Sidelined stars hope for healthy 2010

Sidelined stars hope for healthy 2010

D-backs general manager Josh Byrnes counted on at least 200 innings from Brandon Webb in 2009 and wasn't going to be surprised if the staff ace reached the 225 mark.

Expectations were not met. The surprise was a bad one.

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A bad shoulder limited Webb to four innings all season, and the D-backs finished 22 games under .500.

In Texas, the Rangers entered the 2009 season feeling confident about their chances in the American League West, in large part because of Josh Hamilton's offensive production the previous season. Hamilton's power combined with effective pitching, the club believed, could push the Rangers past the Angels and into the postseason.

Hamilton played in only 89 games because of various injuries in 2009. The Rangers finished in second place, 10 games behind the Angels in the division.

Ouch.

Count Webb and Hamilton among a large group of key players that had their 2009 seasons cut short because of injuries but will look to rebound in 2010. For these players and their teams, the focus is on the future, a healthy future.

"Josh is a big part of our offense," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He is a presence in the middle of the order and he takes the pressure off a lot of guys. We missed him. We need him back."

In 2008, Hamilton had a breakout year, hitting .304 with 32 home runs and 130 RBIs. A year later, he hit .268 with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs. His absence combined with inconsistent pitching proved to be too much for the Rangers to overcome down the stretch.

For the D-backs, a healthy Webb not only helps in the win column, he's also good for morale. Webb, the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2006, is 87-62 with 3.27 ERA for his career and is a team leader.

Led by Webb, the D-backs last qualified for the postseason in 2007.

"Losing Webby was big," Byrnes said. "But it's not just replacing what he does on the field, there's also a psychological impact of him going down. In this day and age, to go to playoffs after having a losing record, we have to believe we can do it. Losing Brandon hurt that belief to a degree."

Webb didn't pitch again after what turned out to be his season debut and finale on April 6. A tumultuous season in Phoenix followed. The team's struggles eventually led to a managerial change from Bob Melvin to A.J. Hinch, a last-place finish in the NL West, and one of the most difficult years in franchise history. In addition to Webb, the team was also without outfielder Conor Jackson for the season because of valley fever. Like Webb, Jackson is expected to be back in 2010.

Their return, combined with the additions of pitchers Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to the starting rotation, will give the D-backs a new healthy look in 2010.

"Listen, losing is not fun. It's frustrating," Byrnes said. "We worked really hard with this younger group to set an example of winning and contending. That is our standard and we fell so far short. For the most part, Phoenix has had winning teams and folks were understandably upset. But I think it's time to learn from what happened in 2009 and not carry with us."

If any team can relate to the D-backs' plight in 2009, it's the Mets. Last season, the team was without Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Alex Cora, Oliver Perez, Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese and Fernando Nieve for extended periods during the season because of injury, and the result was a less-than-stellar fourth-place finish in the NL East. All of the players, possibly including Delgado, a free agent, are expected to bounce back and help the club compete for a division title in 2010.

Several teams in the Central divisions are also set to receive boosts in 2010.

The reigning AL Central champion Twins missed Justin Morneau, who was out with the back injury for the final three weeks, and pitcher Kevin Slowey, who missed the entire second half following wrist surgery, but both players are expected back in 2010.

In Detroit, the Tigers are elated at the prospect of having pitchers Joel Zumaya, Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis along with Carlos Guillen back on a full-time basis after injuries ruined their 2009 campaign. In Cleveland, center fielder Grady Sizemore, who had season-ending elbow and abdominal surgeries in September, will be back on the field, as will pitcher Jake Westbrook, who missed the entire 2009 season after Tommy John elbow surgery.

In Kansas City, the Royals were without shortstop Mike Aviles, who had Tommy John surgery, and right fielder Jose Guillen, who had ankle surgery in September, but both are expected to be key contributors in 2010.

In the NL Central, the Reds expect pitcher Edinson Volquez back in the rotation sometime in 2010 after Tommy John surgery in 2009. In Milwaukee, second baseman Rickie Weeks missed most of 2009 after wrist surgery but is expected back as the Brewers' second baseman and leadoff man in 2010.

Other key players expected to be back after injury in 2009 are Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena, Oakland's Eric Chavez, Baltimore's Adam Jones, Florida's Anibal Sanchez and Toronto starter Shaun Marcum.

"There are only so major injuries you can overcome and hopefully we used all of the bad outcomes last year," Byrnes said. "You want to go to Spring Training with a few things going as hoped or as planned."

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