justinMORNEAUscream

Mor-Noooooooo!

Coincidentally that’s the same face we make when Justin swings the bat
Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Another week has passed and another slew of injuries have surfaced, some with significant fantasy ramifications. I’ll be touching upon a number of heavily owned players who have found their way to the DL or trainer’s room during the past few days, including Justin Morneau, Roy Oswalt, Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Madson and Jonathan Sanchez. This will probably be long, there will be big words and you will probably leave here smarter than you were when you started reading (not too hard for some of you). So pull up a chair, grab a six-pack and get your game face on, it’s time to break down five broken down players.  The jump awaits.

Let’s discuss Justin Morneau first, not because he’s the most important name on the list but because I’m a big Twins fan and this is my article. Now I can’t pretend like this is an original idea since anyone with a pulse knew that Morneau was a big injury risk coming into the year, but I’ve discussed Morneau in past injury takes and cautioned after his wrist injury that it looked like a lost season for him. In this case I wish I was wrong. Morneau, who was already on the DL recovering from a wrist injury, has been dealing with a “pinched nerve” in his neck all season, hoping he could play through it. However, with Morneau already on the DL, the Twins decided it would be wise to seek a second opinion regarding his neck. After the second surgeon reviewed Morneau’s case, he recommended surgery to decompress (relieve the pressure on) the pinched nerve, citing the longer the nerve is compressed the greater the risk for permanent damage (if Justin had just called me I could have told his dumb-ass the same thing!). Thus Morneau will go under the knife this Wednesday.

There are numerous ways a nerve can be pinched in the spine or surrounding tissues and multiple types of surgical interventions to relieve this, so while some information has surfaced about Morneau it’s not as specific as I would require to give you a complete and accurate prognosis (not to mention we won’t know exactly what the injury is and exactly what procedure was done until he actually has the surgery). I can, however, make some (allegedly) educated guesses as to what he will have done and how he’ll recover. According to a report on MLB.com, Twins head trainer Rick McWane reports that Morneau will have a minimally invasive procedure to remove pieces of a herniated disc that are compressing the nerves coming from his cervical spine. In layman’s terms, they will remove loose fragments of tissue that had lodged themselves against the nerves that supply your arms and hands/fingers. Compression on the nerve adversely affects the nerve’s function, causing weakness, numbness and pain, symptoms Morneau has dealt with since Spring Training.

If the surgeon is able to adequately decompress the nerve, Morneau’s symptoms should subside. It’s also good news that the procedure is being billed as “non” or “minimally invasive” (meaning smaller cuts), the less tissue that’s disturbed the less there is to heal. In a best case scenario Morneau can expect to be sidelined from baseball activities for roughly six weeks, just as reported, and will likely require another 2-4 weeks to further rehab before returning to the Twins. This should also be enough time for his wrist to heal, so he can kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, not everything is sunshine and rainbows here, and I can tell you first hand from treating people recovering from spine surgery that the success rate is not as high as other types of orthopedic surgery. It’s common for a person who undergoes spinal surgery to see his or her original problem fixed, but the trauma involved from the surgery itself and the period of reduced activity afterwards often creates a laundry list of additional problems. There’s also no guarantee that surgery resolves Morneau’s symptoms, there could be other causes or factors involved.

So with everything considered, what does your favorite physical therapist and fantasy guru Dr. Don think in terms of prognosis? Well, in a shocking turn of events, I’m actually slightly optimistic as far as long term results. I’m hopeful the surgeon performing the procedure is confident that he’s pinpointed the origin of Morneau’s symptoms and location of the injury. In my experience, folks who do well after spine surgery had a clearly defined injured area that needed to be fixed, the less gray area the better. If this is the case, the surgery should work. The time off from surgery will also allow the swelling and soreness in his wrist to dissipate, and he’ll be able to rehab and strengthen the wrist much more comprehensively with the extended timeline. Well Don, you said “slightly” optimistic, and this whole paragraph sounds “totally” optimistic, what’s the catch? The catch here is that I don’t see Morneau being the MVP caliber run producer he used to be. Let’s not forget that Morneau wasn’t exactly raking before these injuries cropped up. He looked physically smaller and weaker and at times looked lost at the plate. Additional time off is not going to help him regain timing or rhythm or help beef up himself. Could his injuries have affected his on-the-field performance? Of course, but I think the long layoff from last year and the extended time missed this season has played just as big a role. Do I think Morneau’s career as a middle-of-the-order bat is over? No not at all, but for this year, it’s just not happening.

Prediction: Morneau’s surgery is a success and he’s cleared for a return to the Twins in roughly eight weeks, coinciding with September call-ups. However, with the Twins out of playoff contention there is little incentive to rush Morneau out there everyday, and with rosters expanded the Twins will have plenty of roster flexibility to give Morneau more rest than usual. Morneau shows more life at the plate than he had earlier in the season, but still sputters compared to his usual numbers as he tries to regain his lost timing. In yearly formats, you stash him if you have a DL slot, particularly in H2H leagues, you could always catch lightening in a bottle. If you have limited DL space and play in a twelve-or-less team league, I wouldn’t fault you for dropping him. In keeper leagues that allow you to hold onto a large number of players, Morneau is someone I’d actually look to target. Depending on the news that surfaces from his surgery, I could see Morneau being a big time draft day steal next year as he’ll be able to perform his usual off-season workouts with the wrist and neck injuries behind him. Don’t hate on my Twins optimism!

Now with that long ass Morneau analysis out of the way, time to address some other players, and I’ll do it in a more reader-friendly bulleted style. Don’t say I never try to do anything nice for you.

Roy Oswalt has been shut down again because of his back. This is a chronic issue for Oswalt, and as any therapist will tell you, chronic back pain almost never goes away completely. This is an issue that will wax and wane and in most cases can only be managed, not cured. Oswalt has a bulging disc in his back (although an MRI is scheduled for Monday, it could show something different), and depending on the severity can either be a non-issue or a big issue. The Phillies are hopeful he’ll be back by August, but if you listen to Oswalt himself you’d think his career is over. Bulging discs can often be moved back in place through specific exercises and activity modification, which Oswalt is no doubt undertaking as we speak, but that doesn’t always work. The longer the bulge is present and the bigger it gets, the more risk it has of herniating (breaking), which is bad. Oswalt is in no rush to return, and frankly you better not hang your fantasy title hopes on him. He might feel great in a few weeks and start throwing again, but at any point the back could flare right back up. He’s also been compensating for his back in his delivery, losing velocity and putting excess strain on his arm. While there’s still a chance he can return and perform well, enough of a chance that you should probably use a DL spot on him, all signs point to Oswalt being a non-factor going forward and I wouldn’t blame you for cutting bait.

Shin-Soo Choo suffered a broken left thumb after being hit by a pitch, and I gotta tell you it really sucks. As a Choo owner it’s very disappointing, he was starting to show signs of life at the plate (and he was still stealing bases at a decent clip) and now he’ll be shelved for a minimum of six weeks. “Broken thumb” is not nearly specific enough to generate a solid timeline, however with surgery expected and the thumb being a critical body part for both hitting and throwing, I’d expect more of an 8-10 week layoff here. Once he’s seen by the hand specialist we’ll know more, but for now you have no choice but to stash him and hope for the best. One thing I can say for sure is that if you’re expecting a big HR contribution from Choo this year, you’re probably out of luck. Thumb injuries (along with most hand/wrist injuries) are notorious for sapping power, and Choo wasn’t exactly launching bombs before his injury. I’d still send a low-ball offer for him in a H2H league, just make sure it’s truly a low-ball offer.

Jonathan Sanchez has been placed on the Disabled List with biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm. [Editor's note: I, MDS, did this to him with a voodoo doll for hurting Shin-Soo Choo. Karma is a bitch Sanchez!] Do you know two other guys that had this same injury this year? Try Brad Lidge and Brandon Lyon. How’d those guys turn out? As I’ve detailed in write-ups before, isolated biceps tendinitis isn’t that big a deal; however, it’s a red flag because it often accompanies more serious shoulder pathologies. Sanchez has been awful his last few turns and was in jeopardy of losing his starting job to Barry Zito, so perhaps this was just a precautionary move to give Sanchez a little time off to rest with Zito coming back. As of now I’m not overly worried about him as I believe the Giants are just giving him a little time off, but we’ll need to sound the alarm if he can’t throw in 2-4 weeks time.

Ryan Madson has inflammation in his pitching hand, possibly a nerve issue as well, or as the genius Charlie Manual describes it, “he has a feeling in his hand.” Brilliant Charlie. Madson is expected to miss 3-4 days, which is a rather odd timeline. Now perhaps it’s just a little tendinitis or muscle spasm that’s irritating a nerve and therefore not a big deal, but I’m actually a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more widespread concern about this. We’re talking about a pitcher with numbness, tingling and inflammation in his pitching hand, you know, the hand that actually has to grip the baseball to throw it. There are a lot of things that could cause these symptoms, and many of them are not good. If I owned Madson I’d be on high alert and perhaps have a backup plan handy (as in a competent reliever, not Brad Lidge). If this issue lingers it could indicate a more serious problem, perhaps a nerve entrapment, perhaps a cervical spine issue, again, the list could go on and on. Plan ahead kids, plan ahead.

Hope you learned something today, and as always I’m available for specific questions in the comments section.

Don Brown is the resident Physical Therapist here at SoR. He takes care of all our knife wounds and shares his expertise on the injuries of the sporting world. For any further questions or comments, he can be reached at donnypump@hotmail.com

Past Injury Analysis
Albert Pujols [Down Goes Pujols]
T.Hanson, J.Lowrie, D.Barney, A.Craig, J.Johnson, B.Lyon [Hurtin' Hillbillies]
M.Prado, J.Morneau, J.Kubel, K.McClellan, A.Soriano, B.Belt [Prado is Dirty]
Rafael Furcal [Furcal is Injured Again? No Way]
Buster Posey, Wandy Rodriguez [Busted]
Josh Johnson [JJ Sleeps with the Fishes]
Chipper, Sizemore, Beachy, Wright and Lackey [Glass Twins]
J.Broxton, B.Lyon and D.Aardsma [Unholy Trinity]

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