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Rays trying to unravel a medical mystery
There are lots of ideas but no clear solutions for Rocco Baldelli's oft-injured hamstrings.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 1, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - There's nothing particularly unusual about Rocco Baldelli's semimembranosis, or his semitendinosis, or his biceps femoris. The three muscles that make up his strained left hamstring, as well as his previously sore right one, apparently aren't shorter, or thinner, or less sinewy than anyone else's.
They just don't work right.
And neither Baldelli, nor the Devil Rays, nor the experts they've consulted know why.
"I don't think there's one reason for me having my hamstring problems. I think if there was we would have found it already, " Baldelli said after another day spent working out at the minor-league complex instead of playing a major-league game.
"We've looked into body style, running style, strength of different muscles in the body, flexibility, the whole gamut. I think it has to do with a number of those issues, but I think they're all things that can be fixed and they're all things that over a period of time will improve and get better, but up to now we haven't really specifically identified them."
Baldelli hasn't played since mid May due to the latest strain and, having reinjured it last month, may not play again until mid August.
His absence is hurting the team, which has missed his offense at the top of the order and defense in centerfield, going 16-23 since he has been on the disabled list and dropping into last place in the AL East. It's also reducing trade options.
And it is costing him millions of dollars.
Baldelli won't play enough to reach more than one or two of the five plate-appearance incentives that could have added $1.75-million to his $750, 000 salary this year, and he definitely won't get the 600 that would have doubled next season's take from $2.25-million to $4.5-million.
Plus his extended absence could make the Rays less likely to pick up options for the final three years, and the $23-million, remaining on his contract after 2008. (A decision on 2009 has to be made before next season.)
After being out until June with hamstring problems last year, and limited when he returned, Baldelli was first sidelined this season near the end of spring training with a left hamstring strain. He made it back for opening day, but sustained a disabling strain in the May 15 game.
He was close to coming back - four days away - when he re-strained his left hamstring June 18 in his final at-bat of a Triple-A rehab game and says now he and the Rays agree he won't return until they know it is 100 percent healed.
Until then, he'll spend his mornings going through rehab exercises, receiving treatment and learning more than he had ever wanted to know about his body.
"The tough part about the hamstring or any pulled muscle is that it's not like when you get hit by a pitch, " Baldelli said. "I feel like I can play through anything as far as pain and stuff, but this isn't a pain. It's not like I'm playing through pain. If I play I could blow this out and you won't be walking straight for a month. So you can't let that happen."
And for a 25-year-old whose long list of injuries includes a shattered right leg, a torn left ACL and Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, this - even though it is a strain and not a tear - might be the worst.
"It's frustrating because it's been the longest, " he said. "It's been two full years of dealing with something I'm not sure how to get rid of. The other things you know how to get rid of - you fix it and you rehab it."
The Rays are trying not to just treat the injury but eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the cause. Head trainer Ron Porterfield and staff have consulted with various experts, including several who worked with Mets shortstop Jose Reyes as he overcame a series of hamstring problems early in his career and now is a speedy sensation. They won't discuss specifics, however.
One idea is to alter the way Baldelli runs so there is less strain on his hamstrings, though he admits that learning a new gait at this point in his life won't be easy. Others include different exercise routines and warmup drills.
"He's had a bit of a Superman complex, as most young gifted athletes do, and I think he's frustrated after the latest setback, " Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We're all very committed to figuring out exactly what it will take to ensure this doesn't happen any more than it does with most other players. We feel confident we have enough things to ensure that ultimately we will be successful."
Baldelli hopes so. He points out that he never had hamstring problems before coming back in spring 2006 after a year-and-a-half of rehabbing his knee and elbow surgeries, but he isn't sure if there is a connection.
He can walk around today without a limp or any signs of discomfort, but can't run, which, as he notes dryly, is sort of a problem in his field of work.
"I just know that it doesn't feel good and that's all that matters, that tells me enough, " Baldelli said. "There has to be a reason for it."
A painful history
Centerfielder Rocco Baldelli has generally been one of the Rays' best players when healthy. He hasn't been healthy very often the past few years. A rundown:
8/15/04: 15-day DL, strained right quadriceps that had limited his playing time for more than a month. Activated 9/2.
4/3/05: 15-day DL (transferred to 60-day on 4/21), torn ACL in left knee after playing around with younger brother in offseason.
6/23/05: Has elbow ligament-replacement surgery weeks after being hurt during pregame warmups, out for season.
4/1/06: 15-day DL, left hamstring tightness. Out until 6/6.
8/3/06: Misses first of five straight games with right hamstring soreness. Continues to get regular days off to rest the hamstring.
3/31/07: Listed as day to day on opening day roster with right hamstring tightness.
5/17/07: 60-day DL, left hamstring strain.
More than half bad
Rocco Baldelli played in 156 of 162 games in 2003, his rookie year. Since then, he has missed more than half of the Rays' games, almost entirely due to injuries: