The Jays and Injuries

As we approach the season, there is always optimism coming out of all team camps and from fans in all circles of MLB. This year is no different, but if there’s anything that the 2009 Mets and even the 2009 Jays season taught us, it’s that injuries have a way of taking hold of the season and flipping it right onto its back.

Most of us remember how well the Jays played in the beginning of 2009. They absolutely dominated, partially on the backs of some unexpected pitching heroes like Scott Richmond. In the first half of 2009, Richmond had thrown 85 innings, got 71 Ks and 30 walks, had a 3.69 ERA and 1.195 whip, which all helped him to a 6-5 record. He was on track to get 12 wins in his first full season, but injuries threw that off track and he was never the same. Brian Tallet‘s stats were not nearly as spectacular, but both he and Richmond were only in the rotation for 1 reason – injuries. Dustin McGowan underwent surgery on his right shoulder and Shaun Marcum went down as well with elbow issues.

Now, sometimes injuries can bring out the best in a team, meaning that the Jays benefited slightly from these injuries as they got great performances from others, and eventually got to unearth the real talent they have in both Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil. Had injuries not occurred as they did, chances are both those arms would have stayed in the minors all year long. In fact, if you had asked almost anyone before the 2009 season whether either would get MLB playing time, the vast majority would have said no way – they’re just too young. Now, both of them are expected to be impact players in 2010, Rzepczynski in particular, and will be better off due to the experience they got in 2009.

Knowing this, does that mean the Jays are better off having a few injuries to get talents like Brett Wallace and Kyle Drabek to the Jays sooner than expected? Perhaps, but it’s never something you wish on any team. Watching the 2009 Mets is the perfect example. As much as injuries hurt the Jays last season, the Mets were absolutely decimated by injuries to all of their best players. Johan Santana, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and on, and on, they were killed by injuries. The Jays need to avoid this, obviously, but should still benefit from 1 or 2 injuries that are unexpected and provide a chance for someone else to prove their talents.

Who’s most at risk? In my opinion, it’s Brian Tallet who is the biggest injury risk on the pitching staff since he threw over 100 innings more in 2009 than he did in 2008. The fact that he hasn’t been traded yet is beyond me, because he’s an injury time bomb and will be a FA after 2010 is done. Dana Eveland easily takes his spot on the roster anyhow. Brandon Morrow would be my second highest injury risk on the Jays due to the Mariners playing around with his starts and relief appearances which really hinders a pitcher’s preparation and enhances the chance of injury. After that, we have Shaun Marcum who is returning from injury himself and may therefore not be able to pitch the entire season, Jesse Litsch who’ll return in mid season, and Dustin McGowan who may not make it back to 100% in 2010. Finally, Brett Cecil, who threw very hard when he got to the majors last year (overthrew), is my next most likely candidate, but I really hope I’m wrong here as his talent is simply awesome.

What about the hitters? Well, Edwin Encarnacion‘s wrist issues will hinder his performance in early season, but he should be fine otherwise. Venon Wells always seems to play through injury, but if he doesn’t become more agile in CF he may wind up on the DL at some point this season. And finally Travis Snider had some back issues last year, but hopefully he’ll make enough contact this year to help keep his back loose. Otherwise the offense should be fairly healthy. Aaron Hill and his concussion risk is always an issue, but he proved in 2009 that it should now be a non-issue until something new occurs.

What’s going on right now injury wise for the Jays?

Jesse Carlson – day-to-day with a sore left knee and had a bullpen session pushed back

Brett Cecil – day-to-day with a cut thumb on throwing hand

Edwin Encarnacion – day-to-day but expected back for opening day, had surgery on wrist, took BP on March 19th

Mike McCoy – day-to-day, slight shoulder issue/soreness

Shawn Hill – Out Indefinitely (mid-season) with right elbow inflammation, had TJ surgery June 24th ’09

Jesse Litsch – Out Indefinitely (mid-season) with a torn elbow ligament, expected back around July ’10

Dustin McGowan – Out Indefinitely (TBD) with a frayed labrum in his right shoulder, will begin ’10 on DL

Brandon Morrow – day-to-day (late March) with a sore shoulder, scratched from last start, cleared to throw

Scott Richmond – 60-day DL (TBD) with a shoulder impingement, will be monitored

Dirk Hayhurst – 60-day DL (TBD) rehabbing in Ohio, will be monitored

Considering this already substantial list and the risk of new injuries occurring, the Jays really need to monitor how much they demand from their pitchers and the innings they throw. I know it’s not an exact science, but the Jays have had a lousy history of pitching injuries and will need to be careful to not abuse young pitchers that are called up. Guys like Marc Rzepczynski will need to be monitored for signs of fatigue, because undergoing your first full season in MLB can wear that arm down pretty significantly. The Jays cannot afford to have 2 or 3 of their already young pitchers go down with injuries only to be forced to demand more out of even younger pitchers who are not as well prepared to throw in MLB. This could result in hurting their chances to compete in 2011 and beyond, as some pitching injuries result in the end of effective careers for many. Just as Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, or even Dustin McGowan who is seeing how steep the battle is from this point forward for him.

We all love to see young pitchers called up and performing well when they are called up. I, for one, can’t wait to see Kyle Drabek throw in MLB and to see what kind of stuff he really has. However, I would not be disappointed to only get to see him pitch in 2011, because it would mean that the Jays staff remained healthy enough to get him the experience he deserves and needs in the minors, and the maturity to handle the pressure when he gets to The Show.

Besides, if the Jays are going to avoid losing more than 85 games this year, they’ll need to stay healthy.

Here’s to a healthy 2010 for all Jays Players!

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