Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Injuries, Freak Injuries, Desperation Signings

By Jeff Kallman

Customarily, the approach to Opening Day involves looking at last-minute roster moves, a few last game tune-ups by promising rookies, intriguing new blood, and assorted veterans of various statures. This spring, it almost seems to be a crash course in emergency medicine, among other things:

St. Elsewhere, Yankee Stadium

It was one thing for Hal Steinbrenner to admit going in that this didn't exactly look like the New York Yankees' year, considering that among every cliché you've ever known about the Yankees the most truthful is that they don't like to lose, but married to the fact that the Steinbrenners are bent on bringing the Yankee payroll below luxury tax thresholds.

But it was something else again for the Yankees to graduate, seemingly in a blizzard, to baseball's early answer to St. Elsewhere:

Mark Teixiera — Strained wrist; expected to be out until May at minimum.

Curtis Granderson — Broken right arm when hit by a pitch; expected to be out until late April or early May.

Alex Rodriguez — Offseason hip surgery; a potential that he might miss time through the All-Star Break and, possibly, most or all of the season.

Michael Pineda — Right shoulder surgery last May; rehabbing slowly but steadily; not expected to re-join the team until the All-Star Break at least.

Derek Jeter — Aggravated his surgically-repaired left ankle; could land on the disabled list and not return until well after Opening Day.

Phil Hughes — Has missed most of spring training with back trouble.

Brian Cashman — The general manager has managed to get himself injured ... skydiving. He jumped out of a plane, had a hard landing, and ended up with a broken fibula and a dislocated ankle. Sounds like he's qualified to play the Yankee infield this year.

That indifferent-seeming Yankee offseason, in which signing Kevin Youkilis was the biggest splash, is beginning to look a little more like it's going to kick them in the rear if they're not careful. When they take on a third of what's left of Vernon Wells's contract (did you ever think the Los Angeles Angels would find anyone to take that albatross off their hands?) and pick Brennan Boesch off the Detroit scrap pile, while refusing to trust a small but promising looking pack of prospects to step in and up, the Yankees themselves could be put on a kind of disabled list.

Then, again, this is the Empire Emeritus. And the second truest cliché about the Yankees is that they thrive on delivering the predictably unexpected. Or is that the unexpectedly predictable?

And You Thought The Yankees Had Medical Problems...

Freak injuries are as much a part of professional sports as season tickets and drug scandals, and baseball this spring has seen enough to inspire a prequel to House, M.D.:

Michael Taylor (Oakland Athletics; OF) — Depending on your point of view, Taylor either sliced or chewed his way back to the minors ... when he sliced a finger while tossing out his gum during a spring game. Not that he was expected to make the big club out of spring training, anyway, but surely the defending American League West champions thought they'd better take a bite out of potential in-game indifference early and often.

Joel Peralta (Tampa Bay Rays, RP) — Injured his neck while ... stepping out of his car in the parking lot of a Cuban Taste restaurant. The stiff neck took Peralta out of the World Baseball Classic, left him unable to throw for four days, and left him further at the mercy of smart-ass sportswriters.

Elvis Andrus (Texas Rangers, SS) — It's one thing to want an elaborate tattoo in honor of your late father, and for four years, yet. It's something else again to spend nine hours in two days undergoing the procedure only to discover your arm is on fire (his words, not mine) and you've got to be shut down a few days while your hunka-hunka burnin' love simmers down.

Doug Melvin (Milwaukee Brewers, manager) — Don't think only players are prone to dumb, freak, unexpected, or surrealistic injuries. Ask Sir Galahad Melvin: his wife squeaked when she spotted a "bug" while the couple were dining, Melvin leaped to exterminate the predator ... and suffered a nasty sting from an Arizona bark scorpion. He spent several hours in the emergency room and, apparently, promised that, the next time the Melvins need an immediate exterminator, he'll have his wife swat the varmint with a shoe.

Marc Rzepczynski (St. Louis Cardinals, RP) — Usually, pitchers and golf are a marriage made in heaven. Usually, but not always. Once in awhile the two games don't see eye to eye. In Rzepczynski's case, this took on a literal dimension when, on his second swing of a golf outing with three teammates, some debris got into his eye — causing enough irritation to shut him down for a week and a half and compel his doctor to order him to sleep standing up, like a horse.

David Robertson (Yankees, P) — As if the Yankees didn't have enough trouble with baseball-related injuries, Robertson — who made last spring's list of transdimensional medical problems with a foot sprain carrying boxes downstairs — managed to go a week and a half without spring game appearances because of a sore shoulder ... incurred when he slept on it "wrong."

Jhonny Peralta (Detroit Tigers, SS) — Peralta missed a spring game thanks to not losing his lunch: he suffered an allergic reaction to a pre-game bowl of clam chowder and had to be scratched. I'm not sure I want to know the tacky nicknames his teammates are likely to hang upon him this season.

Casey Kotchman (Miami Marlins, multiple position) — The one-time Angel had a devil of a time with an early spring drill: he crashed into the pop-up machine while chasing a pop fly. He actually survived the crash, but then he tried grabbing the machine before it hit the ground and put gashes into two fingers on his right hand. It got him four stitches and, reportedly, had a few teammates in stitches. I realize the Marlins these days aren't exactly renowned for brains, but hasn't anyone told these people there are such things as coaches with fungo bats?

The Last of the Free Agent Mohicans

It took damn near until the end of spring training, but Kyle Lohse has a new employer: the Brewers, who signed him this past weekend for three years and $33 million. The last of the free agents considered among the top tier (he went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA for the National League Central-winning St. Louis Cardinals in 2012), Lohse ran into a ticklish offseason market because clubs didn't want to give up high draft picks to land him.

The main reason Lohse came under the Brewers' eye: their plan to go with youth atop the rotation got scotched when Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, and Mark Rogers posted a combined 6.48 ERA in spring training pitching.

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