The length of a baseball team’s disabled list can have such a strong impact on the outcome of their season. Injuries not only deprive teams of talented players, but alter the chemistry that was so carefully constructed during the offseason and spring training.
The ability of backup players, minor league prospects and the length of time needed for the injured to come back healthy can all determine whether or not a season will be derailed. Just a month into the 2013 season, a number of major league teams have felt the pinch of losing players to the DL. The scrambling has already begun for some to overcome a fractured roster.
***Perhaps no team has been quite so devastated by injuries this season than the New York Yankees. They were already missing the bulk of their starting lineup, with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson all sidelined for significant periods of time, when they lost a couple more players last week. They placed starting catcher Francisco Cervelli with a broken hand and starting pitcher Ivan Nova with triceps inflammation on the 15-day disabled list.
Considered to have some of the deepest pockets of any franchise in baseball, even the Yankees are struggling to cobble together a competitive team in light of all the injuries. Young Austin Romine, who has all of 19 major league at-bats, will fill in for Cervelli (himself no star player), while David Phelps, the team’s long man will likely take Nova’s spot in the rotation.
New York has jumped out with an early winning record but their ability to maintain that success has to be in doubt with so many high-impact players on the shelf. In the meantime, they must be hoping to staunch the bleeding and avoid any further injuries.
***The Los Angeles Dodgers is the other high-profile team that has been devastated by injuries this season. They have already had to use nine different starting pitchers through their first 24 games because of 3/5 of their Opening Day starting rotation currently residing on the disabled list.
Although it won’t help their pitching, the team did get some good news when shortstop Hanley Ramirez started a minor league rehab assignment. The veteran tore a thumb ligament in March while playing in the World Baseball Classic for his native Dominican Republic. It was originally anticipated he could be out as long as late May or early June, but he has made a remarkably quick recovery and could be back in the next week or so. His return can’t come soon enough because his replacement, Justin Sellers, has hit a punchless .224, while struggling in the field.
***At the opposite end of the health spectrum is Conrad “Connie” Marrero, the major league’s oldest living former player. A native of Cuba, the former pitcher recently turned 102, and talked about his career in an excellent article by ESPN Deports’ Damian L. Delgado-Averhoff.
Living in Havana, the centurion is still a national hero and possesses an excellent memory of his time in baseball. Despite being just 5’5” and 158 pounds, he was an effective right-handed pitcher, who got his first shot at the major leagues with the Washington Senators in 1950 at the age of 39. He went on to go 39-40 with a 3.67 ERA in 118 games over five seasons. He went 11-9 in 1951, and at the age of 40, became the oldest first-time All-Star when he was named to that year’s mid-summer classic (although he didn’t appear in the game).
Still enjoying the occasional cigar, Marrero keeps plugging away. Despite his 102 years, he is still going strong and enjoying the game that he made his career.
***Detroit Tigers’ right-handed start Anibal Sanchez had the most impressive start of the young season, striking out a team record 17 batters in a 10-0 victory against the Atlanta Braves last week. The 17 punch outs bested the team’s previous high mark of 16, set by left-hander Mickey Lolich twice in 1969.
Sanchez was removed after the eighth inning because his pitch count had risen to 121. Having already thrown a no-hitter in 2006 while a member of the Florida Marlins, he is no stranger to strong pitching performances.
SI.com’s Jay Jaffe broke down Sanchez’s dominance against the Braves, which included throwing 27 pitches that elicited swings and misses.
Signing with Detroit this past offseason to an $80 million deal, Sanchez has gotten off quickly, going 3-1 with a 1.34 ERA in his first five starts. With Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer ahead of him in the rotation, it may be tempting to view Sanchez as a mid-rotation starter, but the 29-year-old is serving notice that he may be an ace in his own right.
***Last week’s lighter moment definitely belongs to Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett. In a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the right-hander didn’t realize his catcher Russell Martin was trying to throw out John Jay, who was attempting to steal second base. The humorous misunderstanding became apparent in a very unusual play.
*** This week there is an additional bonus of lighter fare. Players have a wide variety of habits to keep them focused in the field, from chewing gum to scratching initials in the dirt. Cleveland Indians’ second baseman Jason Kipnis is no different in his own unique way. This clip from 2012 may be a bit old, but check out how he channels the singer Adele while manning his position in the field.
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