which is key to his successful return. Add in Smoltz's competitive fire, along with the fact that he has already thrown several bullpen sessions with a full mix of pitches, and he could be a dangerous addition by June.

New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez
Rodriguez certainly gave everyone a lot to talk about this year, but the issues surrounding his hip are the ones of most immediate concern to the Yankees. Following surgery to repair a torn labrum, Rodriguez is on a focused, aggressive rehab plan in Vail, Colo., absent of distraction and closely supervised. He reportedly is on target to return to the team in mid-May, if not sooner. Keep in mind that Rodriguez awaits a more extensive follow-up procedure in the offseason, and he will have to quickly make up for valuable lost spring training time. To have success at his position offensively he needs to swing for power and slide without hesitation. On the defensive side, he has to rush bunts, dive for grounders and, perhaps most challenging, throw across his body on the run. That is a lot to expect just nine weeks after surgery, especially with the whole world watching. And make no mistake, everyone will be watching.

Toronto Blue Jays: Vernon Wells
Last year, Wells missed significant time due to a strained left hamstring and a broken wrist. This spring, Wells has already been bothered by the same hamstring and wrist. No need for a medical background to know that this is not good. Hamstring injuries are known to be annoyingly recurrent, but having the problem crop up so early for Wells is cause for concern when the first of 162 games has yet to be played. As far as the wrist issue, it is not unusual to have stiffness and soreness in the area of a prior fracture, but once again, the fact that this is rearing up so early is of concern. Manager Cito Gaston remains hopeful that these are minor issues, but this is unlikely to be the last we've seen of these injuries for Wells.

Tampa Bay Rays: B.J. Upton
Upton will start the season on the DL, but not to worry. He is recovering nicely from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Upton's power decline last year can be definitively linked to the instability in his shoulder, which has now been addressed. The timetable all along seemed to suggest that Upton would open his season in the warm weather at Tropicana Field. That plan was confirmed after Upton took a pitch to the hand in a spring game, which fortunately resulted in only a bruise, but gave the team reason to rest him a few extra days. Expect good things from Upton once his shoulder -- and his bat -- heat up.

AL Central

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Chicago White Sox: Jose Contreras
Contreras' 2008 season came to an abrupt halt when he tore his Achilles tendon in August, necessitating surgery. Although he was originally projected to be out until perhaps the All-Star break, Contreras has exceeded expectations. Between shedding 30 excess pounds and rehabbing diligently, he has put himself into position to start the season on schedule. His pitch location still needs some work, but his velocity is up and, most importantly, Contreras feels fine physically. At 37, he's not the youngest guy in the rotation, but he's certainly working as if he has something to prove. Keep an eye on him.

Cleveland Indians: Jake Westbrook
It seems like every year there's someone who's expected to return midseason following Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction) the previous year. Westbrook is one of those guys this year with a twist: he also had hip surgery during the same time frame. It actually makes sense since the rehab following Tommy John surgery is so extensive. Adding the hip procedure in order to recover from both simultaneously seems to have been a wise move, but as a result, Westbrook's return may take a bit longer. As of the start of the season, the Indians are hoping he rejoins the team in June and he is already throwing fastballs from a mound. Most pitchers require an additional nine to 12 months to truly regain their form following this type of elbow surgery, however, so Indians fans need to temper expectations accordingly.

Detroit Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman
Bonderman missed the last four months of the 2008 season when he underwent surgery to correct a circulatory issue in his throwing arm. The surgery involved clearance of a blood clot, along with resection of a rib to alleviate compression on the involved blood vessel which passes from the neck through the shoulder to the arm. It seemed as if his recovery was moving along well enough until Bonderman developed soreness in the shoulder. That soreness translated into a delayed progression and, most recently, velocity issues. Bonderman will begin the season on the DL and there is no timetable for his return. It is not uncommon for some of these post-surgical problems to linger following this type of ailment, but it certainly leaves a big question mark as to Bonderman's status for 2009.

Kansas City Royals: John Bale
Bale will be useful to the Royals in middle relief … once he can join the team. Bale is recovering from thyroid surgery, not something you see every day on the injury list, and will start the season on the DL. Bale has had a long list of injuries in the past few years, including a self-inflicted hand injury last year that sidelined him for an extensive period of time. The positive note here is that Bale's recovery from the thyroid surgery should be fairly straightforward. Unlike soft tissue problems that continue to recur, this should no longer present an issue for him. Once he gets his strength and his spring work in, Bale should be ready to go.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
This ranks right up there with the most unusual of baseball injuries. Then again, Mauer has a history of complicated and unique injuries. Mauer underwent surgery last fall to address a kidney obstruction, with the hope that it would remove the back pain he had been experiencing late in the season. After some initial relief, the symptoms returned and prevented him from running at all this spring. Further testing revealed inflammation at Mauer's right sacroiliac joint (where the spine meets the pelvis). The finding in and of itself is highly unusual, especially in the absence of trauma, even more so following an offseason of rest and recuperation from surgery. The Twins insist that new medication should be enough to address the problem, but inflammation is generally a symptom, not a source, meaning the possibility of recurrence exists. Mauer will start on the DL and the team has not issued a timetable for his return.

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AL West

Los Angeles Angels: John Lackey
Lackey made this column last year, not something an athlete strives to repeat. He started the season on the DL but went on to finish out the year strong. His reappearance here for essentially the same condition does not bode so well. Lackey has inflammation in his right (throwing) elbow and is resting the arm following a cortisone injection. An MRI reportedly showed no major structural damage and the Angels expect to have him back within a few weeks. So why the concern? Because with the exception of last season, Lackey has made at least 30 starts per year since his rookie season in 2002, which adds up to a lot of mileage on a thrower's arm. Although he has shown great durability to this point, one has to wonder whether this episode signals that cumulative trauma is beginning to take its toll.

Oakland Athletics: Joey Devine
He has one of the best names in professional sports … and now he's paying a visit to one of the biggest names in professional sports. Devine will be examined by Dr. James Andrews next week for a consultation on his ailing right (throwing) elbow. The fact that Devine requires a trip to the well-known orthopedic surgeon is bad enough; what's worse is that this is a recurrence of a problem that caused him to miss two months last year. Devine was divine when he returned to action in 2008, but serious symptoms this early generally do not signal good times ahead. He will join teammate Justin Duchscherer on the DL to start the season. The A's have to hope that Devine's stay is just temporary.

Seattle Mariners: Erik Bedard
Bedard never really got it going in 2008 after experiencing a variety of ailments, but ultimately it was his shoulder that ended his season prematurely. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to address a cyst and shape the labrum, but did not require major reconstruction. So far the spring has been relatively uneventful for Bedard, minus a few missed days for a sore gluteus maximus (yep, buttock muscles). He claims all is well heading into the start of the season but a note of caution is in order. Bedard has suffered a number of soft tissue injuries across his career, including an ulnar collateral ligament injury that required Tommy John surgery before he joined the majors. With oblique, hip, back and shoulder problems all surfacing within the past two years, the Mariners may not be out of the woods.

Texas Rangers: Chris Davis
Davis is another player who brought a leftover condition from last season to this year's spring training. Davis has patellar tendinitis, or inflammation of the tendon that anchors the quadriceps muscle (on the front of the thigh) to the shinbone (tibia). The tendon is also attached to the kneecap, or patella, hence the name. The condition is common in basketball players and others involved in jumping sports, less so in baseball. Although the fact that Davis suffered from this late last year is of concern, it does not appear serious. Nonetheless, he is an up-and-comer, so managing his symptoms will be key to extending him throughout the season.