So far in 2011, oblique injuries a common problem

Posted April 05, 2011, at 5:58 p.m.
Last modified April 05, 2011, at 9:31 p.m.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Manager Bob Geren is already giving out daily injury updates for the Oakland Athletics as he did all last year. So far, though, pretty much just for a pair of key relief pitchers: 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey and hard-throwing righty Rich Harden.

It’s not much different across the bay in San Francisco, where right fielder Cody Ross and bearded closer and 2010 majors saves leader Brian Wilson are down for the reigning World Series champions.

From the Bay Area to Tampa Bay, and Seattle in the Northwest to Milwaukee in the Midwest, many high-profile faces are on baseball’s sidelines in early April for the opening weeks of the season.

While some years seem to feature more sore shoulders or pulled hamstrings, strained oblique muscles are a common culprit across the league less than a week into 2011.

The Rays placed All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a strained left oblique muscle — the same injury Wilson hopes to return from soon. Brewers outfielder Corey Hart is also on the DL with the injury.

The Astros’ J.A. Happ and Atlanta right-hander Jair Jurrjens are two others nursing oblique strains. Like Longoria, Jurrjens went on the disabled list Sunday.

“Certainly there are a lot of oblique injuries right now — more than typically what you see,” Giants athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said. “I’m not 100 percent sure why, whether it’s the kind of training players are doing, a lack of training, or if it’s just random. Four or five years ago, you saw a lot of Achilles’ injuries. Guys are in tune to their core (muscles), so it could be a n overuse thing. It’s something we have to look at. We have one right now, and that’s one too many.”

In St. Louis, Cardinals cleanup hitter Matt Holliday is recuperating from an appendectomy last Friday. The All-Star slugger assured his club he didn’t need a DL stint and he hopes to be back in the lineup as soon as this weekend.

Big-name pitchers are pushing themselves to heal in a hurry, too. Former NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, now with the AL champion Texas Rangers, is working to return from a 2009 shoulder injury that kept him out all of last season. And Mets ace Johan Santana is sidelined until at least midsummer following shoulder surgery.

Yankees reliever Pedro Feliciano is on the DL for the first time in his career as he begins his ninth big league season after signing an $8 million, two-year free agent deal with New York in January. The lefty led the majors in appearances each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 92 appearances in 2010 for the Mets.

The Mariners are minus closer David Aardsma as he recovers from hip surgery and Gold Glove center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, on the 15-day disabled list with stomach gastritis.

The AL West rival A’s used the disabled list 23 times last season, two shy of the franchise record set in 2008 — but Oakland’s brass is optimistic added depth on the current roster will help solve the problem this year.

The A’s got a big scare in Friday night’s season-opening 6-2 loss to the Mariners when catcher Kurt Suzuki went down with a mild left ankle sprain after being clobbered by a scoring Miguel Olivo. It looked much worse, like he might have hurt his lower back or knees.

The durable Suzuki was back in the lineup the next day.

“I thought it was his knee,” Geren said. “That was one of those injuries where it was good news.”

With only a handful of games in the books so far for most clubs, many managers are already talking about backup plans and the importance of giving players “strategic nights off,” as new Seattle skipper Eric Wedge put it when referring to Olivo. The catcher is recovering from a groin injury and came in to pinch-run for Adam Moore in Saturday night’s victory against the A’s.

Olivo ran the bases during Seattle’s winning ninth-inning rally, and that was enough to make Wedge a little nervous. Infielder Adam Kennedy would likely be the next catcher — and he has no experience as a backstop.

“I threw it out there the other day and Adam Kennedy jumped up and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ So, I said, ‘You got it,”’ Wedge said.

Yet managers around the league certainly hope they don’t have to go to such second and third options at this early stage. For some, there’s been no choice.

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