Every spring, Jimmy Rollins has to provide his unique brand of insight on the Phillies. Generally, his predictions are limited to how he believes his club will function in the upcoming season. But this season, Rollins decided to play the role of Marcus Welby, M.D. and provide an update on the status of first baseman Ryan Howard to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark.
Dr. Rollins prognosis is that Howard won't be back until at least the All-Star Break and that his entire season could be in jeopardy.
"If you ask me, with this infection, I don't know if he's going to play this year, because after all the work that he's done, now he's got to hit the reset button," Rollins told Stark. Rollins went on to explain that because of the amount of time that Howard has spent in a boot, the muscles in his leg have atrophied and now, all of the rehab work that Howard did to rebuild strength has been washed away. The fact that Howard is a big guy, certainly complicates things and Rollins was sure to point that out.
As for just how long Howard will be out, the good doctor, who plays shortstop for the Phillies in his spare time, believes Howard will be out at least through the season's first two months and believes a more realistic expectation is for him to return somewhere around the All-Star Break. In fact, Rollins believes the timetable for Howard to make a full recovery is a year-and-a-half. "That's when he'll do something and say, 'You know what? That didn't bother me'," explained Rollins to Stark.
Now, Rollins has had plenty of injuries himself, but hasn't gone through dealing with a torn Achilles, which is Howard's particular ailment. The images of the injury from last season's NLDS are burned into every Phillies fans mind. Ironically though, as Stark was delivering his words, Howard was being cleared to resume the ever-popular baseball activities. Granted, those activities will be largely limited to things like long-tossing, but he is at least back on the field.
For his part, Howard believes that he is not back to square one, where Rollins has him. "I doubt it, I really doubt it," Howard told Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Howard also explained that just by resting his restructured Achilles, the injury is getting better. Howard believes - from what real doctors have told him - that once the boot comes off, he should be pretty much back to where he was when he underwent a second surgery needed to take care of the infection that caused the setback for Howard.
The Phillies have, at least not so far, come out and officially contradicted Rollins statements. It would be interesting to know though if anything has been said to him behind the scenes, because the Phillies are extremely careful about who says what about injuries. They have gone so far as to publicly state that Charlie Manuel mis-spoke about Howard's infection issue earlier this spring, but yet, Manuel's explanation was much closer to how things actually have played out.
For what it's worth, Rollins pretty much gave the party-line regarding second baseman Chase Utley. The former all-star has yet to play in a game this spring because the Phillies are "saving his bullets" for later in the spring. The theory is that Utley's knees have only so many double-plays, groundballs and jogs around the bases left in them and they don't want to use even one more than necessary for spring training games. With that in mind, the Phillies are going to be cautious with Utley this spring and throughout the season. This will likely be the year when Utley really does sit out games even when he's healthy enough to be out there. Manuel insists that he will be sitting Utley more and constantly monitoring how his knees feel this season. It's also likely that Rollins himself will find a few extra days off during the season as Manuel works to keep his aging, but still valuable players, as healthy as he can possibly be during the season.
With all of the injury issues and aging players on the Phillies, Rollins Marcus Welby portrayal may likely be a role on a larger production of General Hospital for the Phillies this season.