Injuries happen. Mostly because of bad luck, or another kind of unforeseen circumstance.
But what’s going on right now with the Yankees is next-level stuff, as injured players are somehow getting more injured, or seem to be misdiagnosed altogether. That’s when it no longer can be considered a blameless situation, and these multiplying health issues are threatening to fatally sabotage this season only two weeks in.
As bad as things have been in the Bronx, Friday was the kicker. When Gary Sanchez was placed on the injured list with a calf strain, it meant the Yankees had as many players on the IL as games played this year — 12 — and that wasn’t even the biggest health bombshell of the day.
Turns out, Sanchez was only the beginning. Because in the middle of Friday night’s seventh-inning rain delay, Brian Cashman held an impromptu news conference to announce that Dellin Betances would be sidelined for an additional six or seven weeks because of a bone spur in his right shoulder. The general manager described the spur as a pre-existing condition, discovered this week with another MRI to assess his progress from the originally diagnosed shoulder impingement.
And speaking of stunning revelations, Cashman also said that he had no idea how Luis Severino suffered a Grade 2 lat strain while rehabbing from rotator cuff inflammation. Severino, who had been proceeding cautiously since a two-week shutdown in early March, wasn’t even throwing off a mound yet. His regimen was limited to playing catch and long toss, but the alarms went off when Severino didn’t feel comfortable ramping up his rehab beyond that.
“I don’t know how a lat strain during his rehab process could have occurred,” Cashman said Friday night. “It’s a new injury. It’s a significant one. It’s usually something that happens and you know right away. A Grade 2 is like a gotcha moment that you’re like, ‘I know exactly what I did when I did it and how I did it.’ We don’t have that ... It’s a very unusual circumstance that I don’t have an answer for.”
Here’s the problem. A breakdown like that is not only worrisome for Severino’s prognosis and eventual recovery, but it also makes you question the Yankees’ supervision and treatment in these cases. A Grade 2 strain is one step before a full-on rupture (Grade 3) of the lat muscle, and for a point of reference on the seriousness of that injury, look no further than across town at the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard.
In 2017, Syndergaard suffered what was described by the Mets as a partially torn lat muscle on May 1. He finally returned Sept. 23, basically just to get on a mound again before the season ended, and pitched a total of three innings in two starts. From what Cashman said, Severino’s injury isn’t to that degree. Then again, the Yankees’ recent track record on these things has been terrible, dating to last July, when the team made the preposterous claim that Aaron Judge would need only three weeks to return from a chip fracture in his wrist. It wound up being seven weeks.
The Yankees later admitted their mistake with Judge, but different variations of this same problem surfaced again during spring training. Severino was scratched from his first Grapefruit League start while warming up for that day’s game in the bullpen, about five minutes from his scheduled first pitch
Then there’s Aaron Hicks, who was scratched from a March 3 exhibition game because of a sore back, but was expected to need only a day or two to return to the lineup.
It’s now mid-April, and Hicks, two cortisone shots later, still isn’t doing anything more strenuous than playing catch and running on a treadmill, according to Aaron Boone. At this rate, it won’t be long before Hicks also is headed back to New York for another MRI, and by now we all know how those visits turn out.
The cases involving Severino, Betances and Hicks have been the ones to go sideways, but in doing so, they tend to cast doubt on the status of the others, as well. Which timetables can be trusted?
The Yankees insist that Miguel Andujar, who is trying to rehab through a small labrum tear rather than go for surgery, is showing good progress and he apparently felt OK throwing before Friday’s game. As for others, such as Giancarlo Stanton (biceps strain) and Troy Tulowitzki (calf strain), it seems too early to speculate on solid return dates.
In the meantime, the depleted Yankees have wobbled to a 5-8 start, despite a schedule composed mostly of the Orioles, Tigers and now White Sox — frankly, teams they should beat even with a banged-up roster. The Astros are a different story, and getting swept in Houston was painful in the sense that the healthy players failed to perform up to their potential.
But if the return of these injured players is the key to reviving this Yankees’ season, what’s transpired lately on the medical front isn’t providing much optimism.
“Right now, times are tough,” Cashman said. “The frustration is, what we have out there is more than capable and we’re not putting our best foot forward, and that needs to change sooner [rather] than later. We cannot wait on the guys coming back. I get that it’s a long season, I just don’t want to make it a long season by poor play.
“Are we hurt? Yes, we’re hurt, but we’re capable. We do have a lot of poor play going on simultaneously with the current active roster. I get it’s early, but no one wants to hear it’s early.”
Another no-doubter for Alonso
As if there were anyone still quibbling with the Mets over Pete Alonso beginning the season on the Opening Day roster — rather than stalling two weeks for another year of team control — the recent frenzy of contract extensions pretty much erased all doubt.
We bring this up now because this is around the time Alonso would have been recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. And under that scenario, the Mets would have made a huge mistake, as Alonso has raked to the tune of a .370 batting average, six homers, 17 RBIs and a 1.334 OPS through his first 13 games. Alonso gets bonus points for entertainment value, as Thursday’s Statcast-busting homer into the SunTrust Park centerfield pond turned into a viral sensation.
But let’s get back to the service-time thing, and one prominent example is the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., whose promotion was held back last season until April 25, ensuring that Atlanta would have him under team control for seven years. Here’s what happened next. Acuna had four hits in his first nine at-bats, including a 416-foot homer, and was a difference-maker in the Braves' first two wins.
Not only that, Acuna went on to win Rookie of the Year, helping the Braves claim their first NL East title since 2013. And ultimately, the service-time gamesmanship turned out to be largely a non-factor, as Acuna signed away his arbitration and first few years of free agency by agreeing on an eight-year, $100-million contract with the Braves, including two more option years that would take him through age 30.
Based on the events of the past two months, and the recent leaning of baseball’s economics, Alonso won’t get anywhere near an arbitration room if he keeps up this pace. Or free agency after that critical sixth year. So the Alonso debate didn’t turn out to be much of a debate at all.
The late Shannon Forde, the beloved former Mets media-relations director, was the posthumous recipient of the Carmen Berra Award, which was accepted by her family Thursday during the third annual Yogi Berra Museum Awards dinner at The Plaza hotel.
Forde, who passed away three years ago at age 44 after a long, hard-fought battle with breast cancer, was recognized as a “steady positive force for her family, her team and her city.” Al Leiter, now a special adviser for the Mets, presented the award.
“I never saw her without a smile,” Leiter said at the podium. “You can see a person’s soul through her smile. We all loved Shannon.”