The Injury Bug Has Bitten the Royals Hard in 2012
The Royals began Spring Training with hopes and dreams that 2012 would be “Our Time.” And there was plenty of reason to believe it would be so. 2011 ended with a flourish and loads of positive momentum from a core of youthful future stars. But then in the course of a few days, all the sunshine and rainbows of our bright new year appeared to turn into storm clouds and doubt. But still, sometimes rainbows come from storms and anything is possible in baseball as the Royals are still within striking distance with the All Star break coming to a close.
Many of the challenges the Royals have faced this year can be attributed to the multitude of injuries that have plagued the team. The Royals experienced more serious injuries in Spring Training than during all of 2011, and we are only now beginning to see a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel.
The 2012 injury story began with a backup catcher in a noncompetitive situation. While Manuel Pina wasn’t expected to contribute much to the Royals in 2012 (little did they know they could have used him to open the season after Salvador Perez went down), but on February 22 he torn his meniscus and this injury was the beginning of a long line of devastating setbacks the team has suffered to its roster.
On March 13, Salvador Perez twisted his knee resulting in an almost identical injury to Manuel Pina, causing the Royals to lose 2 of their top 3 catchers for the first half of the season. This roster hole forced the team to pick up Humberto Quintero, Mr. “Catch and Throw,” in a trade with Houston. “Q” as he was frequently called by teammates was heralded as a great defensive player, although I never personally witnessed any evidence of this, and at bat he performed as you would expect a veteran bench player to perform. (Lousy.) So the Royals endured the first half of the season with little to no production from behind the plate. Fortunately, Salvador returned to the lineup in June, and all is right with the world again. Well, at least in the catching world.
I was sitting in the stands in Surprise, Arizona on March 18 when Joakim Soria was on the mound and felt a “tug” in his elbow. He hadn’t pitched well that day and there was an uneasiness in the stands among Royals fans that something was definitely wrong. We later learned that tug was a warning bell that Soria was going to require Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career, and forced the Royals to use Jonathan “roller coaster” Broxton as their closer. As many people have accurately said, for the most part Broxton is getting the job done, but few players have caused fans (including me) more angst than he has. Soria definitely spoiled us.
But Joakim isn’t the only Royals pitcher to go under the knife. Not that any of us would have been excited to see Blake Wood in Kansas City this year, but he is out for the season with a case of the Tommy John illness. As is Felipe Paulino – just as he was beginning to prove that possibly all of his potential and “stuff” might translate into solid performances and wins. It’s sad when your rotation is so weak that you miss Felipe Paulino. But I miss him, I really really do.
It brings a tear to my eye as I remember Danny Duffy exiting the game after throwing only 13 pitches on Mother’s Day. I think every educated baseball fan immediately knew this meant another key contributor was lost for this season, and possibly beyond. If you’re wondering, yes, Tommy John strikes again. Is it contagious?
Not that I’m thrilled to see Yuniesky Betancourt in the lineup, and I’m not enamored with Chris Getz either, but when the team is thin at a few positions like second base, you don’t want to see anyone on your roster sitting in the trainer’s room. Escobar has experienced nagging ankle problems, and Getz has been working through a variety of ailments including bruised ribs and a lower leg lateral strain that have sent both of them up and down so many times that it’s been a guessing game about who will play second base each day.
The Royals started the year strong, winning 2 out of 3 from the heavily favored Angels. Then on April 10, while winning the 3rd of their first 5 games of the year, Lorenzo Cain bumped into the Centerfield wall while chasing down a fly ball and suffered what was initially called a “slight pull of the left groin.” This slight pull turned into a torn hip flexor and an on-again, off-again stay on the disabled list that has kept him out of the Royals lineup ever since.
The good news is the Royals appear to be healing up. As mentioned earlier, Salvador Perez has already made an impact in the short time he’s been back on the team, and most Lorenzo Cain is on the verge of making his first appearance in KC this year.
Unfortunately, the team’s pitching woes won’t be corrected anytime soon, but if Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, Joakim Soria, and John Lamb (a Top 20 prospect who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011) needed to sit out a year, it’s much better that it happen this year rather than next. (Although, I suppose we don’t know for certain when any of them will return.) In 2013 we expect Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to be in KC, Eric Hosmer’s sophomore slump to be in the rear view mirror, we’ll have Salvador and Lorenzo for the entire season, and the Royals front office will be laser focused on adding a prime arm or two to the rotation through trades or free agency. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the serious injury bug doesn’t visit the Royals again next year.