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Diamond Cuts: Two Rehabbing Phillies

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.

The All-Star break has always played a factor in fantasy baseball. Not only does it serve as the unofficial half way mark of the season but it generally serves as a target date for many players fighting to come back from injury. With the break less than a month away, let's take a look at a handful of players trying their best to leave the disabled list behind.

Chase Utley

After months of rehab, the Phillies second basemen has begun a rehab assignment with the High-A Clearwater Threshers. For the second season in a row Utley has been forced to start the season on the DL rehabbing from chondromalacia in his knee. Last year Utley sat the first 46 games of the season with the ailment in his right knee but has spent this year rehabbing his left knee.

Chondromalacia occurs as the cartilage of the knee begins to soften or breakdown, compromising the kneecap's ability to efficiently glide along the surface of the knee joint. Often the result is chronic pain and inflammation. Rehabbing and strengthening the musculature around the knee can combat these issues by minimizing the forces placed through the knee and damaging the cartilage.

I initially thought he would be back in mid-May but that timeline came and went without Utley returning to the field. Instead he was limited to a designated hitter role in his first three rehab games with Clearwater. The good news is that he has reported no problems with the knee and made it through five innings at second base in a minor league intrasquad game over the weekend. He will also man second when the team returns for its All-Star break.

Unfortunately it still sounds like Utley is several weeks away from making much of a contribution on the major league level. His rehab stint in 2011 lasted nine games and it appears this year's assignment will take longer. July seems like a realistic target but then it's hard to imagine just how effective he will be. He's collected just three hits in 16 at-bats and chondromalacia doesn't have an outright cure, insuring even when he does return it will remain a lingering issue.

Ryan Howard

Utley isn't alone in Florida as Howard is also rehabbing in Clearwater. The All-Star slugger has yet to play this season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in his final at-bat of the 2011 season. His rehab was delayed by an infection near the surgery site but has made recent progress in simulated action and several minor league appearances. While it's nice to see Howard swinging a bat, he's got a rougher remaining road than Utley. Although he went 2-for-4 with a homer run in a recent intrasquad game, Howard is not running the bases during his plate appearances and is still lacking the explosiveness needed to play at a high level.

Some athletes require as long as a year to completely recover from Achilles surgery and the Phillies continue to wisely take a conservative approach. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect to see Howard back until after the break and, like Utley, I'm not predicting high-end production when he returns.

Jered Weaver

The Angels ace is inching closer to rejoining his suddenly rolling Angels teammates. Weaver has been on the DL since May 29 with a lower back strain. The Los Angeles athletic training staff limited Weaver's initial session by requiring the pitcher to throw from the front of the mound rather than the rubber. The idea was to gradually bring him along to assure the recovering muscles are not overtaxed.  An additional session was then completed in which Weaver was permitted to pitch from the mound. The resulting sessions did not aggravate the strain or cause the spasms to return and these results repeated themselves Friday after a 60-pitch simulated game. Weaver will now throw a final bullpen session Sunday and if all goes well, he could be back later in the week. Moving forward this appears to be an isolated incident and fantasy owners should proceed with confidence.

Troy Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki's rehab assignment has not gone as well after the Colorado shortstop suffered a setback in his recovery from a groin strain. He suffered a setback in the first game of a rehab assignment at Triple-A Colorado Springs and underwent a subsequent MRI. The results of these images are set to be evaluated by a specialist to insure Tulowitzki is not suffering from a condition known as athletic pubalgia, better known as a sports hernia.

A sports hernia occurs as repetitive forces normally forced through the pubic symphysis are redirected through the groin and abdominal muscles. The excessive force can result in microtearing, causing weakness and instability in the abdominal wall and inguinal canal. The effected athlete suffers from localized pain in the groin and abdominal regions and has difficulty carrying out normal hip motions.

A sports hernia is easily repaired with surgery and a high number of prolific athletes including Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Torii Hunter have undergone the procedure. If the specialist does feel the shortstop has a sports hernia and surgery is warranted, Tulowitzki would be looking at a four-to-six week recovery. Tulowitzki is meeting with Dr. Bills Meyers on Monday and fantasy owners should cross their fingers that all goes well.

Carl Crawford

The $142-million question in Boston is when will Crawford return to the Fenway outfield?  Fortunately it seems like the answer may at long last be sooner rather than later. Crawford is currently traveling with the team as he rehabs his sprained elbow. His current rehab includes work with a pitching instructor to modify and improve his throwing technique. Altering his throwing mechanics, even from the outfield, would do wonders for Crawford's ailing ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Remember the UCL is the same ligament repaired in Tommy John surgery. Crawford is learning to use his core and legs more and his arm less, in order to minimize the stress placed on and through the elbow. Crawford's next step would a minor league rehab assignment that should take place in the next few weeks. If he can continue to hit his benchmarks, he has an outside shot of returning before the July 10 All-Star break, though a return shortly after the break seems more reasonable.

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