Monday, March 22, 2010

Injuries Could Stifle Baltimore's Breakthrough Season

Ever since Andy McPhail took over as General Manager, Baltimore Orioles fans have had this year circled. This is supposed to be the year that we saw signs that all of the waiting and developing prospects was going to show itself. However, as Spring Training is ¾ done, it seems that something unforeseen could stand in the way, injuries.

Every manager in baseball will say the same thing about record in Spring Training; it doesn’t matter. While I agree that your record doesn’t matter, what happens there is crucial.

Coming into the spring, the Orioles had four major players that either used the offseason as time to heal or were still injured coming in: Nolan Reimold (Achilles), Brad Bergesen (shin and shoulder), Adam Jones (ankle), and Brian Roberts (back). While Roberts’ has been the most publicized, all of these should be concerns.

Since Roberts has been the most talked about, I will start with him. While not the most talked about player anymore, Roberts is as critical to the Orioles success this season as anyone.

Though the Orioles have said he should return to the lineup in a few days, consider this a warning. Back injuries like this don’t just go away. They linger; sometimes they end careers abruptly.

If he can’t consistently be in the lineup, the leadoff spot goes from a solid spot, to one where there isn’t a viable option. Andino would take his spot in the field, but who bats leadoff? Izturis doesn’t have the speed or the average, and Jones has the power to be more of a two or three.

Next comes the most underrated player on the Orioles this year. If you saw Brad Bergesen take that line drive to the shin from Billy Butler, you would know why I’m still concerned. When he got struck, Orioles fans everywhere flashed back to when Mike Mussina got hit in the face by a Sandy Alomar Jr. line drive. It was that gruesome.

Before getting injured, Bergesen was a candidate for rookie of the year and had racked up 11 quality starts in his last 12 starts. If he can return to that form this season, he is probably the staff’s most consistent pitcher.

My issue isn’t so much the shin, but the shoulder injury he got while idiotically shooting a commercial for MASN. Shoulder injuries on a pitcher are never minor…ever. They can cause accidental change in a pitchers delivery, loss of velocity, and loss of movement on the breaking ball.

If I’m right and the shoulder is a bigger issue than Dave Trembley is letting us know, this could go down as the most irresponsible thing the team has ever done with a player.

Injured player number three is the Orioles sole All Star and gold Glove winning centerfielder. If healthy, Adam Jones is the teams most talented player. An amazing combination of speed, contact, power and field give this guy endless potential.

The biggest part of that sentence is “if healthy.” Jones’ 2009 was outstanding when he was able to play, but saw stints on the DL because of hamstring and ankle problems.

Centerfielders have a knack for pulling muscles because of the amount of ground they cover and Jones might not be an exception to this rule. Look what happened to Ken Griffey Jr.

Jones may be the team’s best player, but at least he has a solid back up. Having Pie as a fourth outfielder will be invaluable if Jones can’t go the distance.

Finally, we get to the player I least suspected would be an issue, Nolan Reimold. We knew of Reimold’s achilles injury early in the season last year, but it was so down played, no one spent much thought on it. When he was shut down, it was done quietly and his surgery made very few headlines.

Here we are on March 22, and it still is a major obstacle for Reimold.

As a result of his heel, Reimold has prevented him from playing as much and cause Trembley to keep him from playing back-to-back games pretty often.

That lack of playing time and number of at bats is proving to be a challenge. Reimold is just 1-23 with a measly single this spring. While he is working diligently with hitting coach Terry Crowley, the heel still worries me.

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