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Fantasy Impact: Clay Buchholz’s Injury

by Jeremy Tiermini
Jul 19, 2015

What the Red Sox do around the trade deadline may indicate how well Clay Buchholz is progressing

What the Red Sox do around the trade deadline may indicate how well Clay Buchholz is progressing

Heading into the All-Star Break, Clay Buchholz was rolling. The Red Sox’s starting pitcher earned four consecutive victories, allowing just three earned runs, heading into his July 10 start against the New York Yankees. In that start, however, Buchholz left after just 3 1/3 innings because of tightness in his elbow. Manager John Farrell explained, “Clay had mentioned that he felt a little stiffness and didn’t feel like he could push through it at that point.”

Throughout his career, Buchholz has not been the most durable starter. This is the seventh trip to the disabled list in his nine-year career, but this is the first trip because of an elbow-related issue. Buchholz had an MRI, which showed no structural damage to the ulnar collateral ligament. He was diagnosed with a strained flexor tendon, to the relief of Buchholz. “You always think the worst right when it happens,” he said. “Like, I started running through my head, ‘How did it happen.’ It wasn’t one pitch, it wasn’t a pop. So that sort of makes you feel a little bit better about the situation. But until you get images of it you don’t really know. Obviously after they run the images, it’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s definitely the best thing that could have came from it.”

In many situations, a strain to the flexor tendon is a precursor to an ulnar collateral ligament injury. An injury to the muscle/tendon leads to weakness, which means a decreased ability of the muscle to absorb the forces placed on the elbow during pitching. When that happens, the ulnar collateral ligament is vulnerable. Within the Boston Herald piece, Farrell expressed optimism. “Typically when you’ve got a ligament damage there’s been some deterioration or lack of strength or decreased strength that ends up putting more stress on the ligament and that’s when the ligament ends up getting damaged. To me it sounds like this has been caught early on where the changes have only been shown in that flexor muscle not the ligament.”

Though the MRI of the ulnar collateral ligament was clean, with Buchholz explaining, “It looks like I’ve never thrown a baseball before.” I am still concerned about his schedule for returning. The Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale missed five weeks with this injury last season. I felt Matt Cain would be a great bounce-back candidate this season, but the Giants’ starter missed the first three months of this season with a flexor strain.

Because of his injuries, Buchholz has never made 30 starts in a season, nor has he reached 190 innings pitched. Unfortunately, I don’t see him ending either of those streaks this season. When asked about his return, Buchholz responded, “It’s a thin line. I’ve pitched through being hurt throughout my career, but we’re talking about your livelihood, and that’s shoulder-elbow for a pitcher. You’ve got to try to limit yourself to what you’re trying to do.”

While the team has reported that the elbow stiffness is resolving, there is still no timetable for Buchholz’s return to the starting rotation. He will be shut down through the weekend, at which point he will be re-evaluated. With reports of the stiffness resolving, I would anticipate that the inflammation in Buchholz’s elbow has started to resolve, as well. If he continues to make progress, I would expect him to start on the strengthening portion of his rehabilitation early next week.

If there are no setbacks, I anticipate that the earliest Buchholz will start a throwing session in another 7-10 days, with a rehab assignment coming in the early part of August. Remember that I am just estimating this timeline since the Red Sox have not made any official announcements but if this estimate were close, Buchholz would not make his next start for the Red Sox until mid-to-late August.

Based on his quotes, however, it appears as if Buchholz will not push himself to return if he feels any discomfort. In this situation, Buchholz’s time frame to return could more closely resemble Matt Cain’s which would, unfortunately, place his return at some point this season in doubt. While I am not prepared to make this prediction yet, it is something that fantasy owners should be aware of.

If you own Buchholz, you should pay attention to Boston’s actions at the trade deadline. The A.L. East race is still close, with all five teams within 6.5 games of each other. With Hanley Ramirez on pace to set a career-high in home runs and with Dustin Pedroia coming off the disabled list soon, I can see Boston making a strong push for the playoffs this season. They certainly have the prospects needed to acquire Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati or Cole Hamels from the Phillies. If they make a trade like this, I believe it would signal that they expect Buchholz back sooner rather than later. If the Red Sox stand pat, or trade away a few veteran players, I think it shows they are not confident in their playoff prospects even with a newly acquired ace. This would signal that the Red Sox are taking a very slow, conservative approach regarding Buchholz’s return, which would seriously decrease his fantasy value for the remainder of 2015.

Jeremy Tiermini is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Jeremy follow him on Twitter at @JeremyTiermini.

Correspondent, Featured, Injuries, MLB