Shelby Miller (Tommy John surgery)
Last game: April 23, 2017. It has been easy to forget about Miller, but he is now in the final stages in his return from the elbow ligament issue which has cost him slightly more than 13 months. As Michael documented last night, he made his first rehab start for High-A Visalia, following on from three starts in extended spring training. Shelby seemed to be throwing strikes - 80% of his 65 pitches - with a crisp 8:0 K:BB ratio over five innings, allowing one run on four hits. Said Torey Lovullo, the outing has Miller “exactly where we need him to be. He’s very encouraged by it and it played out exactly as we wanted. He maintained it over the course of his outing.”
So, what next? According to GM Mike Hazen, Miller will get four starts “plus or minus a start here or there, depending on how he does.” With the obvious caveat of all remaining well, the regular sixth day schedule the pitcher mentions in the link would put Shelby’s fourth start on June 16th, and VERY provisionally on course to return to the major-leagues during the series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, June 21st-23rd. The aim over the next few games will be to get Miller’s stamina back to where it should be, though Hazen added, “I’m sure the command and the fine-tuning of his pitches is probably still something he’s going to be working on through this process, just like he would in spring training.”
Robbie Ray (strained right oblique)
Last game: April 29, 2018. Ray had an MRI yesterday - while normally not a good sign, this was something the team had scheduled and so was entirely expected. Indeed, the MRI results were deemed satisfactory enough, Ray had a bullpen session afterward. He threw 15 pitches from the mound, and 15 off flat ground (albeit all fastballs), an encouraging step forward in his recovery. Torey Lovullo had told Arizona Sports on Monday that Ray felt “very, very good,” although stressed the team would not rush Robbie’s return: “He’s anxious to get back here and help us out but once again, we’ve got to make sure he’s healthy and taking the right steps, to get back to where he can get back on this mound.”
That process will likely involve some more bullpen sessions, mixing in his other pitches, then transitioning to live hitters, and perhaps a simulated game situation at Salt River Fields. He’ll then need to go through a rehab assignment and get his pitch count back to the point where the team is confident he’s ready to go. It probably won’t need to be quite as long an assignment as Miller, given Shelby’s far longer lay-off from pitching, but if we see Robbie back in the majors while the calendar is still on June, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A.J. Pollock (fractured left thumb)
Last game: May 14, 2018. A.J. suffered an avulsion fracture of this thumb, following an unsuccessful outfield dive against the Brewers at Chase Field. By “avulsion”, that means that a tendon pulled off a piece of the bone due to the force of the collision. The good news is that most of these heal fine; more extreme cases can require surgery, but that doesn’t appear to have been necessary here. Pollock had a scheduled meeting with his specialist, Dr. Donald Sheridan, on Tuesday, where his fractured hand was X-rayed. This showed the hand had not yet fully healed, though Torey Lovullo said it was “exactly where we thought it would be.”
Given the injury was little more than two weeks ago, and the original timeline for Pollock’s recovery was in the four- to eight-week range, that seems about right. It does probably mean that the shorter end of that estimate is now unlikely to be fulfilled, though A.J. said today “If you ask me, I feel like I’m very, very close to doing stuff.” We could use him. Going into this afternoon’s game, despite having sat out 13 games, he had more than three times the bWAR of our next-best position player, and continued to lead the team in HR and RBI. While the team had already been struggling at the point of Pollock’s injury - the Milwaukee game was the D-backs sixth loss in a row - his subsequent absence certainly did not help.
Randall Delgado (shoulder soreness)
Last game: July 15, 2017. It’s now more than ten months since Delgado pitched - really not that much less time on the shelf than Miller. The difference is, poor Randall has had three separate and independent problems. It was initially elbow inflammation which cost Delgado the second half of last season. He was eventually diagnosed with a strained flexor and in September, received a platelet injection to help with healing. Things seemed to be going well over the winter, but then the oblique issue flared up early in spring training, keeping him off our Opening Day roster. Randall seemed to be coming back from that too, and even made four rehab appearances for Visalia from April 7-17.
The final outing saw his velocity drop, and even though Delgado said he felt fine, he had to take a break, and then go back to throwing off flat ground again. At some point around this stage, the problem morphed into shoulder soreness, and Delgado was given a cortisone injection at the beginning of May. However, he was able to resume throwing a week later, and threw live batting practice yesterday, though is still likely some way from any second rehab assignment. Delgado’s move to the 60-day disabled list on May 20th was more a clerical necessity, clearing a spot on the 40-man roster for Clay Buchholz, than indicating any further setbacks.
Steven Souza (strained right pectoral muscle)
Last game: May 21st, 2018. Yeah, this doesn’t appear this has been handled very well by the team and/or Souza, for whatever reason. The saga began with Souza injuring himself diving for a pitch in a meaningless spring training game, which cost him the first 30 games of the season. He came back without a rehab assignment, but seemed to struggle at the plate from the start, going 3-for-29 with no extra-base hits over his first nine games. He then re-aggravated the injury on May 18th, running into the outfield wall at Citi Field - though I am not a doctor, this suggests to me, the muscle had not entirely healed to begin with.
The team kept him on the roster, apparently hoping he’d be able to hit, and play DH in Oakland. But that idea withered and died when the MRI results were reviewed in detail, and Souza went back on the DL last Tuesday - the day after striking out as a pinch-hitter in Milwaukee, resetting the DL clock. However, since then, he has not apparently engaged in any baseball activities, so it looks almost certain he’s going to miss more than the minimum ten days. There’s no timeline for Souza, but a healthy and productive outfielder sure would be a boost to the D-backs offense for the second half of the season.
Taijuan Walker (Tommy John)
Last game: April 14, 2018. Not really any update of note here, but we can probably use Miller’s rehab as a good template, given their injuries happened close to a year apart. All being well, we should therefore probably expect Walker to be rehabbing with a farm team in May or June of 2019.