Via Bill Madden -
From the moment the spring training gates flew open at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankee brass began holding its breath and crossing its fingers about the physical state of its creaky roster. Every Derek Jeter fielding play, every pitch and wind sprint by Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, every running play by Mark Teixeira and every Kevin Youkilis at-bat was to be scrutinized like never before.
The old folks are under the microscope here, where this spring, the calisthenics and stretching routines take precedence over age-old fundamental drills.
So it was, therefore, a bit of a jolt to the worried Yankee staff that the first casualty of the spring, on the very first day of full squad workouts, should turn out to be 26-year-old Phil Hughes. At first, as is almost always the case with this sort of injury, Joe Girardi learned that Hughes felt a bit of a tweak below his shoulder while doing a fielding drill and, though it was not believed to be anything serious, the big righthander would probably shut it down for a couple of days. That was Tuesday. A day later, Hughes said that X-rays had showed he had a bulging disc in his back, and suddenly a couple of days turned into a couple of weeks.
It may very well be that this injury with Hughes is nothing serious and just a temporary annoyance. Yankee officials were insisting Wednesday that, while “bulging disc” might sound ominous, the injury is actually quite common and can be easily and effectively addressed with anti-inflammatory drugs. That said, it should be remembered that catcher Austin Romine suffered two herniated discs — also on a fielding drill — last spring and was not seen again until August, in the minor leagues. In Romine’s case, the back injury was largely attributed to the fact that he had failed to do any conditioning work over the winter and reported to camp overweight and out of shape.
While Hughes does not appear to be overweight or out of shape, Yankee officials were concerned in the past about him not doing enough work in the offseason. Hughes apparently heard them and these past two offseasons he reportedly worked out at Athletes’ Performance training complex in Los Angeles. So maybe, as the Yankee officials maintain, this disc issue is a freak thing that can happen to anyone. It nevertheless has to be a concern, since Hughes — in a rotation with 40-year-old Andy Pettitte, 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda and 32-year-old CC Sabathia, who missed four starts over two stints on the disabled list last year — was looked upon as the one primary Yankee starter who could be counted on to be their most durable, especially in his free agent walk year.
“There are no guarantees until we get through the two-week process,” said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who added that he wasn’t prepared at this time to either overplay or underplay Hughes’ injury.
Perfectly understandable. We are barely two weeks into spring training and the games don’t begin until Saturday. And because the games start a week earlier this year because of the World Baseball Classic, Girardi is keeping Pettitte, Kuroda and Sabathia under wraps for the first week.
Hughes’ back seemed fine this off-season when he was traveling around in Paris. So, maybe this is just a blip? Time will tell.