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Fantasy Baseball Injury Report: Several Sluggers on the Shelf

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Ryan Zimmerman

The Nationals third basemen underwent surgery Tuesday for a sports hernia. The sports hernia is known in medical circles as athletic pubalgia, a condition that affects the cartilage between the pubic bones. This cartilage is known as the pubic symphysis and helps absorb forces placed through the hips. Unfortunately if an individual makes an awkward movement or, more commonly, as repetitive forces are forced through the pubic symphysis, they can be redirected through the groin and abdominal muscles that attach nearby. These forces can result in microtearing of the muscle while weakening the abdominal wall. Zimmerman required surgery to fix a tear in his rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles). In the procedure, the tear was repaired and fortified and a surgical mesh is placed along the inguinal canal to strengthen and support the abdominal wall.

The surgery has become common in baseball, as numerous athletes have undergone the procedure, including Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, and Jose Bautista. Kinsler’s sports hernia cost him several weeks at the end of the 2008 season, while Hunter and Bautista underwent the surgery in the offseason. Zimmerman will likely require six weeks to recover, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out a bit longer. Baseball, particularly third base, requires a lot of trunk rotation during throwing and batting, and extra time could be needed before Zimmerman is ready to return to action.

Pablo Sandoval

Kung Fu Panda will be in hibernation for at least four weeks after suffering a broken right wrist. Sandoval fractured the hamate bone, specifically the hook of the hamate. The hook of the hamate is vulnerable to injury because it sits directly below the knob of the bat. If the bat hits the ground or a batter makes awkward contact, the hamate is easily broken. A fractured hamate is problematic since the hook serves as an attachment site for several muscles that flex the wrist. To complicate the issue, the ulnar nerve runs near the hamate and can become injured if the bone displaces. Any nerve damage would weaken the grip strength of the affected athlete and cause a loss of sensation in the pinkie finger. Fortunately Sandoval’s surgery went well and there were no indications of nerve damage.

The long-term effects of a hamate fracture should not be a concern either. While some have complained about a short-term decrease in power, several big names, including Ken Griffey Jr., Dustin Pedroia, and Troy Tulowitzki have all suffered this injury and gone on to hit for both average and power afterward. Tulowitzki did not require surgery and still missed nearly six weeks of time, so it seems likely that Sandoval will miss a similar, if not longer, period. The San Francisco third baseman plans to rededicate himself to the offseason conditioning program that helped him shed 38 pounds. Look for him to return in mid-to-late June.

Jose Bautista

The AL leader in walks and home runs will not play in the Blue Jays’ upcoming series against the Rays due to a neck injury. Bautista suffered spasms and tightness in his neck that worsened with throwing and batting. He was removed late from Sunday’s game and underwent a MRI Tuesday. The images came back negative for any structural damage, meaning the bones and the vertebral disks are stable. The Toronto medical staff will look to control the inflammation in the area and ease the maddening pain-spasm cycle. If he is able to regain full range of motion, both at rest and during activity, he should be available for the weekend. However, it may be a good idea to bench the slugger until he has proven the issue is behind him.

David Freese

The injury-riddled Cardinals lost another player when Freese was hit by a pitch, fracturing a bone in his left hand. Surgery will be needed and it is expected he will miss at least nine weeks. A plate will be required to stabilize the fracture, which is another setback for a young third baseman that missed a large portion of the 2010 season with an ankle injury.

Albert Pujols briefly spelled Freese at third base since he has played there before, but don’t get too excited. Pujols won’t be St. Louis’ long-term answer at the hot corner and he won’t be gaining third base eligibility in a majority of leagues. Rookie Daniel Descalso will shift over from second but has done little to garner the trust of fantasy owners.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz exited Tuesday’s loss to Seattle with tightness in his right quadriceps muscle. Though the injury seems minor and Cruz has reported improvement after receiving treatment, the situation should be closely monitored based on Cruz’s past. Cruz missed portions of last season with hamstring strains in both legs. While this is a completely different muscle group, the quads and the hamstrings form an important relationship while running and taking part in other activities.

The knee is stabilized by both sets of muscles, making it is important for an athlete to have balanced strength in each. The quadriceps is an extremely strong muscle group, and it is generally believed that the hamstrings need to be at least 60 percent as strong. If an imbalance occurs due to overtraining or tightness, the agonist-antagonist relationship is thrown off and the knee and both muscles groups become susceptible to injury.

Given Cruz’s previous injury problems I fully expect the Rangers athletic training staff to pay close attention to this mild tightness before allowing the outfielder to return to action. It appears probable that Cruz will sit Wednesday and receive further treatment. If all goes well he could return for the series finale against the Mariners on Thursday, or the weekend series against the Yankees.

Carlos Lee

Lee spent Sunday night in the hospital after suffering a left rib injury when he collided with teammate Angel Sanchez. The initial X-rays showed no fractures, and a subsequent CT scan confirmed a left rib contusion. Those who owned Jacoby Ellsbury last season know all too well that preliminary tests on rib injuries can be misleading and can cause major problems for outfielders. El Caballo remains day-to-day, but a trip to disabled list wouldn’t be surprising given the violent nature of the collision.