Another day, another injury for the Mariners. On Friday we learned that Mike Zunino was heading to the 10-day DL with an oblique strain, then Saturday Nelson Cruz slipped on the steps behind the dugout and as result has an appointment with the MRI machine Sunday morning.
While it’s hard not to share manager Scott Servais’ initial reaction when he heard about Cruz – “I wanted to throw up. I don’t know any other way to put it.” – I think that once the stomach settles it’s time to take a deep breath.
Yes, there are injuries to key players. Without knowing the extent of Cruz’s ankle injury, and for the purposes of setting a baseline, let’s set it aside for a minute and take a look at where the Mariners stand with injuries since the start of the 2017 season.
Judging from the reaction on Twitter, the radio, the comment sections and the random Joe who stops me at the grocery store to ask what the heck is up with the injuries, there is a perception that the Mariners are coming off a season where they were the most injured team in baseball. This in turn has amplified every ding, dent, twist, pull, ache and anything else that might have been felt in spring training.
I get it. Last year the Mariners tied a record for most pitchers used in a season. It was a horrific year for pitcher injuries. They did not, however, lead the league in total injuries. They were not even close.
According to Spotrac, the Mariners in fact had the fifth-least number of players that spent time on the DL in 2017 and ranked ninth in days lost by players on the DL. While I am in no way, shape or form trying to say that it was a good year for player health – it clearly wasn’t – the sheer number of injuries weren’t too out of the ordinary compared to the rest of the league, especially when you factor in age and injury history of a number of players who spent time on the DL.
This is where I choose to take a deep breath. Full disclaimer, I am the absolute last person to panic in an emergency situation. I get the panic felt by a number of fans, but I’m not there. Part of that is me, and the other part of that is looking at the big picture and what actually matters. This isn’t a glass half full, mind you. It’s take a second and see what we’ve actually got. To that end, I’m not seeing a huge connection with what we have seen so far this season with injuries to what we saw last year. Last season was the year of the pitcher injury. The injury situation this year has been quite different, and honestly, in my opinion, overblown by many.
Let’s start with spring training. Find me a team that had no dings, dents or pulls this spring. Find me a team that started the season with no players on the DL. There aren’t any. The Mariners currently have four players on the DL, and only 12 teams have less than that. Of the four players the Mariners have on the DL, one (David Phelps) is out for the year. Erasmo Ramirez and Ben Gamel are ready to be sent out on rehab assignments once the minor league season begins, and there is a good possibility that Mike Zunino could return on the day he is eligible to be activated, which would mean he would have missed just five games. There are teams right now that are in far worse shape.
So what of the injuries we are seeing? Soft tissue injuries are a key area of where the Mariners hope to see improvement with the addition of their new High Performance department. Does this happen overnight? Obviously not. Are there new practices in place? Yes. There has been new techniques introduced in everything from their stretching programs to hydration and diet, to recovery practices and travel. There has been additional staff hired. There is a clear commitment to improving player health, which if you read the studies you realize is a moving field as players get bigger and stronger and produce more torque.
It is possible there already has been improvement – only you have to look for that improvement as it is not as obvious as a player missing from the field. Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano suffered leg strains in spring training. Cruz was not 100 percent to start the season, but Cano was. We in fact saw Cano turn on the jets Saturday for a double on a ball that dropped into shallow center. I didn’t know Cano had jets at this point. Ten days off, pool work, additional stretches and Cano goes into the season not having to favor his leg.
Would we have seen the exact same protocol last year? I don’t know. But it does appear there is an awareness by the players to not brush off or try to immediately play through strains, and in turn an effort to get those players an extra day to further quiet strains. Zunino may or may not be an example. There was some suggestion that his grade 1 strain was something that had the Mariners been deeper in the season it may have been a 3-4 day injury and he would not have been placed on the DL. Impossible to know, but if Zunino comes back 100 percent having missed just five games in late March/early April and has no further trouble, are we even going to remember he had an oblique strain at the end of the year?
I do hope that is the case. I hope that it is something we can point back to as both a reason not to overact when we don’t have all of the information – like we didn’t on Friday – and can be an example of a tricky injury being handled properly by both the player and the team.
We have a long way to go this season. It’s just the beginning. So again, deep breath.