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Shortened spring training could lead to injury issues

A prolonged lockout has placed a question mark over player preparation time.

Division Series - Houston Astros v Chicago White Sox - Game Four
Could injury and performance issues plague the White Sox after a prolonged lockout?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The MLB lockout has been dragging on since December 2, halting any communication between teams and players, delaying the start of spring training and possibly cancelling regular season games.

And if an agreement is not reached with the Players’ Association by tomorrow, the MLB has said that the start of the season will be pushed back and regular games will be cancelled. Four weeks is the minimum amount of spring training that’s reasonable for players to warm up with, but everything is up in the air right now. Hopefully we will see some movement in the next few days.

The Chicago White Sox still have a range of holes in the roster that will require sorting out before the season starts, as do a lot of other teams. But a prolonged lockout could have more serious consequences than just a mind-numbingly boring offseason. With a shortened spring training and players potentially not being given enough time to ramp up for the regular season, teams could be facing a higher risk of injury and performance issues that could plague the entire season — and maybe even longer.

Spring training camps were scheduled to open this year on February 16, spring training games starting on February 26 and the regular season kicking off a month later, on March 31. Without the standard six weeks of training and preparation, players are running an increased risk of injuries, with pitchers the most susceptible.

We’ve seen this happen before. In July 2020, teams and players rushed through a 23-day “Summer Camp,” trying to get a season going after COVID-19 hit. It quickly proved not to be long enough to avoid preventable soft tissue injuries. Teams were allowed to carry extra pitchers that season so that a stricter pitch count could be followed and injuries minimized, and we could see such an allowance again this year. Pitchers will likely be limited to fewer innings, at least at the start of the season.

Division Series “u2013 Astros v White Sox “u2013 Game Four
Lance McCullers of the Houston Astros, injured during the ALDS last season vs. the White Sox, has said his rehabilitation has been “choppy” due to the lockout.
Ron Vesely/Getty Images

After the shortened 2020 season, a lot of players viewed 2021 as a transition year of sorts, easing them back into a regular workload in 2022. For them, this lockout couldn’t come at a more inopportune time. While the players are working out on their own during the MLB/MLBPA negotiations, unlike even during the pandemic, the current lockout prevents players from using team facilities. The lockout also halts any communication between team medical personnel and players rehabilitating and returning from injury.

Lance McCullers Jr., right-handed pitcher for the Houston Astros, spoke about this issue on Maanav’s Sports Talk with Maanav Gupta last week, where he said that his rehab from a flexor tendon strain last season has been “choppy” and interrupted. He continued that his inability to contact the professionals who he relies on for his rehab has meant that he is behind on his recovery and may not be ready for Opening Day.

Disruption of rehab affects all teams and players across the league, and any momentum built up last season is being threatened.