Injury update: Cartilage restoration surgeries are uncharted territory for Red Sox

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Eric D. Schabell
Contributing Writer
The repairs made to the knees of the two Red Sox key players, Dustin Pedroia and Steven Wright, has led the Red Sox into uncharted waters.

With most baseball injuries, the diagnosis and path of returning players to the field can be mapped out with a large degree of certainty.

The problem with Pedroia and Wright was that it was a full knee cartilage restoration. Though you might have heard of various knee injuries that athletes have, the restoration of cartilage is a relatively new process that doesn't have a well defined path for return for specific positions.

Pitching restoration

In May of 2017 Wright had his reconstruction surgery and started the path to returning to pitching for the 2018 season. The difficulty in mapping the exact return for a pitcher was not fully known. Further clouding the waters was the fact that as a knuckleball pitcher, Wright's motion and impact landing on his restored knee would be vastly different that a maximum effort pitcher.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Wright has been open about the process as he started the season on the disabled list (DL), returning April 28 to for 10 outings before having to head back to the DL due to knee inflammation. He was really good posting a 2-1 record, a 3.28 ERA, provided four starts and allowed only one run in his first 20 2/3 innings. His final start before heading back on the DL (it appears that start was impeded by the knee) hurt his stats when he gave up 10 runs in 3 1/3 innings.

This last week Wright spoke again with about the process so far, what to expect going forward and when he might be back on the mound for the Red Sox.

"It feels like a surgically repaired knee," Wright said. "It's definitely better. It's getting stronger. I think that's the main thing."

"I think it's a surgery that nobody's rehabbed before," Wright said. "It kind of sucks because a lot of it is trial and error. I came back, and I was throwing the ball well. But I just think the workload was too much, too soon as far as being a starter and trying to go out there seven innings. But it was something that we just didn't know.

"When you're throwing the ball well, you keep going out," Wright added. "It's easy to look back and be like, 'Maybe shouldn't have done this. Maybe should have done this different.'"

He's continuing to thrown long toss and doing drills off the mound, but a timeline for his return hasn't been announced.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, when asked, sounded more optimistic about Eduardo Rodriguez and his return than about Wright's.

"We're in a position where we're going to get some of our starting pitchers back," Dombrowski said. "We think we're going to get Rodriguez back. We think we have a chance to get Steven Wright back. He can help us in the bullpen, too."

The current staff are holding their ground as the Red Sox continue to find ways to win and extend their Major League leading record of 77-34, taking any pressure to rush back off of Wright.

"The luxury of everybody throwing the ball so well, I can take a little bit extra time to kind of try to figure this out," Wright said. "So we're doing a lot of monitoring of workout to stuff in the weight room to stuff on the field. And monitoring and throwing as much as possible just to make sure that when we do this -- not that we didn't do it right last time -- but just to make sure I don't have those setbacks."

In the past he's been as good out of the bullpen as he was starting games, so he's not worried about his role upon returning.

"I think the biggest thing is just be ready to be a starter workload-wise but just be more prepared to be in the bullpen," Wright said. "Especially once we got (Nathan) Eovaldi. There's not like there's too many spots as far as the rotation."

While manager Alex Cora has stated in the past that he is confident to bring Wright in for high leverage situations with traffic on the bases, Wright's views are simpler.

"It's nice to have that trust from Cora and Dana but for me, I try to keep it simpler than that. I feel like when you think of high-leverage innings, you put more stress on yourself. And it's like the game can't put more stress on me than I put on myself," Wright said. "So for me, I try to simplify it to where it doesn't matter if it's the first inning or the ninth inning," he added. "I've still got to worry about what I can control. And that's to put myself in a good position to make a quality pitch. And if I can do that, it doesn't matter if it's high leverage or low leverage."

Position player restoration

Pedroia's situation is only similar in that the same restoration surgery was done to his knee as Wright's. Any learnings from Wright's process are hard to apply as Pedroia's workload as a position player is more dynamic.

While talking to, he made some of the same noises as Wright.

"There's no timetable," Pedroia said. "I can't control how the human body heals. I'd love to. I'd love to play right now. But I can't. Once everything heals permanently and I get checked out with MRI to see how I'm progressing... once that happens and I maintain my strength and keep working hard at that, it shouldn't be long. Hopefully I just heal fast."

He moved his rehab back to Arizona hoping to lift some of the strain off of the medical training staff for the players needed on a daily basis. He also doesn't believe he'll be in Arizona long, but was not sure what the next step in his rehab process would be.

"You can't risk it," Pedroia said. "If I come back too early and it fails, then that's it. When I came back, everyone thought, since I'm a smaller guy and don't bear a lot of weight, that I could play while I was healing. Obviously, I couldn't. That's normal. It's not like the surgery failed or anything like that. It just takes time for it to heal all the way and then build it up from there. It's not gonna be an issue anymore [after that]."

It seems that the common feeling is to take the needed time and target a 2019 return if necessary above pushing it for 2018. Again, the current roster is holding up nicely and well on it's way for a postseason run.

"If I get this thing MRI'd in four or five weeks and it's fully healed, then I'll play this year," Pedroia said. "If they MRI it in five weeks and it's three quarters of the way healed, then I probably won't. You can't do anything about time."

While the acquisition of Ian Kinsler is a good stop gap for second base, most Red Sox fans would love to see Pedroia back on the field in time for any Red Sox postseason run.

One thing is for sure, once this process has completed for Wright and Pedroia, the Red Sox will be ahead of the game with regards to medical information should any future players have to walk this path.

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