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Return dates for MLB’s injured aces

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With the MLB Opening Day set for Thursday, several teams will begin their seasons without key members of their rotation. While some are projected to return without a stint on the injured list, several aces will need months of rehab before returning to the mound.

TSN.ca looks at a number of key injured starters and their estimated return dates.


Short-term injuries
Kevin Gausman Toronto Blue Jays

 

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays - shoulder fatigue

The Blue Jays ace was pulled from a bullpen session in early March due to shoulder fatigue. An MRI showed no structural concerns or injuries for the 33-year-old starter.

Gausman made his spring training debut on Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out seven and allowing just two hits through three scoreless innings. He threw 52 pitches in the outing. 

The club has already announced that Jose Berrios will start on Opening Day, while Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi will toe the rubber for the second and third games of the season. The club has not ruled out Gausman getting a start in the first turn through the rotation, either as the fourth starter against the Rays or as the fifth starter to open the team’s series against the Houston Astros on April 1.

“We still have to build him up quite a bit,” manager John Schneider told MLB.com last week. “[We’ll see] whether he lands at the end of camp at 60 pitches, and then he can pitch without overworking and overtaxing our bullpen at the beginning of the year. If it’s at the end of the rotation, that’s probably the best-case scenario.”

The two-time all-star finished third in American League Cy Young voting last season after going 12-9 with a 3.16 earned-run average with a 1.178 WHIP. He struck out a career-high 237 batters over 187 innings pitched. 

Current Blue Jays rotation: Jose Berrios - Chris Bassitt - Yusei Kikuchi - Bowden Francis - Kevin Gausman

Estimated return: Early-to-mid April


Sonny Gray, St. Louis Cardinals - hamstring strain

The Cardinals' newest rotation addition will open the season on the 15-day injured list due to a hamstring strain he sustained in a start on Mar. 4 against the Washington Nationals. 

“The best part about the whole thing I that I didn’t have to spend a whole lot of time laid up. It was active recovery from the first day,” Gray said last Friday. “Getting back on the mound [today] it just felt normal, which I guess is what you’re after.”

Gray is not expected to miss much more than the minimum as he works his way back from injury. The 34-year-old started a minor-league game on Saturday and is expected to get another minor-league start on Thursday as he continues to ramp up. If all goes well, Gray will start a game for Triple-A Memphis in early April before making his return to the St. Louis rotation. 

“I’m not worried about my leg, but I just need to get into a game,” Gray told MLB.com, after he was officially declared out for the start of the season on Friday by Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol. “I need to face hitters, have an umpire, have a pitch clock, and have a defence and pitch in a game. 

“We went through a bunch of different scenarios,” Gray added. “There were ways to not do the IL. But then, you’re looking at it like, ‘You get one start in a minor-league game and you’re jumping into a big-league game, and you can throw maybe three innings.’

“It was nice to have the options, and they were very open to [other plans], but it was ultimately my decision to say, I think it’s right if we do the IL thing, I make three [rehab] starts, I get to pitch 10 to 11 games into this [season] and feel confident that I’ve gotten to where I need to be. I’ve felt good throughout [with the right hamstring], but it was just a matter of getting to a game.”

Gray posted an 8-8 record last season with the Minnesota Twins, pitching to a 2.79 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 183 strikeouts over 184 innings. He was named an all-star for the third time in his career.

He signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Cards this past November.

Current Cardinals rotation: Miles Mikolas - Zack Thompson - Lance Lynn - Steven Matz - Kyle Gibson

Estimated return: April 8-10 vs. Philadelphia Phillies
 

Medium-term injuries
Justin Verlander

 

Justin Verlander, Houston Astros – shoulder inflammation

Verlander has been battling shoulder inflammation since the start of camp. He has yet to appear in a spring training game but did progress to facing live hitters for the first time late last week, throwing 20 pitches during live batting practice.

“For my first live BP on the back field with nobody there, that’s about what I expected,” Verlander said. The veteran hit 93 MPH during the session. 

The 41-year-old will start the season on the injured list for the second straight year. Verlander is scheduled to throw another live BP early this week. If all goes well, he will likely throw one more before heading out on a rehab assignment. 

"If things go well, maybe another live before going on a rehab assignment," Astros manager Joe Espada told ESPN. "Just depending on where JV is next live BP." 

Verlander split last season between the Astros and New York Mets, going 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 162.1 innings. 

The Astros hope to have the three-time Cy Young winner back not long after the start of the regular season.

Current Astros rotation: Framber Valdez - Cristian Javier - Hunter Brown - Ronel Blanco - J.P. France

Estimated return: Mid-late April
 

Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers - Tommy John surgery

Buehler will start the season on the 15-day IL as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery in Aug. 2022. 

The 29-year-old is progressing in his recovery and threw to live hitters at Dodger Stadium on Monday afternoon.

Buehler made a minor-league rehab appearance late last season but has not seen MLB game action since June 2022.

The two-time all-star faced hitters for the first time in his rehab in late February, hitting 94-95 MPH during the live sessions.

“For me, it’s more just getting that kind of ‘pop’ back in the body,” Buehler told The Athletic in late February. “It’s kind of hard to explain. But you go through rehab, and you’re trying to protect the arm for forever and make sure it doesn’t hurt, and then it feels good, so you throw with all arm. So now I’m trying to kind of get them to work together.”

In 12 starts in 2022, Buehler recorded a 6-3 record with a 4.02 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 65 innings before undergoing surgery.

His timeline to return remains unclear, as the Dodgers want to ensure Buehler is not rushed and will be available for a postseason run.

“I don’t want to put pressure on the training staff or Walker,” manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times in February. “When he gets into the regular routine of facing hitters, extending [his outings], getting some length, then I think it will be more clear to project. But right now, I don’t even know time to return.”

Buehler estimated it could take about a month to build his stamina to the four or five innings needed to rejoin the rotation, assuming he encounters no setbacks in his rehab. With no setbacks, the Lexington, Kentucky native could appear in rehab games and stretch out to join the rotation sometime in May.

Current Dodgers rotation: Tyler Glasnow - Bobby Miller - Yoshinobu Yamamoto - Gavin Stone - James Paxton

Estimated return: May
 

Kodai Senga, New York Mets - shoulder strain

The Mets’ ace will begin the season on the injured list due to a strain in his throwing shoulder and will be out until at least early May.

The 31-year-old had a positive MRI last week, Mets manager Carlos Mendoza told reporters.

"Inflammation is gone," Mendoza told reporters on Thursday. "So, he's pretty much cleared from the doctor."

Senga is scheduled to begin throwing this week, marking the beginning of his ramp-up period that will take at least six weeks, according to Newsday’s Tim Healey. 

 He is entering the second season of a five-year, $75 million contract he signed with the Mets last offseason. Senga posted a 12-7 record with a 2.98 ERA in 29 starts last year, his first in the majors.

Current Mets rotation: Jose Quintana - Luis Severino - Tylor Megill - Sean Manaea - Adrian Houser

Estimated return: May - June
 

Long-term injuries 

Max Scherzer Texas Rangers

 

Max Scherzer, Texas Rangers - herniated disc

Scherzer underwent back surgery on Dec. 15 to repair a herniated disc. The 39-year-old originally reported at the start of camp with pitchers and catcher but returned home for two weeks before rejoining the Rangers’ camp on Mar. 15.

“I kind of needed to be in my own environment, where I was doing my own thing and my own rehab program, and just kind of gradually take it a step at a time and respect the process,” Scherzer told MLB.com. “For me the best way to do that was for me to get back home to Florida.”

Scherzer has been cleared for baseball activities but has not progressed to throwing. The three-time Cy Young winner has been doing medicine ball work as he ramps up to sprinting, jumping and, eventually, throwing.

“The biggest thing here right now because of how much I've been shut down is really getting some [medicine] ball tosses back, that was the number one thing I've been craving,” Scherzer said. “That’ll really be able to loosen everything back up. Then I can start sprinting, jumping and doing all the things that, for me, allow me to be the best kind of athlete I can possibly be.

“Then the throwing ramps up behind that, so that's where I'm at right now. I still have a process to navigate here. I’m just taking it day by day and listening to my body and what it can and can't do.”

The eight-time all-star split time last season between the Rangers after being acquired from the Mets, posting a 3.77 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 27 total starts.

Manager Bruce Bochy said the team is looking at June as a target date for Scherzer’s return.


Scherzer is within striking distance of 3,000 innings pitched (currently at 2,834.2 IP) and could become the 115th pitcher to reach the milestone in 2025.

Current Rangers rotation: Nathan Eovaldi - Jon Gray - Andrew Heaney - Dane Dunning - Cory Bradford

Estimated return: June
 

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees - elbow nerve irritation

Cole is expected to miss at least one month of the regular season after sustaining a right elbow injury early in camp. While there was no structural damage found to his ulnar collateral ligament, the Yankees’ ace was shut down for three to four weeks due to nerve irritation and edema in his throwing elbow.

“I think we’ve determined that we just got a little too hot a little too quick,” Cole said in mid-March. “I just got to a certain point where we just didn’t hit baseline and recovery. That’s important at this time of the year.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Cole would be placed on the 60-day IL to clear space on the 40-man roster, meaning the earliest Cole could return is late May.

“The doctors tell me and they’re like, he’s good,” Cashman said on Mar. 16. "Just give it some time and get it going again. So, as far as I’m concerned, that’s in the rear-view mirror even though he hasn’t played yet. That’s more of a timing issue rather than a concern issue. And he’s a pro, he knows how to get ready and knock the rust off. I’m not worried about it.”

The reigning American League Cy Young winner was 15-4 last season, his fourth with the Yankees, posting a 2.63 ERA with 222 strikeouts over 209 innings. 

“It’s not a common experience for me,” Cole said. “I haven’t really dealt with anything like this before. So anytime you’re going through something for the first time, there’s a little bit of uncertainty, but I had a lot of faith. I felt good leaving the doctor, yeah.”

Current Yankees rotation: Nestor Cortes - Carlos Rodon - Marcus Stroman - Clarke Schmidt - Luis Gil

Estimated return: June
 

Jacob deGrom, Texas Rangers - Tommy John surgery

deGrom underwent Tommy John surgery, the second of his career, in June and began a throwing program in mid-February.

The 35-year-old will begin the season on the 60-day IL as he continues his rehab, ensuring he will be out until at least late May. 

“He started his normal catch progression, that's part of the standard rehab for Tommy John,” general manager Chris Young said at the start of deGrom’s throwing program. “The training staff said he looked great, and I think, medically, everything has been on track and is checking out, so we're very excited.”

Four months after his surgery, deGrom said his arm felt “close to normal” and said he was targeting the short end of the usual 14-18 month recovery period for Tommy John surgery, putting a potential return in August.

The 35-year-old pitched just 30.1 innings last year before sustaining the elbow injury, recording a 2.67 ERA with 45 strikeouts. deGrom has not surpassed 100 innings since 2019. 

Estimated return: August - September 
 

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers - shoulder surgery

Kershaw will begin the season on the 60-day IL after undergoing shoulder surgery in November.

The three-time Cy Young winner signed a one-year contract to return to the Dodgers this past offseason. He showed no signs of slowing down in his 16th MLB season, posting a 2.46 ERA over 24 starts in 2023.

Kershaw will not return to the mound until late summer, following the procedure to repair ligament and capsule damage in his pitching shoulder.

“Honestly I think summer is about as good as I can do,” Kershaw told the Orange County Register in February. “It’s probably not early summer. I hate saying a timetable because if I go below it or beyond it, it’s not good. But I would say July-ish, August-ish. Somewhere in there. I don’t know.”

Estimated return: July - August