A knee surgeon addresses Kyle Schwarber's chances of a 2016 return
The Cubs announced that Kyle Schwarber would miss the rest of 2016, but what if he's a fast healer and kick's rehab butt?
Cubs youngster Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL and LCL in his left knee in the third game of the season. He was presumed out for the season upon the diagnosis. Once the swelling subsided, Schwarber had the surgery on Tuesday. The Cubs announced that it was successful and that a full recovery was expected. They also said the goal is for Schwarber to be ready for the start of spring training next year.
Still, I couldn't help but wonder with medical technology where it is these days, with Schwarber seeming a bit superhuman at times with his strength (I kid!) and with a deep run in October being a possibility -- is it possible we'll see him again in 2016 stepping into the batter's box? I happen to be good friends with a knee surgeon, so I figured I'd hit him up.
The short answer: The chances are real, real slim. Here's the conversation with more detail.
Matt Snyder: How serious an injury is this?
Dr. Rodney Benner, Shelbourne Knee Center, Indianapolis: It's a very serious one. Multiple ligament knee injuries that involve the lateral (outside of the knee) structures can even injure the peroneal nerve, one of the main nerve structures supplying the lower leg, ankle, and foot. These injuries can result in a foot drop and threaten the athlete's return to sport ever happening at all. Luckily, we have no indication, at least in the media reports, of any nerve dysfunction complicating an already difficult injury.
MS: With this type of injury, generally speaking and without setbacks, when should we expect the player to return to 100 percent?
Dr. Benner: In most surgeons' hands, this type of injury is a 6-9 month recovery before return to full competition barring any setbacks or complications.
[Matt's note: Six months from now puts us toward the end of the NLCS, should the Cubs make it there.]
MS: What if we say he's brought back but only to hit, such as a pinch hitter or even a DH (interleague games in regular season or ... the World Series)? How soon do you think that would be possible with an aggressive timetable?
Dr. Benner: While it is not completely out of the question that he could return for the end of the regular season and postseason, everything would have to go absolutely perfectly. However, I'm not sure that's even something that I would encourage the athlete to do, and I definitely would not promise that. The main goal for this injury is to have the athlete ready for next season, and if his recovery happens to progress with that kind of timetable for the end of the season, that's icing on the cake.
MS: Only from a medical standpoint, will his ability to be a catcher be compromised in the short term? How about, say, next spring training?
Dr. Benner: There is no question that catchers who have no history of injury and surgery can experience a progressive decline in knee function that may shorten their careers, and obviously Kyle Schwarber no longer falls into that category. However, I would not regard this injury as prohibitive to catching in his future. I think the dilemma in his specific situation is that the first season back often requires a lot of maintenance rehab to keep the knee feeling good, while the second season back feels more normal. It seems like Joe Maddon and the Cubs organization may want to get him more reps to continue his defensive development in 2017. But his knee will likely be able to tolerate this better in 2018.
So there it is. It sounds like even if the Cubs make it to the World Series, there's a 99.9 percent chance we still won't see Schwarber dig in until next spring. This would be why they simply announced the goal for a return was the beginning of spring training. There's no reason to place the expectation that there's a chance Schwarber comes back.
Also, judging from that answer regarding his catching schedule, it seems a realistic option that the Cubs might just give up on developing his behind-the-plate skills, even if it's not their favorite option.
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