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Ryan Kalish expected to be ready for 2012 following neck surgery

08.31.11 at 1:38 pm ET
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The ill-fated 2011 season of Ryan Kalish has come to a conclusion with news that the outfielder will require surgery on Thursday to repair a bulging disk in his neck, according to a team source. The disk is impinging a nerve, resulting in the persistent pain and soreness in his upper trapezius muscle and neck.

The decision to undergo surgery was made after the 23-year-old flew to Los Angeles earlier this week for a consultation with orthopedist Dr. Robert Watkins. While both the Sox and Kalish had hoped that a conservative course of treatment might permit him to return to games — both for Triple-A Pawtucket and then in the majors, at least as a September call-up and potentially as a contributor in the postseason — the absence of progress led to the decision to have surgery now, at a time when having the procedure will allow Kalish to rehab in time to have a normal offseason of strengthening in advance of spring training.

Thus ends a trying year for Kalish, whom the Sox sent to Pawtucket to open the season in hopes that he would conclude his minor league development and be ready to graduate for good to the majors. Kalish made a very strong impression in two months at the big league level in 2010, hitting .252 with a .710 OPS, four homers and 10 steals in 54 games.

Once Carl Crawford was signed, the Sox expected that Kalish would benefit from everyday games in the minors before graduating to the majors at some point this season, and many in the organization expected that, with J.D. Drew‘s five-year, $70 million deal expiring at the end of this year, Kalish would emerge as the team’s everyday right fielder by the start of the 2012 season.

However, the young outfielder played just two weeks in Triple-A Pawtucket this season before his year was derailed, initially by a partial tear of the labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder while diving for a ball. While he was able to rehab that injury rather than undergoing surgery on it, he developed pain in the upper trap/neck while trying to work his way back to the field. That discomfort, in turn, delayed his return to games by roughly a month and a half, an injury that Kalish described as far more frustrating than the labrum tear.

‘€œI can deal with injuries on the baseball field that happen from playing the game the way it’€™s supposed to be played, but it’€™s tough to accept injuries like [the neck],’€ Kalish said earlier this month, at a time when he was back in the lineup for Pawtucket.

Ultimately, after missing nearly four months with the shoulder injury and the initial neck injury, Kalish got back onto the field for the Lowell Spinners on a two-game rehab assignment before rejoining the PawSox on Aug. 8.

But at a time when he was, in many ways, back in spring training mode, Kalish hit just .161 with a .448 OPS in eight games with Pawtucket. That was expected; on the other hand, Kalish was finding that he was experiencing soreness and struggling to bounce back physically from being on the field more than expected.

That, in turn, led to the decision to place Kalish on the DL and send him out for a consultation with an expert.

Both Kalish and the team hoped that a conservative course of treatment could position him to return to Pawtucket and then potentially be in the mix as a September call-up and/or postseason roster addition for the Sox. However, when the condition proved persistent, the decision was made to have surgery now, rather than risk jeopardizing any portion of the outfielder’s 2012 season.

A three-month course of recovery and rehab is expected. Assuming that timetable holds true, Kalish would be able to be at full strength by spring training. With Drew set to become a free-agent, Kalish and Josh Reddick are the two internal Red Sox candidates who would be most likely to assume everyday duties in right field in 2012, assuming the team does not go outside the organization to acquire an everyday player for next season.

However, the fact that Kalish played in just 22 games in Triple-A this year, hitting .209 with a .271 OBP, .279 slugging mark and .550 OPS, raises questions about whether he will need to make up for lost time by going back to the minors to open 2012.

That said, the fact that he was in consideration for a potential postseason roster spot suggested that neither he nor the team would dismiss the possibility that he would be able to resume his pre-injury track that had him nearly major league ready. In that regard, Kalish can look to another member of the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed almost a full year in 2010 but was able to flourish when back on the field in 2011.

‘€œHe missed a lot of time, too. It’€™s hard to make up for development,’€ said Kalish. ‘€œAt the same time, what he’€™s doing this year, he’€™s doing without hardly playing at all last year. We’€™re pretty much in the same boat. I really look to that as inspiration, something to believe him. I’€™m so happy for him, and it’€™s good for me to see that it can be done.’€

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