Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Red Sox Have the Worst Doctors in Boston

When the Red Sox resume their 2012 campaign in St. Petersburg this weekend, they'll welcome back a pair of key players from the Disabled List: Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. Will Middlebrooks is also likely to return to the lineup.

That's not a bad way to start the second half of a season. Ellsbury will bolster the Sox lineup, and perhaps bring more consistency to the team's offensive production. Buchholz was pitching very well until his esophagus flared up. He was 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in June. And Middlebrooks' .538 slugging percentage is second on the Sox roster, behind only David Ortiz.

So that's great news on the injury front.

However, I've decided to take all injury news regarding Red Sox players with a grain of salt. Daisuke Matsuzaka's neck problems, and the way the Sox handled his rehab and return to the Majors, have raised some serious concerns.

The City of Boston is home to some of the best doctors and medical facilities in the world. So why does the local baseball team have so many confusing medical foul-ups?

Daisuke's trapezius issue is the latest in a pattern of missed diagnoses and failed rehabilitation strategies.

During spring training and while rehabbing in Pawtucket, Matsuzaka repeatedly experienced soreness in his neck. He was given two cortisone injections. At one point during his rehab he was shutdown. Then he resumed throwing after a shot, claimed he was fine, and the Red Sox brought him back to the Majors.

This was despite the fact that his rehab outings weren't very good. Especially for a Major Leaguer facing AAA talent.

He seemed fine once he returned, although he had difficulty pitching well in the 1st inning. In other words, he struggled to warm-up.

Before his latest start in Oakland, he was unable to throw a bullpen session due to stiffness in the neck. He was still allowed to start the game. Disaster ensued. Now he's back to the DL.

With injuries, the Sox consistently seem to do two things:

1. Allow players to convince medical personnel that they're okay.
2. Return players from injury as quickly as possible (which perhaps explains #1), even if there still might be an unhealed issue.

Daisuke said he was healthy and ready to pitch. And the Sox listened. Because it's exactly what the Sox wanted him to say. They want their players back out there ASAP.

Jacoby Ellsbury in 2010 is the most extreme example of a player rushed to return to the lineup. The Sox wanted Ellsbury back in the lineup as quickly as possible, so they never considered any reasons to not re-activate him. He spent the year with recurring injuries that were never properly healed.

Earlier this season, Dustin Pedroia injured his thumb. It seemed as though the DL was a last resort option. Pedroia was eager to return to the lineup, and the Red Sox allowed him to do so. He only missed 6 games. He struggled for a month until the team started to question if something was still wrong. And now he's on the DL.

Had he been placed on the DL back in May, he might be healed and completely ready to play by now.

I don't think the Red Sox have incompetent doctors working for them. But I do think those doctors operate with a certain goal in mind. Instead of needing absolute proof that a player is healthy, they'll let the player play so long as there's no obvious sign of injury. They'll ignore things like Daisuke struggling to warm-up, or Pedroia struggling to hit.

They let Ellsbury return even when his ribs needed more healing. They let Daisuke rehab even when his neck is stiff. They let Pedroia play after tearing a muscle in his thumb. Even when that was re-aggravated last week, manager Bobby Valentine declared Pedroia's thumb was "Not really hurt. I just think he needs these two days, and so does he... He's a little stiff here and there."

Pedroia was eventually placed on the DL. Thankfully Bobby V is not a doctor (I don't think so anyway).

So Ellsbury, Buchholz, and Middlebrooks are returning. Hopefully they're returning at the appropriate time, and haven't been rushed back to the lineup.

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