It’s impossible to keep a full 25-man baseball team healthy for a full 162-game season. It just can’t be done. With only about a dozen off days over the course of six months, players are bound to go down with pulled hamstrings or muscle tightness — and that’s if you’re lucky. The mark of a great team is one that is not derailed by these injuries, but rather fights through them with a “next man up” mentality.
The knock on several extremely talented Sox teams in recent years was: “Well, they’re good, but they can’t stay healthy.” That was the case last year, when injuries forced Boston to field what resembled a Triple-A roster for the last few months of the season. Rumblings of the same sentiment have already begun after this season’s historic start, with many reserving judgement on the current batch of Red Sox players until they see how they react to the grind of a major league season.
And that’s how it should be. Championships aren’t won in April and May. Playoff spots cannot be sewn up before the All-Star break. A hot start means nothing if the team runs into a rough patch, crumbles under the pressure and folds.
That time has come for the Red Sox.
After cruising past the Astros and Blue Jays — currently the two worst teams in the American League — the Sox struggled against their toughest opponent of the season, getting swept in a three-game series with Texas. The day the team returned from the Lone Star State, closer Andrew Bailey, who hadn’t pitched all weekend, was put on the 15-day disabled list. That should have opened the door for Joel Hanrahan to take back his place at the back of the bullpen, but he, too, returned to the DL after blowing a save against the Twins, with Boston eventually winning in 11 innings.
One day later, Will Middlebrooks and David Ross both left Tuesday’s game with injuries after colliding while both going after a pop fly in foul territory — Ross with a contusion on his left quad and Middlebrooks with what was referred to at the time as “right side pain.” These injuries may turn out to be minor — that will become more clear in the coming days — but the point of impact is enough to cause some concern.
“When [Ross] slid, both he and Will, the shin guard kind of peeled back a little bit and he slammed into the wall,” manager John Farrell explained. “So, he’s day-to-day. It’s not anything in the knee; structuraly, that’s checked out fine. [Ross] started getting some swelling in that inning, and [we] got him out of there. Will is undergoing X-rays and CAT scans right now on that right side.”
A knee injury, no matter how minor, is about the worst thing that could happen to a catcher, who spends about two hours crouching each night. As Ross himself explained after the game, he felt that he could have remained in the game had he played any other position — he did remain behind the plate for one more pitch — but the swelling around his knee made it too difficult to explode out of his crouch.
As for Middlebrooks, who made the catch on the play and took his at-bat in the bottom of the inning before he was lifted in favor of Pedro Ciriaco, the area around a player’s ribs is so integral in both the hitting and throwing motions. He also said he could have stayed in the game, according to Farrell, but the coaching staff decided it was best to remove him as a precaution.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Ciriaco couldn’t handle either of the first two hits that came his way in Middlebrooks’ stead, and his pair of errors gave way to a four-run eighth inning for Minnesota in what ended up being a 6-1 Twins victory. Depth at the hot corner has been a question mark for Boston this season, as Middlebrooks is the only full-time third baseman on the roster (Ciriaco is a natural shortstop who began taking significant reps at third last season).
Again, these injuries may prove to minor. But if Middlebrooks or Ross join the team’s closers on the shelf for any significant length of time, May baseball just became a whole lot more important for the Red Sox.