Twelve Yankees currently reside on the injured list. Twelve! It’s put a pretty big damper on the start of the regular season, to say the least. Sure, a few players on the shelf aren’t surprises: Didi Gregorius and Jordan Montgomery, to name a couple. The Yankees had time to plan for their absences. However, they could have never anticipated the myriad of injuries that have happened since spring training began. It’s a bit reminiscent of 2007, when a handful of Yankees suffered hamstring strains early in the season. This year, there have been various health issues, but a fair amount of them have been muscle strains, stiffness, or soreness.
Prior to 2007, the Yankees hired Marty Miller as the team’s director of performance enhancement. He lost his job by early May. Injuries piled up within a month of the season beginning and it proved to be Miller’s undoing. Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang, and Phil Hughes all suffered hamstring strains. Johnny Damon played through a calf strain and Andy Pettitte powered through back soreness from a weight lifting mishap. This season, there have been two calf strains (Troy Tulowitzki and Gary Sanchez), Giancarlo Stanton’s biceps strain, Aaron Hicks’s back stiffness, and Luis Severino’s lat strain. Those seem to be related to strength and conditioning issues. To add insult to injury, there have been some bad luck and pitchers break issues too. Miguel Andujar tore his labrum sliding back into third, Severino had shoulder inflammation before his lat strain, and Dellin Betances has a shoulder impingement and bone spurs.
Aside from the litany of maladies, communication has been a problem as well. Hicks, Betances, and Severino have all had setbacks. How many times have we heard that Aaron Hicks is close to ramping up baseball activities? He was suppose to get back into the swing of things before camp ended. The Yankees downplayed Betances’s velocity in spring training, and now we find out that he’s had a bone spur for years. There was no mention of that when he was initially diagnosed with an impingement. Severino, somehow, suffered a new injury (lat strain) while trying to recover from shoulder soreness.
Matt Krause has been the team’s director of strength and conditioning since the 2014 season. Are all of these muscle injuries his and his team’s fault? Who knows. One thing’s for sure: the optics are bad. Back in 2007, the way things looked almost certainly contributed to the team cutting Miller lose. Even so, Cashman declined to blame Miller for the parade to the disabled list:
Last month, when a rash of muscle-related injuries felled five key players in four weeks, Cashman did not blame Miller or his assistant, Dana Cavalea.
“I’m constantly evaluating everything we do,” Cashman said in a telephone interview at the time. “But do I blame Marty and Dana for this? No.”
Cashman had said there were many reasons the injuries to key Yankees could have occurred, apart from Miller’s new strength and conditioning program, in which some players had declined to participate.
That last sentence is telling, though. Players declining to participate in a team’s strength and conditioning program is not a good look! If that wasn’t the final straw, it was definitely alarming.
This year, Cashman hasn’t placed blame on the training staff. Nonetheless, his reaction to Severino’s lat strain makes it easy to wonder if its starting to become the subject of his ire.
Severino just lost force on flat ground throws one day to next. Cashman: “There’s nothing that I can provide to you that can explain how he wound up with a Grade 2 lat strain. The protocols that he was going through would not provide that. We are trying to piece that together.”
— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) April 13, 2019
Cashman certainly sounds annoyed that the team has no idea how the ace succumbed to a new injury. On one hand, I could see him questioning if Severino did something extraneous to the “protocol” that caused the injury. That would be a hefty and damning accusation to make, though. On the flip side, it’s the training staff’s responsibility to get players back on the field as soon as possible. The fact that they’re in the dark about how this happened, or perhaps the idea that it was never caught in the first place, is significant. Not only is it a physical issue, but it is also a communication deficiency. These kind of mistakes can (and already have) throw the season way off course.
To give the conditioning team the benefit of the doubt, a few of the players who have gotten hurt have a reputation for being injury prone. Tulowitzki and Hicks, in particular. Further, maybe Severino’s ailments are just a symptom of being a pitcher. Whoever or whatever is to blame, it’s been nothing but bad news all around. Fortunately, like that 2007 team, all of these instances have happened very early on in the season. That squad still won 94 games when it was all said and done. For this team to accomplish that, it needs to get its house in order. Part of that is some better fortune moving forward, but also identifying the source of the numerous muscle strains, setbacks, and communication breakdowns.