Injury Report 2/25: Spring Training Injuries

With 2018 in the rear-view and a new baseball season ahead, it’s time to check in on some injury stories. In this article, I will touch on some recent injuries that have occurred, with a focus on return to regular play in the 2019 season. Today, I have also included information regarding an interesting injury from this past year and highlighted thoughts regarding that player’s return to play in 2019.

The Injury Report will be taking on a different look in 2019. Feel free to share feedback, and I will aim to make changes to continue to improve this article.

 

Mike Soroka  Right Shoulder Soreness

 

Mike Soroka was shut down in June 2018 because of a lingering shoulder issue, described at that time as inflammation. Over the offseason, Soroka was reported to be healthy and pitched a few outings in the fall. At that time, his injury was described as “right shoulder discomfort related to muscles attached to his scapula.” In late January, Soroka hurt his shoulder again while lifting weights. He has since been shut down from throwing.

Reports have stated that Soroka’s current shoulder injury is different from what he experienced last offseason, but I am sure they’re related. Among the many muscles that attach to the scapula are the rotator cuff muscles, which are integral for strength and stability of the shoulder. If those muscles are strained in any way, it can lead to weakness or instability, which can cause additional issues within the shoulder complex. It’s unclear if Soroka has injured a different muscle (or group of muscles), or if he exacerbated his injury from this past season. In either case, noting Soroka’s age and status as a top prospect, it’s difficult to see a scenario where Soroka is able to return a sufficient volume of MLB innings in 2019.

Estimated return: May.

 

Sonny Gray  Right Elbow Stiffness

 

Sonny Gray missed his Cactus League start on Feb. 23 because of right elbow stiffness. While this seems minor at the moment, it is not a great start to his tenure with the Reds. Gray is anticipated to return to throwing at some point this week.

In August 2016 Gray hit the disabled list with a right forearm strain, which is often a precursor to Tommy John surgery. Following an MRI, Gray was found to have no structural damage in his elbow  it was only a muscle strain. Gray’s current injury is likely similar; Gray would have passed a physical prior to joining the Reds, which would have shown no damage to his elbow. If this is simply a muscle strain once again, Gray will likely be ready to return for Opening Day or shortly after the season begins. We should know more as he returns to regular throwing, hopefully this week as advertised.

Estimated return: Ready for Opening Day.

 

Clayton Kershaw  Left Shoulder Soreness

 

Clayton Kershaw is set to return to throwing today, Feb. 25, after being shutdown for five days because of left shoulder soreness. It is reported that this is not a repeat of the biceps injury that held Kershaw out for 25 days in 2018. Kershaw did experience a shoulder strain in March 2014, which caused him to miss significant time, though he also battled back inflammation during that absence.

Should Kershaw return to throwing without issue, I don’t have ongoing concerns. Kershaw has generally avoided major shoulder/arm issues throughout his career, and this simply sounds like overuse too early into the spring as Kershaw was “overdoing it in an effort to rediscover lost velocity,” per Dave Roberts. Kershaw will likely proceed slowly through spring training, which may make him a draft day bargain comparable to his abilities.

Estimated return: Ready for Opening Day.

 

Francisco Lindor – Left Calf Strain

 

Francisco Lindor was diagnosed with a left calf strain in early February, with a provided timetable of seven to nine weeks. This timetable outlines a return at the end of March or in the middle of April, and the latter seems to be the more likely option. Lindor does not have a history of calf injuries, but with the AL Central again looking like the weakest division in baseball, the Indians have the luxury of making sure their star shortstop is healthy.

Once fully recovered, Lindor is likely to return to fielding and batting without issue. If this calf injury is to have any effect on Lindor’s stat line (beyond the missed time to begin the year), it is in the stolen bases category. Lindor’s left leg provides the initial explosive push toward second base when attempting a steal. If there is any discomfort or limitation to Lindor’s ability to push with this calf with authority, he may be limited in stolen base attempts until he regains full function.

Estimated return: Mid-April.

 

Daniel Palka  Left Hamstring Tightness

 

Daniel Palka suffered left hamstring tightness after rounding a base on Feb. 24. At the moment, this does not appear to be serious  there are currently no reports of an impending MRI. Palka was recently moved to be the White Sox’s primary left fielder with Yonder Alonso taking over first base duties. Palka has no reported history of hamstring issues.

While this seems minor, it is worth monitoring going forward, especially as Palka will have higher demands on his lower half playing in the outfield as opposed to first base. The White Sox are likely to move slowly with Palka this spring, but he may experience ongoing hamstring issues throughout the year with the change of positions.

Estimated return: Ready for Opening Day.

 

Jesse Winker  Return from Shoulder Surgery

 

Jesse Winker received a shoulder operation at the end of July that ended his 2019 season. Winker’s debut season was highlighted by his excellent knowledge of the strike zone, as he was one of few players in the MLB to walk more than he struck out. As a prospect, Winker’s eye was his calling card, while many within the industry doubted his potential to be an impact player because of a lack of power. Winker’s career ISO of .162 outlines this concern. The operation was a labrum repair incited by a right shoulder subluxation in July 2018, but Winker has discussed how the injury had been plaguing him for years (as far back as 2014) and how good he is feeling through this portion of his rehab: “I’ve already done some exercises with my training and rehab that if I were to do those in prior years, my shoulder would’ve been killing me.”

For a left-handed hitter, the front right shoulder moves through a large range of motion and supplies a majority of power comparable to the trailing shoulder. If Winker has been dealing with a damaged labrum and the associated pain for years, it is not outlandish to think that this pain has hampered his ability to hit the ball with authority. Aaron Judge famously suffered a front shoulder injury in the latter half of 2017, which saw his average exit velocity drop from 97.2 mph in June to 91.3 mph in August of that year. Kris Bryant suffered a front shoulder injury in May 2018, seeing his average exit velocity plummet from 88.4 mph in May to 78.4 mph in June. While Winker is not considered a slugger like Judge and Bryant, it’s not inconceivable that a healthy front shoulder could add to his 2018 average exit velocity of 90.3 mph by a tick or two. A 2 mph increase in average exit velocity, up to 92.3, would place Winker in the top 20 hitters using 2018 values. Hitting baseballs with greater authority, combined with Winker’s elite knowledge of the strike zone, could lead to an incredible 2019.

Jeff Davis

Jeff is a registered occupational therapist with experience in upper extremity rehabilitation. Jeff pitched at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Jeff coaches pitching at the high school level.

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