Even a cursory glance at Major League Baseball’s injured list can be alarming.
Chris Archer (Rays), Cody Bellinger (Dodgers), Miguel Cabrera (Tigers), Lorenzo Cain (Brewers), Carlos Carrasco (Mets), Johnny Cueto (Giants), Max Fried (Braves), Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pirates), Dinelson Lamet (Padres), Lance Lynn (White Sox), Anthony Rendon (Angels), Juan Soto (Nationals), George Springer (Blue Jays), Stephen Strasburg (Nationals), Luke Voit (Yankees), and Christian Yelich (Brewers) are among the notable players missing from their teams.
Those players are all expected back. Dexter Fowler (Angels), James Paxton (Mariners), and Kirby Yates (Blue Jays) have had season-ending surgeries. If Eloy Jimenez (White Sox) and Trevor Rosenthal (Athletics) return from their injuries, it won’t be until late in the season.
Meanwhile, Tyler Beede (Giants), Mike Clevinger (Padres), Chris Sale (Red Sox), Luis Severino (Yankees), Noah Syndergaard (Mets), and Justin Verlander (Astros) are in varying stages of recovering from Tommy John surgery, as are nine other pitchers.
Derek Rhoads, who tracks injuries for Baseball Prospectus, ran the numbers.
If you exclude absences related to COVID-19, Rhoads found that injuries were up 12 percent from 2019 (MLB’s last full season) over the first 18 days of the season.
That’s not enough of a jump to say baseball has a crisis on its hands. But it’s enough to be worried about what will come next as the season progresses.
“There are a lot of unknowns out there,” said Dr. Stephen Fealy, an orthopedic specialist with the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan who also consults with the Players Association and is a member of MLB’s medical advisory committee.
The 2020 season was unlike any that came before. Players prepared as usual before spring training came to a sudden stop in mid-March when the pandemic hit.
The game was shut down until early July when players came back together at their home ballparks to prepare for a 60-game season spread over 67 days.
The Dodgers then played 18 games in the expanded playoffs and the Rays 20. Other teams, including the Red Sox, didn’t play any.
To what degree the start-stop-start-stop schedule of 2020 will have on knee and elbow ligaments this season is to be determined. It’s something teams spend the winter researching and trying to prepare for.
But without a similar event to look back on, it was a lot of guesswork.
“The usual cadence of training was disrupted,” Fealy said. “It seems like there are more sprains and strains, but it’s too early to officially say that. We’re seeing a lot of oblique and hamstring strains but haven’t seen MCL strains increase. There’s no playbook for this.”
Fealy labeled what happened last season as “de-training.” Team doctors and athletic trainers were split on how best to handle it. Initially, all teams instructed their pitchers to remain on a regular schedule. But as the pandemic worsened, some teams cut way back on throwing programs.
Hitters quarantining at their homes were left swinging at balls off a tee into a net in the backyard, while pitchers searched for somebody to play catch with.
Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez said the increased possibility of injury has been an ongoing topic of conversation among players since the start of spring training.
“A lot of guys were concerned about it,” he said. “Any time you just shut it down and then you ramp it up again — this game is very demanding. You need that long spring training to get your legs under you.”
Fealy, who pitched at Columbia, said there were some discussions about limiting innings or pitches early in the season, but the decision was made to let individual teams set their own limits.
Through Friday, starting pitchers were averaging 5.06 innings, about an out less than the same time period in 2019. The 26-man roster has made it easier for teams to go to their bullpens earlier.
There were actually seven complete games through Friday, two of them the no-hitters thrown by Joe Musgrove and Carlos Rodon.
“How best to protect arms is something that’s always evolving,” Fealy said. “These are finely tuned athletes across the board and the demands on them are hard to maintain.
“For pitchers especially, this is new. Their cadence is off. Everybody I speak to on the medical side of this is watching to see what happens.”
The other issue is how many pitchers are bent on throwing 100 miles per hour.
Fealy doesn’t believe that leads to injuries as pitchers are better prepared and conditioned for the physical demands.
“But the human body has a limited capacity,” he said. “It all plays into it.”
The Red Sox were among the teams that prioritized building roster depth to counter the expected injuries. The Sox have used six starters in the majors this season and have five others being stretched out in Worcester with what will soon be their Triple A team.
Arroyo and Andriese showing their worth
If you were drawing up a list of the most valuable Red Sox this season, Matt Andriese and Christian Arroyo would have to be in the top 10.
Andriese has faced as few as three batters in a game and as many as 11. He’s become the team’s best option to hold a lead in the seventh inning and could soon move up to the eighth inning if Adam Ottavino doesn’t get straightened out.
Andriese, who was signed for $2.1 million in December, rarely gives up hard contact despite a modest fastball. He succeeds by having a four-pitch mix that includes a confounding changeup.
“They were quick to sign him. Chaim [Bloom] knew him from Tampa and how valuable he could be,” a rival executive said. “Everybody needs a pitcher like that.”
Arroyo, a waiver claim last season, was signed for $581,500 this year. He has played nearly 60 percent of the innings at second base. That has allowed Kiké Hernández to play the outfield more than was expected and improve what otherwise would be a glaring weakness.
Arroyo also went into the weekend hitting .364 with a .927 OPS. That is unlikely to last, but he’s made lineup building much easier for Alex Cora.
Cora said before the season that his plan was to move Hernández to second base late in games to help protect leads. But Arroyo has played well enough defensively to take that need away.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ MLB instituted the tiebreaker rule for extra innings last season as a coronavirus protocol so games would finish faster. It doesn’t seem likely to go away any time soon. Managers and players almost universally like it, and many if not most fans do, too, based on feedback.
It’s one of those things you want to dislike at first but come around to after watching games. It forces the action by starting extra innings with a runner on second.
Cora wants to expand it. He’d like to see the 11th inning start with runners on first and second and the 12th inning start with the bases loaded and one out.
“I saw that as an announcer in a qualifier for the WBC in Mexico and thought it was amazing,” Cora said. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
You could soon see the Sox bunt in extra innings on the road. Cora firmly believes the road team needs to do everything it can to score first rather than face losing on a single.
▪ The average temperature at Fenway Park through the first 13 home games was 53.5 degrees and most of the night games were played with a brisk wind coming in from center field.
“Thank God I am [a DH],” J.D. Martinez said. “I feel bad for those guys being out there. I know how I feel and I’m out there from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box then I go back inside.
“It’s cold. You’ve got the wind blowing in your face when you’re hitting. Your eyes are getting all watery. It’s freezing. Every pitch that goes by, your hands get more and more numb and your eyes more and more dry. It’s not fun. It really isn’t. It’s not baseball weather.”
▪ Eduardo Rodriguez, who starts Sunday, has pitched at least five innings in 31 consecutive starts going back to May 4, 2019.
Only Shane Bieber of the Indians (36) and Justin Verlander of the Astros (33) have longer such streaks. The Sox are 25-6 in those games with Rodriguez 20-4 with a 3.39 ERA.
▪ These are not glory days for Fenway Sports Group.
It gifted the Dodgers a World Series championship (and probably more to come) with the Mookie Betts trade in 2020, and has now lost its standing in Europe by joining the failed attempt to start a lucrative Super League of soccer powers.
Only two days after it was introduced, the Super League collapsed as FSG-owned Liverpool bailed out along with the other conspirators from the English Premier League following howls of outrage from fans.
The media reaction in England made Dan Shaughnessy look like Miss Manners.
“FSG are supposed to be custodians of the club. So, after such a cack-handed, failed money grab, how can they be trusted ever again with handling something so precious to so many?” wrote Ian Doyle of the Liverpool Echo.
“Cack-handed” means clumsy, by the way.
Doyle predicted the debacle would cost team president Mike Gordon or chief executive Billy Hogan his job and questioned whether John Henry or Tom Werner would be able to attend games at Liverpool’s stadium.
“This is the beginning of the end for FSG at Anfield,” Doyle wrote.
Walk this way? Not with Burnes
Corbin Burnes opened the 2019 season in Milwaukee’s rotation and was demoted to the bullpen by May 1 after going 0-2 with a 10.70 ERA in four starts.
The Brewers tried the 26-year-old righthander as a starter again last season and he’s been one of the best pitchers in the game since.
Burnes has thrown 24⅓ innings without a walk while striking out 40 this season. No starter has done anything like that since 2013, when Adam Wainwright struck out 35 before issuing his first walk.
On Tuesday, Burnes faced the Padres at Petco Park and threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. He has allowed one earned run all season with opponents hitting .098 with a .300 OPS.
Burnes is the first pitcher since at least 1901 to strike out 40 without a walk in a four-game stretch. Minnesota’s Byron Buxton homered off Burnes on April 3. He has thrown 18 scoreless innings since.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell doesn’t see Burnes as being an early-season fluke.
“He’s earning those numbers because of how well he’s pitching,” Counsell said.
The data backs that up. Burnes throws a heavy two-seam fastball and a curveball he has yet to give up a hit on.
“He’s as good as anyone we’ve seen so far this year,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said.
In 1991, Brewers outfielder Dante Bichette met his future wife, Mariana, while working out at the Gold’s Gym on Lansdowne Street behind Fenway Park. She was a student at Boston University who had only started working there that day. Bichette returned to the ballpark saying he met somebody special but hadn’t asked her out. Don Baylor, who was Milwaukee’s hitting coach, prodded Bichette to go back across the street and try again. Thirty years later, Bo Bichette hit a home run for the Blue Jays on Tuesday night that landed just a few feet from where his parents met. The Gold’s Gym isn’t there anymore, but the memories are. Blue Jays director of baseball media Richard Griffin retrieved the ball for the family . . . Albert Pujols, 41, has stolen at least one base in 20 of his 21 seasons. He became the oldest Angels player to steal a base when he took third against the Rangers on Monday. Of the 27 players with at least 500 home runs, Pujols is 13th in stolen bases with 115. Barry Bonds is first with 514 and Mark McGwire last with 12 . . . The White Sox went into the weekend 18-1 against lefthanded starters since the start of the 2020 season . . . Julio Urias, who closed out the World Series for the Dodgers last fall, started 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA. The 24-year-old lefthander is part of the reason David Price has been pitching in relief . . . MLB Network is trying something different on Sunday afternoon for the Yankees-Indians game. Instead of having traditional announcers, CC Sabathia, John Smoltz, and Carlos Pena will join host Stephen Nelson for a casual conversation during the game. The group will be at the network’s studios in New Jersey. It was Sabathia who came up with the idea, and he might be onto something. At some point, viewers don’t need to watch a single to left field on a big-screen, high-definition television and have the announcer say, “There’s a single to left field.” The Red Sox telecasts on NESN shine when Dennis Eckersley and Jerry Remy are unguarded and candid. This format could work . . . Spend any time around White Sox manager Tony La Russa and you’ll hear about his commitment to rescuing dogs and cats. He founded the nonprofit Animal Rescue Foundation in the Bay Area in 1991, with his wife, Elaine. The organization, now run by professionals, has been in turmoil in recent months. An announcement this past week said La Russa, his wife, and their two daughters had resigned from the board of directors. But La Russa then released his own statement a day later, saying he was staying on and he hoped his family members would reconsider their decision . . . Condolences to the family and many friends of former major league player and hitting coach Tom Robson, who died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 75. Robson coached with the Rangers from 1986-92 and with the Mets from 1997-2000 and again in 2002. He was one of the first hitting coaches to make regular use of video as a teaching tool. Robson also hit 56 home runs for the Double A Pittsfield Rangers from 1972-73 . . . Happy birthday to Ken Tatum, who is 77. The righthander pitched for the Red Sox from 1971-73, appearing in 59 games. Tatum had a dominant rookie season with the Angels in 1969 but wasn’t the same pitcher after hitting Paul Blair of the Orioles in the face with a pitch on May 31, 1970. Tatum was less inclined to pitch inside, and his statistics suffered. Tatum was part of some notable trades. The Red Sox obtained him from the Angels in 1970 in the deal that sent Tony Conigliaro to the West Coast. Then in 1973, Tatum and Reggie Smith were traded to the Cardinals for Bernie Carbo and Rick Wise.