Franklin Gutierrez's timetable depends on type of injury
Mariners center fielder is expected to be out at least four weeks before he can resume baseball activities. How soon he's back on the field will depend on which form of pectoral muscle tear he has suffered.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez can do a fair amount of conditioning over the next month while his torn right pectoral muscle heals enough for him to resume baseball-related activities.
But medical experts say the extent and type of tear Gutierrez experienced will ultimately determine how much time he'll miss. There are two types of pectoral tears: one where the pectoral tendon separates from the arm's bone; the other where tearing occurs where tendon and muscle connect.
The Mariners have not said how serious or which type of injury Gutierrez suffered while making throws Tuesday in a drill. Dr. Jeffrey Spang, an orthopedic specialist from the University of North Carolina, said Thursday that based on the team's four-week timetable before Gutierrez can resume baseball activity, it will probably be after mid-April before he's able to throw at an elite level again.
"Obviously, they will move him through the process of rehab as quickly as they feel possible," Spang said. "But it's going to take a few weeks at a minimum to get back into playing-type condition."
In other words, before Gutierrez can throw like he tried to Tuesday.
"If they start him back on throwing activities in roughly four weeks, it's going to take at least a couple of weeks to get back to game-competition level where he's really letting it fly," Spang said.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Wednesday the team plans to ease Gutierrez back into baseball activities at the end of the month and monitor him on a week-by-week basis.
Spang said the Mariners will be able to do a good deal of conditioning work with Gutierrez in the interim that doesn't involve the chest wall and shoulder. Clearly, he won't be bench-pressing barbells, but cardiovascular and leg work can be done without aggravating the pectoral injury.
"There are a lot of things you can do to continue your whole-body conditioning while you're waiting to start the baseball-specific conditioning," Spang said.
That could include running with one arm strapped down. The team can also have Gutierrez work out in a swimming pool.
Dr. Christopher Wahl, an associate professor at the University of Washington's orthopedics and sports medicine department, added that Gutierrez could even do a substantial amount of strengthening of the area around the torn muscle.
"If it's a partial tear, there are going to be parts of the pec muscle that can be strengthened while the parts that are injured are healing," he said.
Such exercises could keep Gutierrez in good enough shape so that he won't have to start from scratch.
"What you want to avoid are a lot of really heavy or sudden loads to the pec," Wahl said. "So, things where you're bringing your arm across your body by throwing or trying to swing a bat."
Another no-no will be so-called "eccentric loads," like activity that suddenly pulls the arm away from the body to catch a ball.
How long Gutierrez will have to wait to throw again will depend on the tear. If it's "a fairly minor tear," Wahl said he'd allow a player to resume throwing once the injured side reaches about 80 percent of the healthy pectoral muscle's strength.
But if it's a more significant tear, he'd wait at least the full four weeks before letting a player throw at all.
As for running, Wahl said the big concern is that Gutierrez might slip and fall and cause his injury to worsen. So any running done while the injury is healing will have to be controlled.
Once the running, throwing and hitting parts are back to normal, Gutierrez will likely have to spend several weeks on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment getting himself back up to game speed in competitive situations. This will likely carry well into May.
Wahl said a pectoral tear is a lot like a hamstring injury in that it can keep recurring. But he said that if the type of injury is the one where the tendon meets muscle tissue, Gutierrez could be over it entirely in three months — with little risk of a relapse — and playing well before that.
But if it's more serious, where tendon pulls away from bone, it could be two or three months before Gutierrez is ready to step back on a field.
"Again, we don't have the complete picture," Wahl said. "It all comes down to the severity."