The injury that everyone--from the media to the over 400 emails I received--wants to know about is Albert Pujols. The slugger tore his oblique on an unusual fielding play, stabbing to his left, then quickly clutching at his lower right side. Normally, this injury is seen at the plate in hitters or on the mound in pitchers when a player has torqued his body past the point that the muscle could withstand the stress. There are some easy root causes, with dehydration, inflexibility, and trying to overswing/overrotate chief among them. This appears to be something of a fluke injury, though there is something to the idea that Pujols was “guarding” his sore back, causing unusual stress on his obliques. (Try this at home--tighten up your lower back muscles, then try and reach quickly to either side.) Sources tell me that Pujols' injury is a Grade 2 due to the “palpable defect” in his muscle, though the official damage won’t be known until an MRI on Monday.
Grade 2 is defined as a strain in which approximately half the thickness of the muscle is torn, creating significant pain, loss of strength and stability, discoloration and significant tenderness with possible palpable defect. If you need a definition of palpable defect, it’s a tear big enough to feel with your finger. Yeah, ouch.
Complicating the analysis is both Pujols’ lineup value and his demonstrated ability to play through pain. Coming back too quickly can be devastating for any muscle strain. The body rebuilds the muscle with scar, weakening it by definition, though muscle can of course be strengthened around the tear. Retearing the muscle creates a vicious cycle of problems that can cause the type of career-altering cascades we’ve seen in the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. or Gil Meche. I’d expect the Cards to be ultraconservative with this injury, keeping Pujols on the shelf beyond the minimum, but less than the oft-quoted six weeks. It is going to be a Charybdean temptation for both manager and staff to write Pujols’ name on the lineup card, one that will need to be balanced by the field, medical and front office staff. The best recent comp I can find for this was Trot Nixon last season. Nixon came back in just under a month from a typical left oblique strain. Finding any comparison for Pujols is difficult, so I’m not sure how much we can learn here.