It was announced Saturday that Craig Kimbrel would be out for three to six weeks with a torn meniscus that he suffered while shagging fly balls.
Being that Kimbrel is one of the best closers in baseball I immediately thought of Mariano Rivera, who suffered a season-ending and career-threatening injury while shagging fly balls on May 3, 2012.
Rivera was able to come back in 2013 and pitch one more season before retiring, but his injury brought up questions about whether or not pitchers should be in the outfield during batting practice. David Price was one of the pitchers who spoke out and said he would not be dropping the activity. In addition, many MLB managers said it wasn’t a concern of theirs and they wouldn’t advise their pitchers to stop doing it.
The history of players getting injured while shagging fly balls began in 1943. Just one season after reaching 3,000 career hits, Paul Waner (who was then with the Brooklyn Dodgers) gashed his foot tracking down a batting practice pop fly.
In 1981, Dodgers pitcher Jerry Reuss was slotted to take the mound as the opening day starter. Reuss was a late scratch after injuring his calf while shagging fly balls. Luckily for the Dodgers his replacement, rookie Fernando Valenzuela, won his first eight decisions of the season.
Mark Fidrych of Worcester, Massachusetts played for the Detroit Tigers in the 70’s. In his rookie year in 1976, Fidrych finished with a 19-9 record and an MLB-best 2.34 ERA. Not surprisingly, he was selected to the American League All-Star team and named the AL Rookie of the Year.
In Spring Training of 1977, Fidrych (often referred to as “The Bird”) tore the cartilage in his knee while shagging fly balls. He was able to bounce back and was selected to his second All-Star team in just his second year in the league. It appeared that the 23 year-old had the tools to be an all-time great pitcher. In July of ’77, however, he suffered a torn rotator cuff which would eventually force him to retire in 1981 at the age of 29.
Brendan Donnelly, who was a member of the 2007 World Series champion Red Sox, managed to break his nose shagging fly balls in spring training of 2004 as a member of the Anaheim Angels.
This year the Red Sox have been bit by the fly ball-shagging related injury bug. Eduardo Rodriguez’s 2016 season has been a mess due to a knee injury that he suffered while shagging fly balls in spring training. After not making his first start until May 31st, Rodriguez is only 1-3 on the year and has spent some time in Pawtucket.
And now there’s Craig Kimbrel. One of the best closers in the game and a guy the Sox have relied on all year, out three to six weeks with a torn meniscus. Again a result of shagging fly balls.
Boston will now turn to Koji Uehara, who will temporary return to his old role. They also acquired Brad Ziegler from the Diamondbacks to use on nights when Koji isn’t available.
Nonetheless, this is still a significant loss at this point in the season and should again bring up the question as to whether or not pitchers should participate in outfield activities during batting practice. You really wouldn’t think it would be that dangerous, but there have been enough instances throughout history and especially in the last few years that make you wonder if it’s really worth taking the risk. Maybe it’s time to just leave the outfield to the outfielders.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour