Prince Fielder's surgery may put the Rangers down for the count

Tim Brown
Texas Rangers' Prince Fielder watches the flight of his fly out to center that came off a pitch from Boston Red Sox's Clay Buchholz in the first inning of a baseball game, Friday, May 9, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Prince Fielder is probably done for the season, which follows from the pain in his neck and shoulder, the numbness in his left arm, the weakness in his top hand, and finally Thursday's diagnosis that the herniated disk in his neck is expected to require surgery.

The Texas Rangers are teetering on done too, which follows from their clown-car disabled list, running more than a dozen deep and including many of the names – Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Derek Holland, Jurickson Profar and now Fielder – that might make a reasonable argument otherwise.

Fielder's cervical fusion surgery would be Tuesday in Dallas. General manager Jon Daniels estimated the recovery time to be as long as four months. A second opinion is coming, but no one figures that will be any different than the first. This past Tuesday, days after he'd received injections he hoped would stem the pain in his neck and sudden frailty in his hands, Fielder, according to sources, barely could grip a bat. His hand strength was measured at slightly more than half its usual.

"Unfortunately, the symptoms have gotten worse," Daniels told reporters Thursday. "Prince wants to go ahead and have the surgery done. He's frustrated with not being himself."

In spite of his recent improvement at the plate – he was hitting .333 in May – Fielder had three home runs in his first 150 at-bats in Texas. His .720 OPS was nearly 200 points below his career mark. In a ballpark seemingly built for his pull approach, he was batting .187.

That's not Fielder. He'd played in 547 consecutive games before the nerve between his C-5 and C-6 disks shut him down. He hadn't been the beast the Detroit Tigers assumed he'd be in two seasons there, but he didn't miss a game, and he hit 55 home runs, and those seasons ended in the World Series and the American League Championship Series.

We spoke a couple weeks ago in Anaheim, a time when by recent descriptions he already was experiencing the symptoms that would lead to surgery, and Fielder seemed tired, but confident. Hopeful. He'd hit, he said, because he always had. Probably, he figured he'd heal, because he always had. Now they'll open his neck and, if the surgery goes as most, he'll walk out with a new bone and a plate in him. He'll almost immediately be familiar with his body again. It won't hurt to open a door, or make the bed, or high-five his son. He'll sleep again. He'll no longer be falling toward the inevitable – more pain, more exhaustion, more disappointment, more grounders into another shift – but trudging toward recovery. He just turned 30. When he returns, there'll be six years left on his contract, and he'll be strong and mobile again, and he'll hit.

And the Rangers, presumably, will have recovered as well. Right about the time they learned Fielder would not be their first baseman for a while, the Rangers revealed Profar, who hasn't played a game this season, would require another two or three months of recovery for his damaged shoulder. Already, 47 games in, they've used 18 position players and 22 pitchers. (Mitch Moreland is on both lists.) Somehow, they've won 23 of those games, and maybe there's the argument that they're not done. As constructed – and, granted, their construction changes by the day – they are one of the worst offensive teams in the American League, have gotten a 4.49 ERA from their starting pitchers, and only a slightly better ERA from their bullpen.

They're not as good as the Oakland A's or Los Angeles Angels in the AL West, and maybe not as good as the Seattle Mariners, and now the hope that Fielder could fix some of that is gone. These things happen. Not all at once, usually. And Ron Washington will push forward, lean on Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo and Yu Darvish, and make the best of what he can. Nobody wants to hear about injuries, because everybody has them. Not like this, though. And eventually the men with the injuries aren't who you are, it's the injuries themselves.

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