One of the Red Sox shiny new bullpen toys, Carson Smith, appeared in yesterday’s spring training game against the Cardinals, before being lifted from the game after facing just one batter.
Cramping in the forearm doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that’s usually a telltale sign that there could be something a lot more serious. Forearm cramping has been a symptom that have later been revealed to be UCL tears, thus resulting in Tommy John surgery and a season lost for many pitchers. When Smith walked off the mound, you could see him clenching his fist, almost like he was trying to regain feeling in his arm. It didn’t look good, and I was certainly prepared for the worst.
After getting an MRI, today we learned that, for right now, it’s not as bad as it could have been. Smith will still need a trip to the disabled list, the first of his brief career, to recover from this injury, but the Red Sox do expect him to return this season and be a huge weapon out of the backend of that bullpen that they revamped over the offseason.
So, this kind of begs the question — did the Mariners know something about Smith that the Red Sox didn’t? Conspiracy theorists were out in flocks yesterday, pointing to Smith’s decline in velocity towards the end of last season as an indicator that there might have been an injury that allowed Seattle to painlessly move on from the electric reliever after one season. Logic would counter that theory by pointing out that, well, it was his first major league season, so fatigue towards the end of the year shouldn’t shock anybody.
This may come as a surprise, but I’m not a doctor. Now that we’re on the record with that, the MRI didn’t show any structural damage to his UCL, which was the worst case scenario. For comparison’s sake, the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman points out that the Yankees‘ Andrew Miller suffered a similar injury last season. Miller hit the disabled list on June 10, and was activated on July 7, so it was just under a month that he needed to recover. To ease the mind of Red Sox fans, the injury didn’t seem so slow Miller down, who struck out 57 batters in 35.1 innings, and held opponents to a .194 batting average after returning from the injury. It should also be noted that Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes that the recovery time for an injury like this is 1-2 months, so Miller sounds like it was on the best case scenario end of the spectrum.
It’s a relief to hear that the injury isn’t as serious as it could’ve been, but now the Red Sox have to prepare themselves to be without their setup man for, hopefully, at least a month. For one, Koji Uehara should slide into that role without much of a problem. Uehara was struck by a line drive on August 7 last year and did not return, and will turn 41 the day before Opening Day, but was his usual dominant self prior to the injury. Of course, the Red Sox won’t want to burn him out in April, so that’s where I think Matt Barnes will finally step up and prove his worth to the Red Sox bullpen. Barnes has yet to allow a run this spring in 8.1 innings over six appearances.