Two pitchers on the Texas Rangers’ roster know all too well what it means to have a herniated L5/S1 disk in the lower back.
In the case of left-hander Matt Harrison and right-hander Shawn Tolleson, it meant surgery and a rehab process that essentially ended their 2013 seasons.
That’s what third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff is facing after being diagnosed Friday with the same injury.
Kouzmanoff is the reigning American League player of the week. Not only was Kouzmanoff the Rangers’ saving grace the past two weeks as the replacement for Adrian Beltre, but he was also a feel-good story after two years in the minors.
His teammates at Safeco Field were feeling for him.
“We all saw how hard he worked in spring training trying to get back,” said Beltre, whose left leg injury gave Kouzmanoff the window to return to the majors for the first time since 2011.
“He is a guy that you could see wanted to be back in the big leagues. He performed unbelievably. He did a great job for us for those two weeks. It’s kind of sad seeing a guy that worked so hard and got his way to the big leagues, and then an injury like this to set him back again. It’s tough to be in his shoes right now.”
The Rangers placed Kouzmanoff on the 15-day disabled list and activated Beltre for the opener of a three-game series against Seattle. He was given an epidural injection after an exam by spine specialist Dr. Drew Dossett in Dallas, and will take the weekend before being evaluated again.
Surgery could be performed by Dossett as early as next week, though therapy and anti-inflammatory medicines could be prescribed to avoid an operation. Surgery wouldn’t necessarily end Kouzmanoff’s season, depending on how quickly he can begin the rehab process.
Dossett asks the typical patient to wait six weeks before beginning physical therapy and an additional three months before resuming activities that involve swinging a bat, club or racquet.
Even for a professional athlete, the beginning of the rehab process consists of basic exercises designed to build core strength and low-impact cardiovascular work. Kouzmanoff, who has dealt with bulging disks for the past decade, is familiar with exercises designed to help the back.
So is Harrison, who had surgery to repair his herniated disk last April and had another operation nine days later after the disk herniated again. He and Kouzmanoff spoke Wednesday, the day after Kouzmanoff exited early from a game at Oakland.
“I’ve been there a couple times, a couple more times than I wanted to be,” said Harrison, who is scheduled to pitch Sunday for the first time since his operations.
“If he has surgery, he’s facing at least three months of rehab. I don’t know how it differs from being a pitcher. There’s so much torque, and he ends up doing it a lot more than we throw a baseball. It’s going to be hard.”
Manager Ron Washington said that all the Rangers can do is move on without a hitter who batted .362 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 13 games since having his contract purchased from Triple A Round Rock on April 9.
He was facing a reduction in playing time with Beltre’s returng from a Grade 1 strain to his left quadriceps muscle. But he was a candidate to get at-bats at designated hitter and at third base if Beltre, who plans to be cautious the next 10 days, needed a day off or was injured again.
Instead, Kouzmanoff has seen his comeback season come to a halt. The Rangers, though, aren’t ready to count him out for the rest of the season.
“I feel for the guy,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He worked hard to get back here and has been great for us. It’s way premature, though, to talk about it in the past tense. Guys come back from this. He’s going to play for us this year.”