Eight stars set for triumphant returns from injury
By John Schlegel
The prospect of returning to the field is enticing enough for any player looking to make this a better year than the last, but there are several stars who have an even stronger hunger to get back out there. They're the ones who lost a good portion of 2014 to injury, so '15 looms as a new, healthy beginning.
We're talking about some prime-time talent, from an ace starter for the World Series champions to a pair of All-Stars for the American League East champs. Throw in several hopeful returnees from Tommy John surgery led by a pair of 2013 phenoms, and it's a star-studded list of guys looking to bounce back to form after being derailed to the disabled list in '14.
Here's a selection of those hoping to return healthy and productive come Opening Day 2015, or soon thereafter:
Matt Cain, Giants
Notably absent from action, yet right there in the clubhouse and dugout for San Francisco's run to a third title in five seasons, Cain had some rough patches in 2013 and a simply disastrous '14. He landed on the DL three times -- the first time after cutting himself while slicing a sandwich. Cain also had bone spurs removed from his elbow, and later underwent ankle surgery for the same thing. This is the guy who was the workhorse and a model of consistency for the Giants' rotation for years, so a return to form (with Opening Day remaining the goal) would be a lift for San Francisco, as the club begins another defense of the crown. The Giants also hope to have center fielder Angel Pagan back in action for '15 after he lost much of '14 to injury, too.
Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, Orioles
Just imagine if these two young stars had been available for Baltimore's playoff run. It may have been a longer one, but who knows? What is known that both are on track to return for 2015. Machado just went through a very successful workout in Florida earlier this week after knee surgery for a second straight year -- one operation on each -- and the third baseman with the gap-seeking swing is feeling good about his progress.
"I've got two brand new knees that I could roll with and do what I've got to do," Machado said.
Wieters, meanwhile, is less likely to be ready for Opening Day, having undergone Tommy John surgery last June. But once they're both in the lineup to stay, any roster losses the O's have seen this winter might not loom quite as large.
Matt Harvey, Mets
Among a rash of elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery, the one sustained by Harvey in October 2013 knocked a meteoric rise to stardom off track. Still, it was a brilliant first full season in the Majors for Harvey, with a 2.27 ERA and a 0.931 WHIP in 26 starts. After missing all of '14, he's on track to be on the mound to start the season, and the Mets are determined to make sure he makes it all the way through the full campaign. With NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jacob deGrom also returning to the rotation, the Mets hope they'll be pitching meaningful games late in the year.
Jose Fernandez, Marlins
After Fernandez made it all the way through a stellar 2013 season to claim NL Rookie of the Year Award honors, he hit the ultimate wall last May, needing Tommy John surgery after just eight starts of his sophomore season. Fernandez has been in a throwing program this winter, but he isn't expected to be back in action until around the All-Star break.
Prince Fielder, Rangers
Talk about a rough way to get started in a new job. Fielder, acquired from Detroit last winter, had surgery on May 27 to repair a herniated disk in his neck, and the Rangers hope to have him at full strength for Opening Day. They certainly missed his presence in the lineup last season, and could use his strong return as a springboard for a bounceback year themselves. The Rangers are also awaiting the returns of infielder Jurickson Profar (shoulder) and pitchers Matt Harrison (spinal surgery) and Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery) during the season. But Fielder's return to form tops the list of needs for Texas heading into 2015.
Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, Yankees
The circus atmosphere surrounding Tanaka's signing extended into a sparkling debut and a 6-0 start to his Major League career. It all came to a screeching halt in July, when Tanaka was shelved with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He opted for rehab over reconstructive surgery and had mixed results in two starts back with the Yanks in September. Tanaka's healthy return to form is huge for New York.
Same goes for Sabathia, who missed a bigger chunk of 2014 and underwent surgery on his right (landing) knee. Signed before the Yankees' title-winning 2009 campaign and coming off a rough couple of years, CC is looking to make '15 a turn for the better. So, too, is Ivan Nova -- he's recovering from elbow surgery and is hoping to make it back into the rotation sometime in '15.
Others who lost time last year and are on track to bounce back to form include: the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt, healthy after a hand injury from being struck by a pitch knocked him out the last two months of a rough go for Arizona; the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, struck in the face by a pitch Sept. 11; and the Angels' Garrett Richards, who sustained a torn patellar tendon in his left knee on Aug. 20.
For those and others who missed time in 2014, it's all about coming back healthy in '15. Sure, everyone's eager to get started, but some really are more so than others, after their detour to the disabled list.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.