Jason Heyward, Victor Martinez, Chase Utley - Thumb injuries have dominated the headlines as several marquee names are nursing thumb ailments including Boston’s Victor Martinez, Atlanta’s Jason Heyward, and Philadelphia’s Chase Utley. The thumb is a complex digit and capable of being injured in multiple locations. The severity of the injury and the resulting amount of time required to heal is dependent on the location. Each of the injuries suffered by the three stars occurred in different sites and each one is facing a different road.
The thumb is comprised of three bones, the proximal and distal phalanxes and the first metacarpal. It begins with the carpometacarpal joint of the thumb where the metacarpal connects with trapezium bone of the wrist. This saddle shaped joint is the most important aspect of the thumb as it allows the thumb to move in numerous directions and in particular a motion known as opposition. Opposition allows the thumb to touch the tips of the other four digits and is a key component of the multiple grips required for baseball.
The next bone in the thumb is the proximal phalanx. It attaches to the metacarpal bone to form the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint. The MCP joint is stabilized by the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that attaches to the base of the proximal phalanx. This ligament is easily injured in baseball when it is overstretched as a player gets hung up on a base while sliding head first. Both Heyward and Utley injured their thumbs while sliding to a base. A MRI on Heyward’s left thumb confirmed a sprain of the UCL and a deep bone bruise while Utley will undergo further testing to determine the severity of his sprained right thumb. The Braves have already placed their up-and-coming star on the 15-day disabled list and will place the thumb in a cast to immobilize the injury site creating a better environment for healing. The Phillies have placed Utley on the DL and plan on sending their All-Star to a hand specialist. There is concern he may have suffered a compete tear that would need to be repaired surgically. If surgery is required expect Utley to be shelved for an extended period of time.
The last bone in the thumb is the distal phalanx. It forms the tip of the thumb and is the location of Martinez’s injury. The Red Sox's catcher is suffering from a fractured distal phalanx that occurred after taking, not one, but two foul balls off the tip of his left thumb. The thumb is significantly swollen, preventing Martinez from fitting his hand into his catcher’s mitt. The fracture is fortunately minimally displaced and surgery will not be required. Boston placed Martinez on the disabled list and recalled catcher Gustavo Molina from Triple-A. Expect Martinez to return after a brief stint on the DL.
Dustin Pedroia - The injury bug is running rampant in Boston as Pedroia will join Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Josh Beckett on the DL with a fractured bone in his foot. The former MVP fractured his navicular bone after fouling a ball of his left foot in a recent game against the Giants. The navicular is one of the tarsal bones of the foot and sits on the inside or medial aspect of the foot. It helps stabilize the foot and serves as an insertion site for muscles. Fortunately, the bone was not displaced when it broke and surgery will not be required to stabilize it. Pedroia will be sidelined for six weeks with Bill Hall likely to fill in at second base.
Placido Polanco – The Phillies are also suffering from the injury plague as their third baseman joined Utley on the disabled list. Polanco aggravated an elbow injury that initially was injured when he was struck by a pitch in April. He has since received two cortisone injections to help alleviate the inflammation and pain. Polanco is dealing with an osteophyte or bone spur in the ailing elbow that will likely require offseason surgery to remove the calcification. The timeframe for his return is hard to pin down at this point. Like Utley, he must undergo further testing to determine the extent of damage and could potentially miss a good stretch of time. Pay close attention to the test results in the coming days, but prepare yourself to be without Polanco for at least two weeks.
Brett Gardner - One of the pleasant surprises in the fantasy world this season has been the speedy Gardner. In a loaded Yankees lineup, Gardner has been one of New York’s most consistent weapons, but has recently been slowed by a right wrist injury. The injury was sustained when the outfielder was hit by a Clayton Kershaw fastball. Fortunately, X-rays were negative and the injury is being diagnosed as a contusion. However, a contusion to the wrist can complicate both throwing and batting and often takes awhile to completely heal. Fortunately, for fantasy owners Gardner is reporting that the wrist is improving and he plans on returning soon. Chad Huffman has manned left field in the absence of Gardner, but does not hold any fantasy relevance.
Joel Zumaya - While it wasn’t Guitar Hero-related, the fastball-hurling reliever suffered another freak injury, fracturing his elbow while throwing a 90 mph pitch. Zumaya will miss the remainder of the season with a fractured olecranon. The olecranon is a bony process located on the proximal end of the ulna. It articulates with the olecranon fossa of the humerus and acts as the attachment site for the triceps. The fracture is likely an avulsion fracture that occurred when Zumaya’s forearm was violent extended while delivering his fastball. While the injury was extremely painful, Zumaya actually was lucky. The bone broke but did not displace and surprisingly no ligament damage was revealed. Surgery will not be needed, specifically Tommy John surgery, and Zumaya is only expected to miss four months. It is hard to believe he will ever hit 100-mph on the radar gun again, but he could return next season. Still, his fantasy value will bottom-out following this latest setback.