Stephen Strasburg sloshed across the clubhouse multiple times a week, soaked neck-to-toe, shorts dripping and shower shoes squeaking.
Part of his off-day routine -- which is expansive and perhaps even a bit manic -- includes visits to the hot and cold tubs. Strasburg worked for years to find a path of injury avoidance. He knows he can’t control some things, but is adamant in his attempts to control whatever possible. Or at least pursue mitigation. He’s tired of being hurt.
So, when the parameters of the league’s recent proposed health protocol includes no hot or cold tubs, it will get the players’ attention. It seems a bit silly in real life. However, these mechanisms, these routines, work as placebos and functional relief for people forced to do something every day.
The weight room is another issue, too. If access has to be staggered, how will it be determined postgame? Victor Robles disappears into the weight room for an hour after every game. Depending on game length, he’s not done until midnight or 1 a.m. Juan Soto travels back there, too. Meanwhile, several players use the tub to expedite overnight recovery. Would Robles have to wait for Soto to be done? Or vice-versa? Does the team have to create a secondary workout space to spread people out? How does the access hierarchy work? Service time?
Ryan Zimmerman’s plantar fasciitis problem last season put him in the trainer’s room on a daily basis for three months. Max Scherzer’s back and neck problems needed in-between start care. Howie Kendrick’s hamstrings needed maintenance. Adam Eaton’s surgically-repaired knee was still progressing. Every pitcher used a specific arm-care routine. All of this happened before and after games.
Which makes ruling out the use of these devices or facilities one of the underlying issues when the players and league try to negotiate a way forward. The pandemic has brought all of baseball’s intricacies to the fore: an enormous group is doing a swath of tiny things on a daily basis. That’s how baseball works. Most players are in the clubhouse around 2 p.m. for a 7:10 p.m. first pitch. They leave at midnight. And, repeat.
The process produces a tethering of components when talking about routine. It’s not just the luxury of having a cold tub available. The cold tub -- and a slew of other physical therapy devices -- equal better health, which equals more time on the field, possibly better outcomes and subsequently more salary.
And managing health at the start of the season may be the trickiest process. Namely when it comes to legs.
A recent epidemiology study in the orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine showed hamstring injuries in baseball trend upward from 2011-2016. “The rate of hamstring strains increased in MLB from a low of 1 injury every 39 games in 2011 to a high of 1 injury every 30 games in 2016.”
Of the 33 players on the KBO’s injured report since play restarted in South Korea, nine have undisclosed injuries or are on the list for non-injury reasons. Of the remaining 24, 10 have leg injuries. And they’re not part of baseball’s oldest roster.
Which brings us back to Strasburg sloshing through the clubhouse. Not being able to use these resources isn’t just a luxury curtailed. It’s a performance detriment players are likely to speak up about, even if they conjure creative ways to construct their own cold tub. So, add it to the very long list of things which need to be resolved.
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