Injury Breakdown: The Obliques
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By Abby Sims
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The baseball season hadn’t even officially begun when we started hearing about a rash of injuries. Most predominant amongst them were oblique abdominal strains. Perhaps there is something lacking in the training program of players, who seem to suffer this injury with greater frequency these days. I’m sure there are some who also feel that the apparent upswing may be due to the absence of steroids from the landscape. It would be interesting to take a look back and to compare the actual numbers from years past to those of today.
The obliques are the abdominal muscles that rotate and side-bend the trunk. The fibers of the obliques are oriented in a diagonal pattern, with the internal obliques (the innermost layer) going in one direction and the external obliques (an outer layer) in the other. They attach to the low back, ribs, the pelvis and the midline of the abdominals. The internal and external obliques have opposing functions, though when working together they assist in forward flexing the trunk. In baseball, these muscles are most likely to be strained due to the powerful and explosive torsion motions required when batting and pitching. For more about these important muscles, take a look at theses diagrams and at a prior WFAN blog post on the subject.
For now, let’s focus on the players who have reportedly started the 2011 season with oblique issues. At end-season we’ll take a look back and see how they’ve performed, and at how, or if, these early season injuries adversely impacted their overall stats. Along the way we’ll also see which players are added to the rank and file of oblique sufferers.
First, Yankee fans will be quick to point out that centerfielder Curtis Granderson (who bats lefty and throws righty) had a right oblique strain that almost kept him from the opening day line-up. However, he turned out to save the day. Granderson originally hurt himself checking a swing in a spring training batting practice and sat on the sidelines for a week afterward. Granderson was reported to have said that he felt better about his chances to make it to the opener after a workout at the Yankees’ minor league complex. Yankee blogs reported that in a simulated game, Granderson said he’d “Faced lefties, righties, everything felt good.” “Swings and misses, check swings, all good…” We all know the outcome – Granderson hit a home run in each of the first two games, the first being the game winner. That story is the exception, not the rule.
Less successful in his return to the lineup was Houston Astros left-handed starting pitcher, J.A. Happ. Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle reported in late March that Happ was removed from a minor league start because of right oblique pain. Happ defied predictions that he would likely begin the season on the DL and made his first start on Tuesday, the 5th. In spite of throwing 52 of his 91 pitches for strikes, he was drilled for seven earned runs, seven hits and five walks in only four innings. Happ is scheduled to return to the line-up on Sunday, the 10th. We’ll keep an eye out.
Another pitcher who dealt with an oblique strain prior to the start of the season was right-handed closer Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants. Only one week before opening day, Andrew Baggarly (of www.mercurynews.com) tweeted from Arizona that manager Bruce Bochy reportedly said Wilson had tried to play catch, but “didn’t feel as good as we hoped he would.” Wilson came off the DL and made his 2011 debut on April 6th. He entered the game with a seven-run lead in the ninth and, according to Baggarly, Wilson described his subsequent performance as “Piss poor.” He’d been charged with three earned runs after retiring two of the five batters he faced. “But we won, so that’s really all that matters. “… You don’t want to start the year off not finishing your inning. It’s embarrassing. But it’s all about bouncing back and nailing it down when we need it.” Baggarly reported “Wilson’s back and side appeared healthy while he hit 96 mph, which is all Giants manager Bruce Bochy cared about. Hours after Wilson was activated from the disabled list, he issued one walk, and both Padres’ hits off him were infield singles; Bochy pulled Wilson as a precaution after 23 pitches.”
Yet another right-handed pitcher, Atlanta’s starter Jair Jurrjens, began the season on the DL with a problem oblique and has yet to return to the lineup. On April 6th, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported “Jurrjens felt good during his simulated game and will throw a rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on April 11.” If all goes well, Jurrjens is slated to start against the Mets the following Saturday.
Still out of the line-up due to a late pre-season abdominal strain is the Mets’ left-fielder Jason Bay. He of the four-year 66 million dollar contract…Ben Berkon was quick to point out in his post on www.risingapple.com that, with Willie Harris doing so well as his replacement, Bay’s absence hasn’t had the impact it might have. ESPN reported that, though Bay is eligible to be activated from the DL on the 9th, it isn’t likely to happen because he has yet to take live batting practice or participate in game-related-activities. Bay-Watch continues.
In contrast, the absence of the mighty Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays lineup has really hurt. The right-hand batting and throwing third baseman’s left oblique strain occurred during his first at-bat of the regular season. The Tampa Tribune then reported that following an MRI on April 4th, he was put on the 15-day DL.
CBSsports.com reported that Manager Joe Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times earlier in the day that Longoria would likely miss at least three weeks. “It’s just unfortunate,” Maddon said. “We’re having a hard time scoring runs out of the chute. He’s probably our best run-producer and now we don’t have him. We’re just going to have to make some adjustments and keep playing.” And so it goes – The Rays made lowly Baltimore look mighty…
Like Longoria, LA Angels right-hand-throwing, switch-hitting shortstop, Erick Aybar, suffered his injury at the outset of the season. In his case, Aybar’s oblique strain reportedly occurred while sliding. He currently remains day-to-day, though has been quoted as saying he felt well enough to return soon.
Though he was hoped to return to the lineup for opening day, shortstop Stephen Drew, of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has missed the first five games. Drew fell prey to a lower abdominal strain in mid-March and, though he is reportedly working out and has increased his running workload, the left-handed batter/righty hitter isn’t game ready. Veteran Willie Bloomquist has surprised many and made the Diamondbacks loss less costly, hitting very well in the leadoff spot to date.
The LA Dodgers are also on the list of teams nursing injured obliques. Fifth starter and right-hand Pitcher Jon Garland is reportedly progressing well after suffering his strain in the first inning of a spring training game in early March. It is hoped he will return to the lineup by the 12th of April, after pitching in a Class A game on April 10.
Another Dodger, starting third baseman, Casey Blake, began the season on the DL suffering from what was alternately reported as a rib or back injury. Though I don’t know for sure because I haven’t assessed him, the obliques, with their attachments to both areas, are a likely culprit. Blake was activated on the 6th. Sons of Garvey reported manager Don Mattingly as saying “He’s out there [for nine innings, If he wasn't able to do that, then I wouldn't have activated him. Over the last 10 days, he's probably got more at-bats than anybody we've got. He's been getting nine, eight, seven [at-bats in Minor League Spring Training games], so he’s been getting more at-bats than anybody.”
Right-fielder Corey Hart of the Brewers also began the season on the DL with an oblique injury and is considered days away from a rehab assignment (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). According to the Brewers website, “there is no timetable for his return” and the right-hander is frustrated with his slow progress.
Right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke, who is out of the Brewers lineup with a cracked rib, is working toward being activated off the DL. An April 3rd report by Adam McCalvy of www.MLB.com said he could be throwing off the mound this week. The 2009 Cy Young winner, acquired in the off-season from Kansas City, was injured while playing basketball in the spring. Though I saw no reports of Greinke also suffering a muscle injury, it would not be surprising if he had.
And that’s the abridged edition! Please comment if you’ve suffered an oblique injury. How long did it take you to regain your form?
Follow Abby on twitter @abcsims.