Bell: Concern over Soriano's latest injury
It's not the hop!! At least that's what Alfonso Soriano is saying after injuring himself while making his trademark maneuver to catch a fly ball hit by Ken Griffey Jr. Soriano pulled up lame after making the catch Tuesday night and was placed on the disabled list Wednesday with what the Cubs are calling a strained right calf muscle. According to an ESPN report, Soriano, who was in a walking boot Wednesday to force the calf to rest while the muscle recovers, insists that the strain actually took place seconds after the hop, not during the hop, thus proving the hop was not the culprit.
I'm inclined to agree with Soriano. He has been performing this hop for the better part of two years without incident and there is no reason why it should be problematic now. Now certainly if his calf was already bothering him (which Soriano states was the case, indicating that he felt some discomfort in the muscle last week in Pittsburgh), a forceful hop could send it just over the edge. But so could running the bases, leaping to make a catch at the wall or getting a jump on an attempt to steal. So there's no way to definitively blame the hop.
There are bigger concerns for Soriano and the Cubs than whether he resumes his hop when he returns. The primary issue would have to be that this is the third muscle strain in Soriano's legs in the past two seasons that have resulted in missed time. Soriano suffered a quadriceps strain and a hamstring strain last year, and given that speed is one of his hallmarks, these types of injuries are of concern. Speed players are like wide receivers in football. They are the finesse players, the thoroughbreds of the sport, and although they are potentially more elite in their running and speed skills, they may also be more injury prone, especially in the muscle strain department. In fact, the Cubs' official Web site states that the team was concerned enough about Soriano that they instructed him to spend the majority of the offseason really resting his legs, to help ensure his health for the 2008 season. They even sent strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss to the Dominican Republic during the winter to review Soriano's routine.
Soriano reported to spring training feeling healthier than in recent memory, albeit somewhat concerned about not having tested the legs. He suffered a break to the tip of his middle finger this spring, but the Cubs were just relieved that he could still maintain his leg exercise and conditioning regimem while his finger recovered. It is worth noting that even Soriano expressed some lingering concern at the start of the season about being able to run all out, whenever deemed necessary, without the fear of re-injury. It was only two days prior to the calf injury that Soriano told the Chicago Sun-Times that, eight months after his quadriceps injury, he finally felt normal running the bases again. Even then he still did not rate himself as 100 percent recovered. In 2006 Soriano stole 41 bases with the Nationals, but in 2007 that number declined sharply to 19. Time missed with the leg injuries and lack of confidence in the legs as a result had much to do with it. As of the date of his calf injury, Soriano had stolen only two bases. Although it is still early, if Soriano was just beginning to have the confidence necessary to run hard, how much longer will it take him this time around?
Soriano is expected to return to the lineup shortly after a minimum stay on the DL, although the Cubs are very clear that they will not rush him because they would prefer to have him healthy for the remainder of the season. The weather should be starting to warm up when he returns. It would be wise to see how he performs for several days once he rejoins the Cubs before being sold on his health. It is indeed possible that he will be fully recovered from this latest setback. However it is equally possible, and I suspect more likely, that we continue to see him having intermittent muscle strain issues throughout the course of the season. Tread carefully, Alfonso.
Stephania Bell is the injury expert for ESPN.com fantasy.
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