Red Sox front and center on injury revolution

Ace lefthander Chris Sale is one of Boston's many walking wounded this spring, injured and unsure of when he'll be back. AP Photo/John Bazemore

FORT MYERS, Fla. – We’ve seen this in New England before after a tough week.

Four players doubtful. Two probable. One headed to injured reserve.

There's one problem: this isn’t the New England Patriots injury report from Week 15. It’s the Boston Red Sox, and the regular season is still three weeks away.

Someone walked up casually to Jackie Bradley Jr. at his locker stall in the Red Sox clubhouse Wednesday and said, “Hey Jackie, congratulations on not being injured.”

A semi-puzzled Bradley smiled, “Thanks, I think.”

It wasn’t really a joke. Bradley is a baseball dinosaur, which means he’s been ready to play every day this spring.

The list of Red Sox injuries, beyond Chris Sale’s elbow, is absurd. The good news is none of them are major. That bad news is, “What the heck is going on?”

Four starters – Xander Bogaerts (leg), Alex Verdugo (back), Mitch Moreland (hamstring), Andrew Benintendi (quad) – are slowly coming along. Another possible part-time starter in the infield, Tzu-Wei Lin, left the game in Tampa against the Yankees in the first inning on Tuesday, simply breaking on an easy fly ball. Same thing happened to Moreland on Sunday. He went for a groundball and pulled his 'hammy.'

A few the injured guys are vying for designated hitter at bats, which means J.D. Martinez is getting a lot of left field duty. But, get this, there is only one DH per game.

“It’s a hard part of the game because you plan for what you’re going to have out there most of the year and things change … you’re looking at Triple-A guys and who you’re going to bring up to fill in for somebody,” said interim manager Ron Roenicke.

In other word, this is undo stress on the manager.

Spring training is supposed to be a casual walk in the park for the Red Sox Big Guy. Players play, pitchers pitch, and managers write their names on lineup cards. Not to mention the starters bolt early for family stuff or golf.

An over-simplification? Sure.

In 1985, in the middle of Roenicke’s lackluster big league career (.238 average, 17 HRs), 17 different starting pitchers threw 250 innings, the most of which was the Twins' Bert Blyleven (293 2/3). Roenicke was 12 years old when Denny McLain popped out 336 innings in 1968, when four-man rotations were the thing.

Yet in 2019, only 13 starters pitched over 200 innings, the most of which was Houston's Justin Verlander (223).

Roenicke has been in this pro game for just over four decades. What he has seen his clubhouse and several others around him is, scarily, becoming the norm. He's thought a lot about the rampant injuries compared to the old days, and spoke about it Wednesday.

“They're too strong, with their muscles that are just too strong for what your ligaments and your tendons can carry,” said Roenicke. “We're all born with certain strengths. And we're adding muscles, stronger than really our bodies can handle, that's my opinion.”

It’s hard to fathom, though.

Strength and conditioning coaches are staples in every pro sport at every level, with every single minor league team have their own strength coach. Every day, every player in the Red Sox organization is stretching before their day starts.

Roenicke says obsession with power and velocity — while fun to watch — has come with a cost.

“You watch batting practice and you watch balls every day that are being hit (so hard), like, 'Oh my gosh',” said Roenicke. “You used to see those balls about once a week or once every couple of weeks. Now you’re seeing it every game.”

What is Roenicke’s reaction when a starting pitcher is able to finish the seventh inning? He just about faints.

“Like wow!,” said Roenicke. “That’s really nice to be able to cover only two innings with your bullpen.”

Ironically, the Red Sox suffered their share of injuries in 2018 en route to the World Series. But they didn’t mount like they already have as of March 5 here in Fort Myers, Fla.

“We are not alone. A lot of other teams are going through what we’re going through,” said Roenicke. “Injuries have always been part of the game, but … “

I’ll finish it for him … this is absurd!

 

 

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