As if there was any doubt that this is the Year of the Injury, consider the disturbing events of Tuesday, when two of the game’s best pitchers went on the disabled list and a former MVP also faced that possibility.
Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay and Angels right-hander Jered Weaver are major losses for their respective clubs, and the absence of second baseman Dustin Pedroia for even two weeks would damage the Red Sox.
Those three players are signed to contracts worth a combined $185.5 million. Oh, and in case you missed it, the Brewers just lost catcher Jonathan Lucroy for four to six weeks, the Dodgers are worried about left-hander Ted Lilly’s shoulder and center fielder Matt Kemp's nagging hamstring, and the Braves can’t figure out what to do about first baseman Freddie Freeman’s dry eyes.
But one mishap at a time ...
HEADLINE: Halladay out six to eight weeks
First baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley have yet to play this season. Now Halladay is on the DL with arm trouble for the first time since 2004.
Before the news on Halladay became official Tuesday, a reporter asked Phillies manager Charlie Manuel: “Which would be worse, being without Halladay or being without Howard and Utley?”
Manuel, in so many words, responded, “Being without Howard, Utley and Halladay.”
So, three strikes and the Phillies are out?
Not yet. Not when the team still expects Howard and Utley to return, possibly in June, and projects Halladay to be back by mid- to late July.
The Phils, for all their troubles, entered Tuesday two games above .500 and just four games out of first place. The best-case scenario is that they will make the equivalent of three major additions before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. But that’s assuming Howard, Utley and Halladay come back reasonably whole.
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged earlier this month that the team could be a seller before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. I still don’t believe that will happen, though the Nationals, if they ever get healthy, might be good enough to run away with the division.
Still, the Phillies’ challenge just became more difficult. And my gosh, how much is potential free-agent left-hander Cole Hamels worth to the Phils now?
Hamels, 28, is by far the youngest of the team’s elite starting pitchers. Left-hander Cliff Lee is 33. Halladay is 35. Frankly, the Phillies were relieved that Halladay “only” had a right latissimus dorsi strain in his shoulder, and no structural damage. From 2006 to ’11, Halladay threw the most innings of any pitcher in the majors.
The Phillies do not lack for possible replacements. Right-hander Vance Worley, recovering from elbow inflammation, could pitch again Monday. Righty Kyle Kendrick, currently pitching in Worley’s spot, will remain in the rotation.
Then there is veteran righty David Bush, who has allowed one earned run in his last 22 innings at Triple A. The Phillies must promote Bush on Friday or trade him within 72 hours if another club wants to add him to its 25-man roster.
Worley, 15-6 with a 2.91 ERA in 188 2/3 career innings, is the best of those options. But he opened the season as the No. 5 starter, and now will be the No. 3 ahead of Kendrick and Joe Blanton. Provided, of course, that he avoids further elbow trouble.
The Phillies, without Howard and Utley, took solace in their rotation, knowing that the Big Three alone could keep them competitive. Well, the Big Three is down to the Big Two. And between Halladay’s uncertain condition and Hamels’ uncertain future, who knows if it will ever be a Big Three again?
HEADLINE: Weaver heads to DL
Weaver’s injury, too, could have been worse.
He threw just 12 pitches against the Yankees on Monday night, then suffered back pain so severe, he said, “It felt like somebody came up behind me and stabbed me. I couldn’t bend over.”
Weaver said he was better Tuesday, but not that much better. The Angels announced that he was suffering from a lower back strain and spasms, but gave no timetable for his return.
Here’s the problem:
The Angels, like the Phillies, lean heavily on their starting pitching. In fact, the rotation was the Angels’ salvation in the early part of the season, when their offense sputtered and their bullpen crumbled.
Weaver, 6-1 with a 2.61 ERA, already has thrown a no-hitter this season. He is a big reason the Angels lead the American League in rotation ERA. But his injury underscores the Angels’ lack of rotation depth beyond their top five starters.
Weaver’s replacement will be right-hander Garrett Richards, who had a 1.67 ERA in his first four starts at Triple A, but a 6.75 ERA in his last six. Beyond Richards, the Angels are alarmingly thin; they’ve been trying to find additional starters since spring training. Triple A left-hander Brad Mills, currently on the DL, is next in line.
The good news is the Angels’ offense finally is reviving; bet you didn’t know that first baseman Albert Pujols is second in the AL with 24 RBIs in May. The bullpen is much-improved with the addition of right-hander Ernesto Frieri and re-emergence of righty Jordan Walden. The team, as a whole, is far better equipped to absorb the loss of Weaver than it was, say, two weeks ago.
The impact of Weaver’s absence, then, hinges on its length. If Weaver is out two to three weeks, the Angels should be OK. If he is down for a longer period, the team will be significantly compromised — and outside of center fielder Peter Bourjos, who is batting .207 with a .555 OPS, the Angels lack trade chips.
They need Weaver back. They’re not getting Zack Greinke or any other top starter.
HEADLINE: Red Sox mull DL for Pedroia
Oh, to be a fly on the wall during the post-game meeting Tuesday night that included Pedroia, manager Bobby Valentine, general manager Ben Cherington, doctors and trainers.
Doctor: “Dustin, you need to go on the DL.”
Pedroia: “---- that.”
Trainer: “Dustin, you run the risk . . .”
Pedroia: “----- risk.”
Cherington: “Dustin . . .”
Pedroia: “I’m ------- playing.”
Pedroia knows how much he means to the team. He knows that 12 Red Sox already are on the DL. And he surely believes he can endure a tear in the abductor muscle in his right thumb; he already has done it for three weeks.
Apply a padded splint, and let’s ------- go!
The question is whether the Red Sox should protect Pedroia from himself. Given the stakes – the possible loss of Pedroia for a longer period if he aggravated the injury – discretion probably is the better part of valor.
The Red Sox are playing better. They’re slowly getting healthier. Yes, it would hurt to lose Pedroia for even 15 days – Nick Punto would represent a severe offensive dropoff, and the major-league experience of Triple A second baseman Pedro Ciriaco consists of 31 games with the Pirates in 2010 and ’11. But if Pedroia would benefit from rest, better to treat him now than risk the injury bothering him for the rest of the season – or worse.