The disabled list was a lonely place for Texas Rangers players in 2011, the season they nearly won it all.
Not one of their five starting pitchers landed on the DL. Josh Hamilton did, of course, and so did Adrian Beltre. But, for the most part, those Rangers enjoyed good health on their way to a second straight American League pennant.
The Rangers, though, have been getting hurt at an alarming rate the past two seasons. As such, the club has been stuck in a free fall.
A staggering number of injuries last season caused them to plummet from a contender to a 95-loss team that used the last half of the season as a tryout camp for 2015. They already have had 10 players hit the disabled list this season, which is 13 games old, and they haven’t climbed above .500.
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There has to be a reason for the injuries, and some sort of curse is not one of them. As silly as the notion of a curse is, the actual reason seems silly, too.
Bad luck. Make that awful luck.
As the DL count mounted in 2014, the Rangers were forced to examine and question what they do, how they do it and who does it.
The good news for them: They didn’t find much to change, other than trying to change their luck.
“If you go down the list of problems that we had last year that put people on the disabled list, it’s not like we can say, ‘What do we need to do?’” said Dr. Keith Meister, the team’s head physician. “Believe me, it tears us all up, and we’re all introspective and trying to evaluate and do things better on a higher level all the time.”
The one thing that gives the Rangers confidence that they aren’t training improperly or treating injuries incorrectly is that most injuries have been either freak in nature or ones that aren’t common to ballplayers.
Prince Fielder had a pinched nerve in his neck, and he came to the Rangers from Detroit with the injury. There wasn’t anything the Rangers could do about Matt Harrison’s back condition that likely began in his youth.
Shin-Soo Choo sprained his ankle last year while lunging for first base. Ryan Rua sprained his ankle 10 days ago while chasing down a double to left field.
Derek Holland’s knee injury in January 2014 was the most freakish of all. He tripped over his dog. His shoulder injury on Opening Day earlier this month isn’t uncommon and is easily treatable.
Even the damaged elbow ligaments that required Tommy John surgery on Martin Perez and Pedro Figueroa last year and Yu Darvish and Lisalverto Bonilla this year were thought to be unpreventable.
And don’t get Meister started about the freakish nature of the shoulder injury that will cost Jurickson Profar two seasons.
“If you look at the injuries, it’s not like we’ve had 10 hamstring pulls,” Meister said. “If you look at our shoulder and elbow stuff, we’re far below the league average and we have been for years.
“Profar … this is the same injury that Holland just had, and I’ve seen a bunch of them. There are guys from all over the league that come to see me for this injury. And Profar is the first position player that’s ever had this type of muscle tear in his shoulder.”
Nevertheless, the Rangers weren’t content with just accepting their luck. They delved into all aspects of their medical staff and conditioning programs, but didn’t see the need for any major overhauls.
“The first thing we realized is that we have really good people in place,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “There are things we can do to be better. That’s what we’re working on now.”
Daniels said that some roles were redefined and an emphasis has been placed on players being open and honest about their health without the fear of losing their roles.
The Rangers added Regan Wong, a physical therapist at Meister’s TMI Sports Medicine in Arlington, to help assist on rehabilitation from injuries and day-to-day maintenance of the 25-man roster.
Jamie Reed, the senior director of medical operations, traveled to Japan last year with Josh Boyd, the senior director of player personnel, to study how players there train and to see if the six-man pitching rotation could be an option.
Reed said that the Rangers have looked deeper into the medical risk assigned to players in the amateur draft and free agency. He has studied rehab protocols and timelines throughout the industry, especially as they apply to Tommy John surgeries, and drawn comparisons to what the Rangers do.
“Many of the injuries were likely unpreventable,” Reed said. “But we owe it to our team and our fans to study and discuss every injury we have, and be sure we didn’t miss something.”
The club has looked at the sports-science side in trying to get a better measurement on how much workload players can withstand during spring training. The Rangers are also becoming more proactive with nutrition, something that strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez preaches.
Vazquez was at the center of another new wrinkle. He was busy in the off-season, traveling to make sure players were sticking to their programs and doing them correctly.
“Over the years we were successful so we gave the players a lot more leeway and freedom,” Vazquez said. “We trusted them to do the right things, and some guys didn’t.”
The Rangers, along with all teams, could be at the beginning of an injury epidemic that has roots in year-round travel squads for Little Leaguers and high school players.
Pitchers are coming to professional baseball with more wear and tear on their elbows and shoulders, and there are also more cases of players whose mechanics are flawed. On top of that, they are all throwing harder.
“You can’t put a V-8 in a Volkswagen,” Meister said.
Education can eventually help with that, but that’s for another generation of Rangers players. These Rangers just hope to see their lousy injury luck come to an end.
“If there were a lot of muscle strains, then, yeah, you can evaluate for that,” Vazquez said. “It has been just complete blowouts. … There are no answers to a lot of this stuff.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
RHP Lisalverto Bonilla
RHP Yu Darvish
Tommy John surgery
RHP Kyuji Fujikawa
LHP Matt Harrison
spinal fusion surgery
LHP Derek Holland
LHP Martin Perez
Tommy John surgery
RHP Tanner Scheppers
started season on DL
2B Jurickson Profar
OF Antoan Richardson
OF Ryan Rua
small fracture in heel