Can Yanks' Rodriguez and Jeter Be Effective Again After Recent Injury Setbacks?

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterJuly 22, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 23:  (L-R) Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on April 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Once upon a time, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were two of the "holy trinity" of shortstops, along with Nomar Garciaparra. Today, the two Yankees are hobbled by injury, while Garciaparra is an ESPN commentator. 

It's telling that one of them is not only out of the game, felled by injuries, but that he's been out a while. At age 37 for Rodriguez and age 39 for Jeter, it's surprising that either of them are playing, let alone doing so at a high level.

Neither has hit the field for more than a cameo appearance this year, but neither have shown that they've lost their baseball skills. Instead, the question with both is whether their body has betrayed them. 

There's no evidence that these minor injuries will be anything more than a seven-to-10-day issue. For both, it was unfortunate timing in a year where injuries and bad luck have been the driving story for the storied Yankees. Putting long-term consequences on to a minor injury such as these is normally shortsighted.  

Both Rodriguez and Jeter are dealing with the same type of injury. Neither of these injuries are serious. A Grade I muscle strain is the lowest possible rating for a muscle strain. Yes, a strain is a tear and there is some fibrous tearing and/or stretching, but by definition, there is no palpable defect, no "hole in the muscle" and very little in the way of damage. Mostly, these kinds of strains need to be protected so they do not get worse before they are allowed to heal. 

In both cases, the diagnosis is confirmed by imaging. A low-grade muscular strain is not in and of itself a major problem. But in both cases, the holistic view and the cascade model that I introduced in 2005 demands that the Yankees take both of these injuries more seriously.

The Yankees have not given information on the location of either strain, which would have a direct bearing on the therapies and time to return. The quadriceps is made up of four muscles, all of which have interrelated but distinct function. Location is as important to short-term recovery as the amount of tearing when it comes to muscle strains, especially recurrent ones.

Jeter strained his quad in his first game back and while there's no direct connection to his ankle injury, it's a reasonable assumption that there may be what is called a "cascade." First used by me in 2005 and stolen from the works of Albert-Lazlo Barabasi, a cascade injury is also called a compensation injury. In this type of situation, a conscious or unconscious adjustment to one injury or even change can cause issues with other systems. 

The same is true for Rodriguez. While his quad strain is similarly low grade and came after several games, it's reasonable to think that post-hip surgery, Rodriguez may not be running in precisely the same manner that he did before.

While Rodriguez has passed all the tests of rehab and has been hands-on tested by physical therapists and doctors, it's still difficult to adjust for any cascade that may be in effect.

These small changes and the unintended consequences of them is one reason that many pitching coaches loathe to make any changes to pitchers. "No one wants to be the coach that breaks Felix Hernandez," I was told once. Hernandez never broke and his mechanics were never changed. The name of any pitcher could be subbed in here.

The same is true for players. There's more acceptance of quirky hitting styles as long as there are results. Kevin Youkilis is a great example of this. There's also very little in the way of injuries during a swing and certainly very little overuse. Running has been this way as well, but in these situations specifically, there's a new tool that could help that the Yankees have not used.

Many sports medicine clinics, including one here in Indianapolis, have instruments that can measure the gait of an athlete to make sure that things are in line.

St. Vincent Sports Performance, a top-level clinic that deals with pro and Olympic athletes, has one of these machines and uses it regularly as part of its practice. This video shows the type of instrumentation and how it could be used, but while the Yankees would not comment, it does not appear they have done this kind of analysis or any sort of functional movement screening with either Jeter or Rodriguez.

It seems crazy that million-dollar athletes and big-ticket teams like these aren't getting this kind of analysis, yet it's quite possible that they are not. Given that every game that Rodriguez misses is the equivalent of $175,000 lost, he could afford to do almost anything. (Jeter? A mere $105,000 per game.) 

The simple answer is that neither injury is serious and can be treated simply. Steve Donahue, Mark Littlefield and Dr. Chris Ahmad have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of these kinds of low-grade strains in their careers. Both Jeter and Rodriguez should be back at or near the minimum.

For Jeter, the team was cautious and placed him on the DL, and for Rodriguez, he'll stay there—both for the seven-to-10 days they'll need to heal up and hopefully prevent a recurrence. Of course, Rodriguez may have issues far beyond a strained quad that could prevent his return. Jeter should return at the DL minimum, while Rodriguez might need a few more rehab games, which would push his new return date into early August.