In a span of 24 hours, the Detroit Tigers officially lost their two best players — one pitcher and one hitter — to the injured list, and those two players might not return in the near future.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, the ace of the pitching staff, suffered a ruptured pulley in his left index finger. Center fielder Riley Greene, the rising star and future of the franchise, suffered a stress fracture in his left fibula.
The information and emotions are fresh, and while the Tigers will certainly lose Rodriguez for more than 15 days and Greene for more than 10 days, manager A.J. Hinch isn’t ready to speculate about the severity of the injuries.
“I’m not a doctor,” Hinch said.
The Free Press talked to two doctors about the injuries to Rodriguez and Greene. The doctors — both orthopedic surgeons at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles with experience treating professional athletes — shared insight into the injuries and the likely timetables to get back on the field.
Rodriguez, 30, could miss between eight to 12 weeks before rejoining the Tigers (late July to late August); Greene, 22, could miss approximately six weeks before rejoining the Tigers (mid-July).
“We have to admit that it’s really frustrating, and it’s hard on a team,” Hinch said. “At the same time, we have to collect ourselves and figure out a different way. … Things are going to get better and feel better, but we’ve got to find a different way to do it with different guys, and quite honestly, find some different guys to pick up the slack a little bit.”
Eduardo Rodriguez’s injury
Pulley injuries are common in rock climbers and rare in baseball players.
Rodriguez ruptured the A4 pulley in his left index finger while pitching in Sunday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. He allowed one run across six innings, and during one of his final pitches in the game, he felt discomfort in his finger. But he didn’t break a bone or tear a tendon.
The A4 pulley — which ruptured in Rodriguez’s finger — is one of five pulleys in an individual finger, located between the top two knuckles. The A1 pulley is closest to the palm and the A5 pulley is closest to the fingertip.
“The injury occurs when so much force is created at the tip of the finger,” said Dr. David Hay, a hand surgery consultant for the Anaheim Ducks (NHL). “Imagine if you were trying to do a pull-up on a doorframe, like a little tiny ledge, you create so much force that the tension in the rope — the tendon — tears away through the tunnel that’s trying to keep it against the finger. … It tends to be an instantaneous thing.”
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The pulleys in the finger create a tunnel for the tendons in the finger.
A pitcher can’t grip a baseball with their fingertip without an intact A4 pulley. Fellow pitchers Adam Wainwright and Randy Dobnak sustained pulley injuries in 2008 and 2021, respectively.
“The tunnels have to be there,” said Hay, “because if you didn’t have the tunnels there, if you bent your finger, then the tendon from the tip of the finger would make a straight line to the palm of the hand like a bowstring. … He created so much force to flex the digit that the tendons tore through the tunnel that guides the tendons.”
In 11 starts, Rodriguez has a 2.13 ERA with 16 walks and 67 strikeouts across 67⅔ innings. He owns a phenomenal 1.40 ERA in his past nine starts, dating back to April 12. As of Tuesday, his 1.7 fWAR ranked first among Tigers pitchers and 13th among 70 qualified pitchers in baseball.
The Tigers will re-evaluate Rodriguez after he rests for 7-10 days.
The timeline for return varies depending on the severity of the injury.
“You need at least a couple weeks of rest, and then taping it for another two to four weeks,” Hay said, “and then somewhere between six to eight weeks, you’re doing some type of light toss to get some progression back. The average return on this small handful of baseball players is the 10-week mark. It’s somewhere between eight and 12 weeks, where you’re ramping up the throwing to where you feel like you can really throw, but it’s probably three months until you feel like you’re past it.”
Riley Greene’s injury
Stress fractures in the fibula are common in runners and rare in baseball players, and sometimes, a bone bruise can be misdiagnosed by the early examinations as a stress fracture.
That’s why Greene is seeking a second opinion.
“An MRI will show swelling in the bone,” said Dr. Clint Soppe, an orthopedic consultant for the LA Galaxy (MLS). “That swelling in the bone, it’s not specific for a certain problem. If somebody has a bone bruise, like if they hit their bone against a wall or against another player, they can get swelling in the bone just like other tissues swell. That can actually look the same on an MRI as a stress fracture. For me, whether or not it’s a stress fracture is my first question.”
Greene left Tuesday’s game against the Texas Rangers in the third inning with left lower leg discomfort. He reported the injury to the coaching staff in the first inning but tried to keep playing.
The center fielder didn’t look comfortable tracking a fly ball from Corey Seager in the top of the third inning.
There wasn’t a specific event or play that led to the stress fracture, Hinch said. After Tuesday’s game, infielder Zack Short suggested Greene had been playing through pain in his leg for an undisclosed period of time.
On Sunday, though, Greene collided into the center-field wall at Comerica Park while robbing a home run against the White Sox.
“It looked like he hit the left leg initially,” Soppe said, reviewing Sunday’s catch. “A bone bruise, like the collision with the wall or some other type of acute stress to the bone that didn’t cause a fracture but caused swelling or bruising, that can heal much quicker (one to three weeks). If it’s a stress fracture, it could be more like six weeks.”
In 52 games, Greene is hitting .296 with five home runs, 21 walks and 64 strikeouts. He hit .365 with a 1.008 on-base-plus-slugging percentage across 25 games in May before the injury. He led the AL in batting average — ahead of New York Yankees star Aaron Judge (.356) — in May.
For now, the Tigers have diagnosed Greene with a stress fracture in his left fibula. It’s closer to his ankle than his knee. The good news: Stress fractures usually heal without surgery. The bad news: Stress fractures tend to be slower to heal.
A stress fracture requires Greene to be shut down from running.
“Every stress fracture is different,” Soppe said. “The best sign is pain. If he’s having pain while running, you’d want to shut him down from running for at least a few weeks, and then gradually get him back. If he’s not having pain, you could continue to progress and advance him with activity.”
What happens next?
To replace Rodriguez, the Tigers promoted right-hander Reese Olson, a 23-year-old prospect, to start Friday against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. It will be his MLB debut.
The starting rotation currently features Olson, Michael Lorenzen (3.50 ERA), Matthew Boyd (5.96 ERA), Alex Faedo (5.54 ERA) and Joey Wentz (7.28 ERA). Rehabbing starters Tarik Skubal (left elbow strain) and Matt Manning (right foot fracture) should return from their injuries in July.
“It’s a bummer, but we need to keep moving forward,” Lorenzen said. “I feel like this team is handling anything. We approach the game with a ton of energy, and we’re looking to win every game, so I think that translates to good baseball, no matter who’s on the mound, no matter who’s in the box.”
As for the offense, the Tigers need increased production from first baseman Spencer Torkelson and shortstop Javier Báez in the middle of the batting order, especially if infielder Zach McKinstry can’t repeat the best month of his career. Infielder Colt Keith, a top prospect in Double-A Erie, could be the best option to spark the offense. He is hitting .329 with nine home runs and a .976 OPS in 41 games.
Torkelson is hitting .237 with four home runs and a .683 OPS in 53 games; Báez is hitting .225 with three homers and a .581 OPS in 51 games. Those results aren’t good enough to keep the Tigers afloat and in the mix in the AL Central until Greene returns.
“We’re going to get tested,” Hinch said. “We have to find a way because it’s sports and it’s our job. We need to show up ready to win every day. That much, I believe our team will be able to handle. We don’t have to like it. We don’t like losing key parts of our team, but they’re not going to play for the foreseeable future, so we have a choice to make, and I know these guys will make the right choice.”