Phillies Battle On Through Various Injuries

As the Phillies reshaped their pitching staff over the winter, a playoff caliber team took shape. The one thing that everybody knew could derail this team was injuries. David Bell was coming off an injury plagued season and whenever the subject of injuries came up, he was topic number one. While Bell has been pretty healthy, two big guys - Billy Wagner and Jim Thome - haven't. Still, the Phillies are finding ways to win even with a rash of injuries.

As the season opened, David Bell was somewhat fragile. His hip was fully recovered, but his back still gave him a twinge every now and then. Added to that was a new concern; a sore shoulder. Early season throws from third were an adventure as even Bell wasn't completely sure where they would wind up. Slowly, with the help of stretching exercises and a few shots of cortisone, the shoulder began to come around. Now, Bell is among the least of worries on the Phillies injury reports.

Todd Pratt went down in spring training with a knee injury that sent him to the operating room. A self described "animal", Pratt missed less time than expected and was back behind the plate by the end of spring training. Now, the injury seems a distant memory and Pratt is available whenever called upon.

Also this spring, Jim Thome missed a lot of pre-season action because of a fractured finger. In true Thome style, he made it back for the start of the season, but the finger is still bothering him. With Thome in the opening day lineup, all seemed well. The truth is that the Phillies first baseman was still hurting, but there was no way he was going to take a cautious approach. Slowly, the finger was getting better and then came another injury. Thome dove for a ball against San Francisco and jammed the thumb on his left hand. Now, over time, that injury hasn't gotten better and has in fact led to other pain in his hand because he favors the thumb to avoid pain. Thome also started to depend more and more on his right hand and the injured finger started to ache more and more. As of now, Thome is left with two aching hands that cause him to wince on a lot of swings. Other than hitting, catching and throwing, it's not a big deal. With the pain getting worse, Thome finally consented to a couple of nights off to rest his hands. The time won't be enough to heal them, but will hopefully be enough to lessen the pain to a tolerable level. A visit to the disabled list is the last thing that Thome or the Phillies want, but it may become necessary. The bottom line is that both hands are likely to bother Thome all season long.

Another spring injury hit new closer Billy Wagner and again, it was a finger. The middle finger on Wagner's valued left hand swelled up and the closer was shut down. It took a little longer than expected, but the swelling subsided. Eventually, Wagner was back on the mound and blowing hitters away. The season started and a new game of watching the radar gun became the norm with Wagner on the mound. After every pitch, fans await the reading to see if their highly regarded and valued commodity hit 100 miles per hour. Pitches of 98 bring a sigh of disappointment.

As Wagner was cruising through, back spasms hit him and hit him hard. Throughout his career, Wagner has had occasional bouts with back spasms, but these were worse than he had encountered in the past. Eventually though, they passed. As Wagner warmed up to enter a game, he experienced groin pain and again had to shut down. Ryan Madson made an emergency appearance and handled the job, but Wagner found himself on the disabled list. Thankfully, as we all worried about Wagner's groing, word came that the injury wasn't severe and that it was likely he would be ready to go sooner rather than later. Sunday is the day that Wagner is eligible to be activated from the DL and he may come off that day or Monday at the latest. Even if he does come off on Sunday, it's likely that he won't pitch that day against San Diego and with an off day on Monday, he would have a couple extra days to rest, adding some more time to his recovery, but also adding some security to the process.

Wagner's aching groin meant a promotion for pitcher Brian Powell, who was tearing up hitters as part of the rotation at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Powell joined the Phillies and pitched in one game before he too was shut down with a stiff neck. The injury was bad enough that Powell also went on the disabled list and made room for another minor leaguer - reliever Geoff Geary - to join the Phillies bullpen. It's never good when the guys who are replacing the injured guys get hurt. Tim Worrell showed the value of the Phillies offseason plan as he stepped in to become the team's closer. Worrell isn't Wagner, but he did save 38 games for the Giants last season in the absence of closer Robb Nen.

Roberto Hernandez, another newcomer, found his way onto the disabled list with a strained calf muscle. Again, the injury wasn't severe and the plan all along was for Hernandez to come off the DL as soon as he is eligible. The plan has held true and the Phillies activated Hernandez after Wednesday night's win over the Dodgers, sending Jim Crowell back to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

In between all of this happening, second baseman Placido Polanco went down with an injury. Thankfully, second base is a position easily filled with top prospect Chase Utley waiting in the wings. Utley joined the team when Polanco went on the disabled list and has provided a decent fill-in up the middle. There are cries to leave Utley with the Phillies when Polanco returns, but it remains to be seen if that will happen. Like Wagner and Hernandez, the injury to Polanco wasn't serious and he should be able to return to the lineup - or at least the roster - sooner rather than later.

Wait, there's more.

The latest casualty is starter Randy Wolf. The left-hander felt a "twinge" in his left elbow during an outing on Monday. At first, it was dismissed and the word was that Wolf would make his next scheduled start. Then, more pain developed and Wolf was diagnosed with tendinitis. The plan now is for him to miss just one start, which would be this Saturday against the San Diego Padres. Josh Hancock will be recalled from Scranton to make the start, meaning that somebody will have to move off the roster. There's no definite word on how that will be accomplished, but there are silent whispers that Wolf may wind up being put on the disabled list if the pain doesn't subside enough. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed, except Jim Thome, who might worsen his injured fingers if he tried to cross them.

The somewhat surprising part of all of this is that the Phillies haven't missed much even with all of the injuries. There is some depth to this team and they've been able to cover the injuries with decent replacements. It also helps that the injuries haven't been too severe and haven't sidelined anybody for an extended period of time. The likes of Pat Burrell and Ryan Madson have stepped up to help fill in the holes created by the loss of key players. Injuries happen and winning teams persevere. The Phillies have persevered and they've continued to win, in fact, they've moved into first place in National League East even without some key elements being involved as they rested their assorted injuries.

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