The Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico 3-0 last night, to become the first non-Japanese team to win the World Baseball Classic. That's great for them (these fans sure were pleased), but the regular season is 11 days away, and yet another MLB star could find himself on the shelf come the games that matter.
Hanley Ramirez jammed his thumb while diving for a sharp ground ball. He left the game three innings later, his thumb in a splint. There's no word on the extent of his injury, but the Dodgers shortstop will return to camp to get an MRI today.
The injury is the last of a spate of WBC injuries, with the most notable coming to a pair of New York infielders. Mark Teixeira hurt his wrist while training for the tournament, an injury that will keep him out anywhere from two months to the entire season. David Wright strained a muscle in his ribcage, and may not be back in time for opening day.
Back in 2009, Edison Volquez hit the DL soon after the WBC, and would need Tommy John surgery. Jake Peavy and Daisuke Matsuzaka also struggled with injury that year. A Fangraphs study from 2010 tentatively finds that pitchers who participate in the WBC are more likely to have a down year, health issues, or both.
For position players, it's a harder connection to make. Ramirez's jammed thumb was a freak occurrence that could have happened in Dodgers camp (assuming he'd dive for a ball in spring training.)
"You can get hurt in spring training. You can get hurt before spring training," Wright said Sunday. "Playing baseball, there are some risks that comes along with that, whether it's in Port St. Lucie, Arizona or Miami. There's risk," Wright said. "The torquing, twisting and turning — I mean, it's just part of the game and it happens. It's not because of the tournament."
Teixeira, too, says "it has nothing to do with the WBC." But how about indirectly?
Spring training this year is extra-long. To compensate for the WBC break, and give participants time to get in shape for it and readjust to camp afterward, players reported about seven weeks before opening day. Teixeira, whose torn tendon came while hitting off a tee, thinks it was an overuse injury.
"We started playing games on the 23rd of February. That's insane. We're usually just reporting on Feb. 23."
Ramirez's thumb was a fluke. But the baseball season is long enough, and is already a last-man-standing endurance event. It's not crazy to wonder if various strains and sprains and pulls and tweaks can be traced to playing earlier and more full-speed games.