Last year, the Royals were fortunate to have a full and healthy team for virtually the entire season. A few pitchers hit the disabled list, but Bruce Chen was the most significant of the bunch. Matt Treanor was the only position player to miss time (if you ignore Jason Kendall who never came off the 60 day DL) and that even led to the eventual call up of Salvador Perez.
Often, such strings of luck snap back – rapidly – to the norm.
Teams always struggle to prevent injuries. Pitch counts are designed to limit the wear on a pitcher’s arm. Catchers routinely get more off days than other players. A small injury usually leads to a day off to play it safe.
Sometimes, though, there’s nothing you can do and the Royals are running into that problem now early in spring training.
First Paulo Orlando and Manuel Pina were hurt. Orlando’s organizational depth so the impact isn’t that great and while the injury (sports hernia) isn’t of the same severity of a torn ACL (not to downplay the injury – a sports hernia can NOT be comfortable for anyone), he should return sometime this season. Pina turned his knee while his cleats were stuck and tore his right meniscus. Surgery repaired the injury and he’ll miss all of spring, but again, the impact wasn’t great at the time because he was projected as the starting catcher in Omaha and it would take injuries at the big league level to have him in Kansas City.
Fast forward to Salvador Perez suffering the same injury (to the other knee) and the problem becomes larger. Perez, understood as the franchise catcher after signing a contract that could keep him in Kansas City until 2019, has a recovery time of 12-14 weeks. He’ll miss about half the season if all goes well. Pina could be of use before then, but now, the Royals have to find someone to fill in with Brayan Pena behind the plate.
After this weekend, the Royals ran into what could be two other rough injuries.
Blake Wood was pulled from a game against the Padres in the middle of a batter. He’s supposedly out 10-14 days while the injury is evaluated.
I know what you might be thinking. “It’s just Blake Wood.” True, he doesn’t have the flash that Kelvin Herrera or Greg Holland do, but in 2011, Wood was a perfectly acceptable reliever. A few blown leads here and there in 2010 seem to have stuck in the minds of some fans. With more experience in the big leagues than most of his bullpen mates and coming off of a 3.75 ERA in 2011 (and 8 K/9) over 69.2 innings, Wood was a decent bet to make the team again. Now, after the injury and a bullpen that’s notably crowded, he might not get that chance. The Royals have other options, but the depth is nice.
It’s especially nice after Sunday’s news that Joakim Soria is having soreness in his right elbow as well. After his rough 2011 season, the Royals were hoping for a bounceback year. According to comments to Bob Dutton after Sunday’s game, Soria felt good before the game but felt discomfort after a couple of pitches and left the game.
His comments don’t seem to indicate that he had any pain beforehand, but his performance this spring hasn’t been good to this point. There weren’t any reported injury problems last season while he struggled early on, and he rebounded and had a reasonable stat line. He’s given up ten hits in 3.1 innings, so something’s not right. Robert Ford pointed out that he’s unlike other closers since he doesn’t rely on the velocity other pitchers have and he may not be as fine with his command right now. Soria told Dutton that “I wasn’t finishing my pitches” so perhaps pain held him back.
At any rate, it’s not good.
The Royals will find out more in a few days, but the injury bug may be a theme this season. An unusually healthy year last year isn’t any guarantee that things will regress and they’ll see more injuries or less. As a younger team, they’re probably less likely to get hurt due to less wear and tear. Some may point to a change in training staff and an increased willingness to sit a player rather than having them play through it (which ruined Mike Aviles‘s 2009 season).
There are players with some injury history on this team. Jonathan Broxton was available for the Royals because of his injuries getting him pushed out of Los Angeles. If Soria’s out, he takes a more prominent role in the bullpen. Bruce Chen has suffered a number of injuries over the years and is the oldest player on the team. He’s not a sure bet to stay healthy all year. Alex Gordon‘s run into an injury here or there and Lorenzo Cain sprained his knee in 2009 and missed half his season in the minors and Hosmer and Moustakas have had some small things (Hosmer had a hand injury in 2009 that hasn’t been an issue since, Moose opened 2010 on the DL with a strained oblique).
So nobody’s safe. The Royals have built a system where they’ll leave some players in Omaha who could contribute at the big league level, so they’re equipped if the injury bug starts biting. The best case, of course, is that those moves don’t become necessary.