Sometimes, hard slides just aren’t worth the risk.
Efforts to disrupt a defender, whether he’s the pivot man on a double play or just an infielder trying to make a throw, are an everyday part of baseball. And while aggressive play can be fun to watch, it can also end in disaster.
While attempting to break up Reid Brignac’s throw from second base on Friday, Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury dislocated his shoulder. His slide took him through the bag, upending Brignac who landed hard on Ellsbury’s outstretched body. The injury was immediate, obvious, and severe; trainers hustled the MVP runner-up off the field and directly to the hospital where an MRI confirmed that Ellsbury has at least a partial dislocation.
It was the seventh game of the season. Very little was on the line. And though this was in many ways just a routine play, the potential for saving a single out was hardly worth losing one of the game’s top outfielder’s for six weeks or more.
Now a club that was already missing several key players will be without its catalyst atop the batting order. And as bad a 2-5 start to the season looked, things may be about to get a whole lot worse.
The list of injuries for the Sox is substantial. Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey are both out recovering from Tommy John surgery. Andrew Bailey had a procedure to repair his thumb. Ryan Kalish is still working his back from a torn labrum. Andrew Miller, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks, Rich Hill, Chris Carpenter…all out. But the loss of Ellsbury is by far the most crippling blow.
As it stands, Boston’s outfield features Darnell McDonald, Cody Ross, and Ryan Sweeney. Behind those three there is no depth until Crawford returns, most likely in late May. Boston will be forced to make a roster move to afford itself a reserve outfielder, and it’s possible that the club will need to make an acquisition if Ellsbury’s time on the shelf proves to be as long as current estimates say.
After a true breakout campaign last year erased the bad memories of a 2010 season undone by fractured ribs, Ellsbury was set to firmly establish himself among the game’s elite. Instead, he could be out of action until the All-Star break. Doctors are conducting other tests on his shoulder to determine the extent of the injury, and if further structural damage is uncovered the prognosis could become even more dire.
At the very least, the Red Sox will now have to endure a difficult first half. At worst, we might be witnessing a repeat of 2010.
There are no MLB-ready outfielders in the farm system. The highest ranked prospect, aside from Kalish, is Bryce Brentz, currently at AA Portland.
The immediate solution was to call up AAA centerfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, a 23 year old Taiwanese native whose best minor league season came in 2010. With decent speed (131 steals in 173 attempts in four+ seasons) but no real power, Lin has a lifetime .256 average in professional baseball.
If Lin doesn’t pan out– and there’s nothing in his past to indicate that he’ll be successful, even as a fourth outfielder– Boston could eventually bring up Lars Anderson, who has played a pair of games in left for Pawtucket. But Anderson is a natural first baseman. The club could also give Will Middlebrooks the call and experiment with the limits of Kevin Youkilis’ versatility, but that would carry its own set of problems. In all likelihood, the hunt for a utility outfielder is now officially on.
Earlier in the season skipper Bobby Valentine hinted at the possibility of Mike Aviles batting leadoff. However serious he was then, he may be forced to try the option now.