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PawSox outfield injuries mounting: Linares to undergo surgery while Kalish improving

05.05.11 at 6:40 pm ET
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It has been a rough stretch for the Red Sox‘ minor league outfield depth. Ryan Kalish has been out for the last two weeks while trying to rehab from a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder. Meanwhile, an MRI revealed that fellow PawSox outfielder Juan Carlos Linares tore ligaments in his ankle when he slid hard into second base earlier this week; the 26-year-old will require surgery, and his return date is unknown at this time. And a third Pawtucket outfielder, Josh Reddick, had to leave Tuesday’s game after being hit by a pitch on the finger during a bunt attempt. However, it appears that he avoided serious harm, as Reddick is back in the PawSox lineup on Thursday.

For Kalish, who is rehabbing from a partial tear of the labrum in his left shoulder, the progress is measured in increments. After all, after he suffered the injury (or rather aggravated a pre-existing injury that is believed to date to his high school career) while diving for a ball in the outfield while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket, Kalish was restricted from virtually all activities, including running, since the Sox did not want him to pump his arm while allowing the injury to heal.

That being the case, he remains at a fairly early stage of the rehab process. But, at this point, the Red Sox are more than happy to note that incremental progress is progress nonetheless.

The 23-year-old has been re-examined in recent days and has been cleared to resume some physical activities. Most notably, just under two weeks after he suffered the injury, he is working out again. The more significant tests of his shoulder — and ultimately, the determination about whether he can rehab or will require surgery — have yet to come. But Kalish has responded well to the initial elements of a conservative rehab route.

“He’€™s been re-examined in the last few days and everything is moving in a very positive direction. He’€™s making steady improvement everyday, so we’€™re feeling pretty good about the rehab process right now. But he hasn’€™t done anything too crazy at this point,” said Sox farm director Mike Hazen. “He’€™s progressing well. We’€™ll see what happens once he starts doing activities.”

It was the sort of progress that Hazen described as “very small steps.” Ultimately, much more will be required of the outfielder if he is to resume his season.

“We’€™re talking about getting this guy back to throw and hit, which is a lot more violent than just moving around athletically, but we’€™re getting there,” said Hazen. “We’€™ll see. There’€™s still a lot of tests to go, but the fact that the tests are moving in this direction is positive.”

At the time of the injury, the Sox said that they would shut Kalish down for two to three weeks before re-evaluating him to determine whether he might resume baseball activities. That remains the plan.

In essence, the team and player are trying to gauge how serious his tear is, with three possible outcomes.

First, it is conceivable that rehab alone will allow the injury to heal enough where Kalish can resume playing this year with relatively few restrictions. While the idea of a labral tear certainly doesn’t sound good, the injury is not uncommon. Nearly all pitchers have some degree of tearing in their labrums and remain on the mind in spite of it; the question is one of the severity. The question then becomes, based on the speed of Kalish’s recovery, how long it might take to rehab and how complete the rehab process can be, and how much pain he would have to play through to remain on the field.

If Kalish can progress to the point where he returns to games, but he would be at risk of a more dramatic tear the next time that he dives for a ball in the outfield, then the Sox might have to consider surgery. But, if it appears that Kalish can respond to position himself to play without such risks, then his season will be able to resume at some point.

However, if it appears that Kalish would be at constant risk of season-ending injury based on the pace of his recovery, then he and the Sox might decide to have him undergo a procedure immediately.

The third possibility is that if Kalish (who was hitting just .236 with a .609 OPS for the PawSox at the time of the injury) responds well to physical activity and doesn’t appear to be at significant risk of worsening the injury, he could end up playing out the year and then having surgery in the offseason. He might have to play through some weakness and/or restriction, but the possibility exists that he would be able to continue playing despite the injury. That is the path that Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez took last year, after he suffered a similar injury (albeit to his non-throwing shoulder) in early May.

Gonzalez managed to stay in the lineup after the injury, playing in 130 of the Padres’ remaining 132 games. He did have to make some concessions to the injury on the field — diving for fewer balls, using a lighter bat and focusing in the season’s final weeks more on a line drive stroke up the middle and to left field than a power stroke — but his performance was nonetheless impressive. He hit .305 with a .394 OPS, .519 slugging mark, .913 OPS and 25 homers over the nearly five remaining months of the year after the injury.

It still remains to be seen whether or when Kalish might be able to return to the field this year. All the same, the fact that he is now once again able to work out represents a step in the right direction for the outfielder.

Given the mounting injuries in the Pawtucket outfield, it has been noteworthy that Yamaico Navarro has now played all three outfield spots, having spent two games in left, one in center and three in right. That would bring the versatile Navarro’s total number of positions played to six this year. Between that and his terrific start to the 2011 season at the plate (he is hitting .329 with a .436 OBP, .612 slugging mark, 1.047 OPS, four homers, 13 walks and 13 strikeouts), the 23-year-old is positioning himself to have meaningful value to the Sox, whether as a call-up in case of a trade or an injury to an infielder or as a trade chip.

Read More: josh reddick, juan carlos linares, ryan kalish, yamaico navarro
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