Nearly recovered stars eye season debuts
Madson, Young, Ramirez in line to follow Headley, Ortiz in getting back on field
For many notable names, the season has yet to begin, and we're already weeks into the 2013 schedule. But for some, a delayed debut is on the horizon, and that is better than the alternative.
You don't have to tell the Yankees about the anticipation and setbacks and disappointment associated with having an All-Star player -- or four -- unable to play with the season already well under way. The bad news for Derek Jeter last week that set back his return to the middle of the season only worsened their injury woes.
On the other hand, for a couple of teams and players, a late debut already has made an impact, with the Padres appreciating the return of last year's National League RBI leader Chase Headley to the middle of their lineup and the Red Sox glad they have David Ortiz back with the team representing their you-know-what city.
Soon, the Angels hope to have Ryan Madson at the back end of their bullpen and the Braves will welcome back All-Star catcher Brian McCann. The Dodgers' Hanley Ramirez is telling people not to count out a May return, and Cubs ace Matt Garza is working his way back to a Major League mound, too, so quite a few debuts are at least in view.
For the Padres, the wait is over. They have Headley back after his followup to a career year in 2012 was put into a holding pattern by a thumb injury sustained on a Spring Training slide. His first weekend back wasn't ideal in a three-game sweep at San Francisco, but the Padres were missing something without their third baseman in the lineup, and the guy on the other corner of their infield sums it up neatly.
"I think there's only one word that can describe it: presence," Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "It's his presence in the field, the lineup, the clubhouse. That's critical. Chase is the kind of player who puts pressure on the opposing pitcher and gets him thinking about him three or four batters before he comes up. That's presence."
That, too, was a word that fit with Ortiz, who announced his presence back on the Fenway Park field with fantastic ferocity, fierce frankness and, well, another f-word as he finished off the stirring tribute to his Boston Strong friends prior to the first Red Sox game at Fenway following the tragic Boston Marathon bombings.
That was presence, with a big "P" for Big Papi.
"To see him walk in the clubhouse, the energy and the excitement that always seems to surround him, not only the ability of him as a player and a hitter, but to have him in the middle of the lineup, it lengthens out our lineup," manager John Farrell said of Ortiz, who had been out with lingering problems with his right Achilles tendon.
What impact some of the other pending debuts will have on their teams remains to be seen. A few more are on the cusp.
Madson's arrival, for one, was expected to be late when the Angels signed him as a free agent. He'd undergone Tommy John surgery after spending a year with the Reds in which he didn't pitch, but Madson is very much on track for a return in the coming days. He pitched his first simulated game since the surgery on Friday, a significant step toward a Minor League rehab assignment and return, possibly in a matter of weeks.
"It feels like Spring Training to me now, feels like early Spring Training," Madson said after his simulated work. "But it'll come real quick."
Delmon Young, also awaiting his debut with a new team, is inching his way closer to joining the Phillies. The outfielder previously with the Tigers who underwent microfracture ankle surgery in the offseason began a Minor League rehabilitation stint Sunday with the Phillies' affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.
As for Garza, his Spring Training was interrupted early in Cubs camp, and it was a lat muscle injury, not the elbow problems that knocked him out of the second half of 2012. He pitched a simulated game at Miller Park during the Cubs' recent stop there, and he will take his next step toward a mid-May return with an outing at Double-A Tennessee.
McCann, meanwhile, had a bit of a detour on his way back to the Braves, a tender wrist needing examination in Atlanta this past week before he headed back to Florida to continue his recovery from shoulder surgery. With Evan Gattis filling in admirably, McCann's return date remains in question.
Again, that's a phrase you don't have to utter to the Yankees these days. With Jeter's setback on his fractured ankle, the race to be the first pinstriped star back will be between outfielder Curtis Granderson (broken forearm) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (wrist tendon), both of whom are hoping for May returns. Alex Rodriguez isn't expected back until after the All-Star break.
One player itching to make his debut after missing out on Opening Day is Ramirez, who sustained a thumb injury while playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Last week, he gave notice that he plans to be back sooner than people think.
"It's going to be a surprise to everybody. It'll be faster than [mid-May]," he said. "I'll be in the lineup pretty soon."
Originally given a two-month timetable after his March 22 injury, Ramirez proved his point by putting on a powerful display in batting practice last week, even while wearing a splint on the thumb.
"What he's been able to do has shocked all of us," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
With the Dodgers in need of a jolt, they're among those who are awaiting a season debut from a key player, and sooner would be better than later.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.