Clubs set for big-time boosts as injured stars return

Clubs set for big-time boosts as injured stars return

Their seasons already have been beset by injuries, but a number of prime-time players are getting close to making a healthy return to action -- healthy being the operative word.

The very sight of Derek Jeter taking ground balls in the Bronx last week, for example, sent shivers up the spines of Yankees backers everywhere, and he's just one of the players hoping to make a delayed season debut as soon as possible.

Others, like shortstop Jose Reyes, got a taste of 2013 before an injury set off an extended stay on the disabled list. Now that the Blue Jays are picking up some serious steam heading into the summer, they can look forward to a turbo boost from the return of their two-way playmaker, the key to their offseason makeover.

For any players on the cusp of returning to action after something more than just a quick trip to the DL, the anticipation is huge as the summer kicks into gear and the urgency of the season heightens with the All-Star Game on the horizon.

For the Jays, getting Reyes back means shifting around some of the pieces that have righted the ship and brought the team back into contention after a rough start. Those players include shortstop Munenori Kawasaki. But they know what to do with Reyes when he returns, possibly after one more Triple-A rehab start Monday, or soon thereafter.

"He'll definitely be at the top [of the lineup]," Jays manager John Gibbons said of Reyes. "We're not sure what we'll do after that."

The Jays also are looking forward to the return of J.A. Happ, the veteran southpaw hit in the head by a line drive on May 7, leaving him with a fractured skull, contusions and a sprained right knee. They're hoping to get starter Brandon Morrow back from a forearm strain and third baseman Brett Lawrie from an ankle injury as well, so the hottest team in baseball stands to get a little stronger in the coming weeks.

Of course, they're not the only ones waiting for some help from a star player or two returning to health. Going on the DL with a triceps strain wasn't how David Price wanted to follow up his Cy Young season, but he's on his way back on a Minor League rehab assignment. Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, out since May 29 with a strained right hamstring, is on a rehab assignment and could help the health-strapped team soon.

For some teams and players, a long wait continues. The Brewers are still awaiting the season debut of outfielder Corey Hart after knee surgery and what's now a quad issue delaying his return, a loss compounded with Ryan Braun on the DL, too. The Cardinals will continue to be patient with Chris Carpenter as he works through a throwing program that had a slight setback with back stiffness last week -- they'll take whatever they can get out of him, whenever they can get it. And the Angels hope reliever Ryan Madson can stay on a healthy course back after he had inflammation in his surgically repaired elbow in a May 13 rehab appearance.

For the Rockies, unfortunately the waiting has just begun. Troy Tulowitzki's broken rib needs about another month to heal, so their ability to stay in the tight NL West race depends on how well they perform without him.

There simply isn't another team that has spent more time awaiting its players' return to health than the Yankees, and there aren't too many returns that can compare to what's building for Jeter. The Yankees already have seen Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira return only to go back on the DL, so they continue to have a hard time keeping some big stars on the field.

After a false start of sorts with a setback in his return from a fractured ankle, Jeter is far enough back that he can take to the field at Yankee Stadium -- for a few swings and a few grounders, that is. How close that gets the star to a return remains to be seen, but suffice to say Jeter, like any player who has lost a good chunk of the 2013 season to injury, is ready to be at the end of the recovery road.

"It's not fun," Jeter said. "It's a long process. I've been doing this pretty much since November, December. I'm over it now. It's just too long. The process has been too long."

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