A bruising baseball season claimed a few more MLB stars this week.
Rays ace Tyler Glasnow, a Cy Young Award contender, was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor tendon strain after leaving Monday’s game early.
The Nationals lost their ace, too, as did the Indians, as both Washington’s Max Scherzer (groin) and Cleveland’s Shane Bieber (shoulder) landed on the shelf.
Dodgers star outfielder Cody Bellinger, who returned from the injured list just a couple weeks earlier after recovering from a hairline fracture in his left leg, was placed on IL again with left hamstring tightness.
Mike Trout, George Springer and Corey Seager are among a fast-growing list of top players who have been forced off the field because of injuries.
All that to say, the struggling Twins certainly aren’t alone in dealing with injury problems. In fact, though the Twins are constantly dealing with injuries, they’re not even among the most injured teams in the big leagues.
“I feel like everyone’s kind of playing with some injuries and dings these days,” said Twins right fielder Max Kepler, who is on the injured list himself after suffering a hamstring strain.
And that comment came days before Josh Donaldson and Andrelton Simmons left Wednesday’s Twins game with calf and ankle issues, respectively — neither injury is believed to be serious — and Byron Buxton’s return was delayed.
As of Thursday, the Twins had placed 20 players, some twice, on the injured list — and that’s not counting those on the 40-man roster who are or have been on the minor league injured list, like Lewis Thorpe. Per Spotrac.com data, the Blue Jays led the majors with the most players sent to the IL, with the Twins just outside the top 10.
As for days missed, the San Diego Padres lapped the league with 1,050 days, according to Spotrac. The Twins were actually closer to the bottom — 21st, per Spotrac, in days lost to the injured list — as they deal with a lot of injuries but not a lot of long-term injuries.
As of Wednesday, ManGamesLost.com, which tracks injury data, had the Twins fourth in WAR (wins above replacement) lost due to injury, likely in large part from Buxton’s extended absence. Division-rival Cleveland, by the way, has been the healthiest team in the majors.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” Kepler said. “All teams seem to be battling injuries and we’ve been trying to figure out why, too. It makes you wonder, but I can’t really tell you why.”
While some injuries are the result of freak events, like catcher Mitch Garver taking a foul tip to a sensitive area or Rob Refsnyder suffering a concussion after running into the outfield wall, the rise in soft-tissue injuries has been a troubling trend, one some have attributed to a 162-game season after a start-and-stop, shortened 2020 season.
Shoulder issues and COVID-19 have claimed the most players to the IL this season, per Spotrac data, followed by hamstring injuries.
“I use running. I mean, if all of a sudden you’re going to just train your body to run three miles and then out of nowhere you decide you’re going to run 10 and try to get after it, there’s a high probability something’s going to happen,” Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson said earlier this month. “I think that’s what’s happened. Guys really were able to lock in last year and say, ‘Alright, sweet, I can sprint for three miles.’ But coming out of the gate, it’s a 10-mile race and they’re trying to sprint again, and it’s not the same.”
Manager Rocco Baldelli said the potential rash of injuries was something the Twins talked about a lot — as far back to last season and then throughout the offseason and into the spring as they tried to prepare for this season.
As always, depth was going to be key.
But you can only have so much depth and the Twins often have been down to only a couple of remaining healthy players on the 40-man roster to draw from.
“You can make some adjustments on the medical, strength and conditioning side. But truthfully, there’s only so much you can do to get ahead of it and anticipate what’s to come,” Baldelli said. “We did anticipate this, though. Everyone in the league anticipated this, one way or the other. But I don’t think there’s some special plan or way to set yourself up to deal with this.”
The Twins currently have 11 players on their 40-man roster who are on the IL (10 in the majors, one in the minors), with all kinds of injured body parts — from shoulders to elbows to backs to hips, groins and hamstrings.
They have slightly more flexibility with their 40-man roster after welcoming the return of a couple of players, but at times recently, the Twins were unable to send down a tired arm for a fresh arm because they simply didn’t have enough players to pull from.
The Twins welcomed Kenta Maeda and Luis Arraez back this week, as well as Caleb Thielbar and Shaun Anderson, who was subsequently optioned to Triple-A. Kepler’s return appears to be next.
But if the first part of the 2021 season is an indicator, the injury issues likely aren’t stopping anytime soon.
“The numbers are pretty staggering when you look at the IL stints versus past years,” said catcher Ryan Jeffers, who has thus far avoided the IL this year. “I’m not really the doctor that can put my (finger) on what’s contributing to that. … You can say it’s the shortened season or whatever you want. Hopefully it’s a pattern that’s a temporary trend and we’ll get guys healthy once they get more and more miles under their belt after a short season. Hopefully it kind of reverts back to the way it used to be. Time will tell.”