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SPORTS MEDICINE: Missed time convenient for missing players

SPORTS MEDICINE: Missed time convenient for missing players


The White Sox were due to host the Royals to open the season on Thursday. Similarly, the Cubs were supposed to be in nearby Milwaukee to open with the Brewers on the same day, before welcoming their own fans four days later at Wrigley Field.

With major league executives saying 2-4 weeks of “spring” training will be needed before a restart, who knows when the regular season will commence?

For the six members of the Cubs and the White Sox on the injured list, the timing of the stoppage is rather convenient.

The three north siders are relief pitchers. Manuel Rodriguez, Brad Wieck, and Allen Webster were all expected to be missing until at least May 15, sidelined with biceps, chest, and arm issues, respectively.

Meanwhile on the south side, starting pitchers Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning are both suffering from elbow woes that would have kept them out until at least July 17 and May 15, respectively. The one non-pitcher in the whole bunch is designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who would have been expected back in mid-May from hip troubles.

For the sidelined Cubs, even if healthy, they would have likely started the season in the minors despite currently being on the parent club roster. Wieck is of particular interest because his chest issue is not an injury but a heart condition. On Feb. 23, the 28-year-old needed a cardiac ablation procedure for atrial flutter.

The White Sox, by contrast, are counting on Rodon and Encarnacion to be major contributors this season. Regardless of when the season starts, Dunning is certain to be sent down as he continues to recover from the Tommy John surgery he underwent last March.

In none of these cases does it appear the situation is serious enough that the season or even a career is in jeopardy.

That is not the case with three higher profile big leaguers, two who will be on same road as Dunning, and one with roots on the south side.

Just last week, the Red Sox and left-handed ace Chris Sale decided to scrap his season for Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. Given a significant portion of the season is going to be lost to the effects of the viral pandemic, the decision makes some sense. Yet, other than a 15-minute bullpen session that produced elbow soreness the first week in March, the Red Sox and the former White Sox hurler had the same information last August, when he was shut down for the rest of the season with the same complaint. Ultimately, nothing was gained from the rest and rehabilitation that was prescribed back then. However, eight months of post-operative recovery time were delayed.

Even more curious, though, is the case of New York Yankee starting pitcher Luis Severino. Limited to three regular season games in 2019 because of shoulder soreness, he was able to make two postseason starts and pitched fairly well in both appearances before being benched again with significant forearm discomfort.

The Yankees clearly knew something was seriously wrong but they and Severino waited until the start of spring training in February to opt for the Tommy John solution — before there was any thought of stopping the season due to the dangers of COVID-19.

So, in the case of both pitchers, why the wait?

Dr. Michael Knesek is an orthopedic surgeon with Bone & Joint Specialists and Community Care Network but, while completing his sports medicine fellowship, he spent time with the Cubs.

He explained possible reasons for the timing or Sale’s and Severino’s choices: a combination of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which Sale underwent, and physical therapy are successful 60-70% of the time for major league pitchers with partial thickness ulnar collateral ligament tears, trying to avoid the surgery.

“There’s that fear among MLB players in general to go through the projected rehab of 12 to 14 to 16 months,” he said, “and they always have that fear of not getting back at all after surgery.”

As for Severino’s teammate Aaron Judge, Knesek was unsure of what to make of his rib stress fracture and collapsed lung, apparently suffered near the end of the 2019 season but not fully diagnosed until this month. “(A rib stress fracture is) very difficult to detect and easy to confuse with a deep muscle strain,” Knesek said, “but at (the MLB) level, I am surprised it was missed.”

Given the extra time to recover, it will be somewhat surprising only if Judge is not fully healed and ready to play, if and when the season resumes.

John Doherty is a licensed physical therapist and athletic trainer. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

Gallery: 50 famous athletes from the Region

John Doherty is a licensed physical therapist and athletic trainer. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.


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