Don't forget about me: Injured players eye big returns

Don't forget about me: Injured players eye big returns

His thumb in a splint after a Cactus League slide into second base went awry, Chase Headley of the Padres couldn't have said it better. Coming off a powerful breakout year, his 2013 season wouldn't be starting on Opening Day but weeks later, that injured thumb sticking a wrench into his plans for April by landing him on the disabled list.

"Being on the DL is not fun for anybody. Obviously, it's not the way I hoped to start the season," Headley said.

Headley is one of many players who won't be starting the season the way they anticipated, or when they'd hoped -- on Opening Day. And he's definitely one of those who figures to make his presence known once he does arrive on the active roster, somebody you'd better not forget about come Opening Day, because they will return to the spotlight.

Some, like the Yankees' Derek Jeter, had Opening Day as a goal on the road to recovery but will have to wait awhile longer. Others, like Headley and Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, had Spring Training rudely and unexpectedly interrupted by an injury.

Jeter obviously isn't alone among his Yankees teammates in not being ready for the opener -- and he's much closer to a return than three other pinstriped stars. Alex Rodriguez's return from hip surgery won't come until at least the All-Star break. It will take until at least May for first baseman Mark Teixeira to work himself back from a wrist ailment that came up in early March while preparing for the World Baseball Classic. Curtis Granderson's broken right forearm figures to keep him out the first month of the season.

Jeter was hoping to make it back for Opening Day after surgery to repair that devastating ankle injury sustained in the American League Championship Series last October. But as of Tuesday, that goal was determined to be out of reach, and he'll have to wait until at least April 6 to make his debut.

"I pushed it to try to get to Opening Day and it didn't work out, but I still have to be ready for the majority of the season," said Jeter, who will miss just his second Opening Day with the Yankees in 18 opportunities.

Six-time All-Star Brian McCann also has to bide his time to get his 2013 season going. The earliest the Braves' catcher can even begin a Minor League rehabilitation assignment is April 16 -- exactly six months after he underwent surgery on his right shoulder.

New Phillies outfielder Delmon Young, working his way back from microfracture surgery on his ankle, is also among those who are still rehabilitating from surgery but figure to contribute to their teams' fate in 2013, eventually. Starter John Danks of the White Sox is another. He's coming off left shoulder surgery last August and isn't quite ready to jump into the rotation, because he's just not there yet with all his pitches. The Brewers' Corey Hart underwent knee surgery in January and isn't expected back until May, at the earliest.

The Angels signed Ryan Madson to be their closer knowing full well he probably wouldn't be ready for Opening Day, and he's making progress as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. The Rangers' Neftali Feliz also is recovering from elbow surgery, and he starts the season on the 60-day DL hoping to return in August, while veteran teammate Colby Lewis is slated for a possible May return from flexor tendon surgery. In Atlanta, starter Brandon Beachy hopes to return by May after Tommy John surgery last summer, and reliever Jonny Venters likely will start the season on the DL with an elbow strain.

Others came to Spring Training healthy, or seemingly so, before things went awry. The Red Sox got a double dose of that with David Ortiz's heel inflammation and new shortstop Stephen Drew's continuing problems after sustaining a concussion in early March. Cubs starter Matt Garza sustained a lat strain his first time facing hitters, and he won't throw his first bullpen session until the first week of April.

Then there's Ramirez, who tore a ligament in his right thumb during the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, an injury that will keep him out of the Dodgers' souped-up lineup until deep into May, at least. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are keeping their fingers crossed on Zack Greinke and Carl Crawford being ready for the opener.

The injury to Ramirez isn't the only one that might help shape the early NL West race. Pablo Sandoval's elbow remains a concern for the defending World Series champion Giants, and the D-backs' revamped roster hit a speed bump when rookie Adam Eaton sustained a sprained left elbow that will keep him out until May. Veteran Cody Ross also was set back by a calf injury.

Among more established Major Leaguers, the Mets have remained cautious with Johan Santana's cranky left shoulder, and he's been unable to pitch off a mound since early March. Teammate David Wright remains optimistic about being ready for Opening Day after a strained left intercostal muscle popped up during his stint with Team USA in the Classic. Alex Rios of the White Sox also hopes to be ready for the opener after back issues flared up in the last week.

The Cardinals just determined this week that David Freese won't be ready after back issues continued to linger, and Carlos Beltran has been playing through a sore toe but still might be ready.

Whenever all those injury situations subside and they return to health, the players who miss out on Opening Day finally will get a chance to get 2013 started.

"It's about the team," said Freese, who is targeting April 8 for his return. "I'm not worth anything unless I'm healthy, and unless I'm out there."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.