With spring training in full swing, we examine five pitchers returning from injury and what you can expect from them in 2017.
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Virginia Zakas, Inside Injuries
1. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: partially torn pronator tendon
Strasburg’s 2016 season ended early when an MRI showed a partial tear to the pronator tendon in his elbow. He was initially placed on the DL in August with “elbow soreness,” always a scary thing to hear from a guy that previously underwent Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, this injury wasn’t nearly as serious, but his injury history is concerning. He also has had back/core problems, which often recur and can cause other issues. Four trips to the DL over two seasons is a major red flag.
Strasburg may have some great moments in 2017, but his body won’t hold up well throughout the entire season. The grind of the season will be tough for him to outlast, and he will need to switch up his pitch selection if he wants to have sustained success.
2. Jacob DeGrom, New York Mets:ulnar nerve surgery
DeGrom underwent surgery in September to reposition the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. He started to experience numbness and tingling in his pitching arm and then came the sharp pain. Since his major league debut in 2014, DeGrom has been one of the league’s best pitchers when healthy.
All reports have been positive since surgery, so he has a good shot at returning to his impressive form in 2017. DeGrom is a young, exciting pitcher who should be good to go this season. The pain in his elbow is gone and he’s already been throwing off of the mound- both great signs.
Bailey has had a rough three years. In 2014 the Reds pitcher underwent surgery to repair a torn flexor mass, and then in 2015 he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL in his pitching elbow. He returned in 2016 but made just six starts before getting shut down due to biceps tendinitis. His latest surgery was an arthroscopic procedure earlier this month to remove bone chips in his elbow. This time around there was no structural damage, but he will have to start the year on the DL.
Even though this was a minor surgery, Bailey’s elbow has been through a lot. It’s hard to see him being a dominant top of the rotation guy, and at this point it will be a surprise if he can make it though most of the season without any new injuries or elbow problems.
4. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals: knuckle fracture
At the end of the 2016 season, Scherzer pitched through a fractured knuckle to his pitching hand. He pitched incredibly well despite the injury, but it did force him to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic so he could get healthy and ready to go for the season.
While Scherzer is progressing, he only pitched off of the mound for the first time on Saturday during a bullpen session and is still experiencing some pain in his finger. He is experimenting with a three-finger fastball delivery instead of the traditional two to help. The injury was to the ring finger on his throwing hand, which is important for many of his pitches. It’s slightly less concerning than an injury to the index or middle finger, but it’s still a pitching-hand injury. A stress fracture to the knuckle should normally heal within 8 weeks with appropriate time off to rest and allow the bone to heal. It’s too soon to press the panic button, but it’s time to start being concerned about Scherzer.
Syndergaard’s pitching elbow was a cause for concern in 2016. He pitched through soreness, was diagnosed with a bone spur that did not require surgery and dealt with fatigue. His elbow problems caused his mechanics to falter, and he was inconsistent throughout the second half of the season. Syndergaard’s main goal during the offseason was to strengthen the arm to combat the soreness and fatigue he had experienced, so he added 17 pounds of muscle.
There is no structural damage to the elbow, and if the bone spur was a long-term concern he likely would have undergone offseason surgery to have it removed. For that reason, there’s no real reason to be worried about how his elbow will hold up this year. As the season progresses, though, keep an eye on his velocity and movement on his breaking pitches. If he starts to lose velocity or his breaking pitches don’t break, it could be a sign of more elbow problems.
Other Pitchers to Watch
Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays: Tommy John surgery
When Cobb returned last season following Tommy John surgery, he struggled to find his form and pitched just 22 innings. The Rays now feel that he is healthy once again, and it typically takes a pitcher close to two years to fully recover following this surgery. He should do better than last year, but it’s too soon to tell if he can return to his pre-Tommy John surgery form.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and then was limited to 17 starts in 2016 due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He underwent surgery in July that involved removing part of the rib, and things have improved for him since then. He feels pretty good, but unfortunately Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is something that often recurs even following surgery. He could be an important piece to the Mets rotation, but he isn’t someone that you can rely on.
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins: torn shoulder labrum
Perkins underwent surgery last June to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and so far it’s been a very slow recovery. He’s had some bullpen sessions, but it’s hard to see him being ready for Opening Day. This is a tough surgery for a pitcher to recover from, especially a closer who relies on his velocity.