It took longer than expected, but Corey Seager is finally back with the Dodgers, activated on Friday after missing 65 games with a broken fifth metacarpal in his right hand. He’s batting cleanup against the Diamondbacks.
Seager was hit by a fastball from Marlins left-hander Ross Detwiler on May 15. At the time, it was thought the shortstop would miss a minimum of four weeks and perhaps up to two months. Betting the over cashed out, as Friday marks one day shy of 11 weeks since the injury.
The shortstop has been at Camelback Ranch since Monday, taking simulated at-bats in getting ready for his return. After reporting no soreness in his right hand, Seager was deemed ready to return by this weekend series against the Diamondbacks.
Seager is hitting .265/.361/.422 with a 118 wRC+ this season. He started 36 of the Dodgers’ first 39 games at shortstop before breaking his hand.
Gavin Lux filled in quite admirably at shortstop in Seager’s absence, starting 48 games at the position while Chris Taylor made the other 17 starts in that time. As shortstops over the last 65 games, those two hit .246/.332/.433, a 111 wRC+. Close enough to Seager, yes, but those are also two players who were already regulars, just shifting positions.
But the real cost comes further down the depth chart. With Seager at shortstop, Lux starts at second, and could have been sat more often against lefties, against whom he is hitting .143/.238/.171, just a 24 wRC+. It also would have meant Taylor in more of a rover position, filling in as needed around the diamond, perhaps occasionally in center field for a slumping Cody Bellinger.
Taylor playing a lot of infield with Seager out meant a revolving door in the outfield, and occasional infield starts. Since May 16, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Steven Souza Jr., DJ Peters, Sheldon Neuse, Luke Raley, Zach Reks, and Andy Burns started a combined 31 games. Adding in July trade acquisition Billy McKinney, this group is up to 38 starts, hitting a combined .154/.271/.250 in 181 plate appearances.
The long road back
The rehab process has been lengthy for Seager thanks in large part to simply needing to wait for the bone to fully heal. This is similar to the waiting periods in limbo for Cody Bellinger, who missed 46 games with a broken fibula, and Zach McKinstry, who was shelved 33 games with an oblique strain.
Any thought of Seager returning before the All-Star break was scuttled when his ramped-up batting practice was briefly shut down in late June after he experienced soreness in his hand. The gradual climb from there did not include a minor league rehab assignment, but did include countless pregame drills, taking ground balls, making throws, running, and more.
He was transferred to the 60-day injured list on June 30, which ensured Seager couldn’t be activated until July 15 at the earliest.
Of late, Seager has been hitting more and more. He batted seven times in a simulated situation at Camelback Ranch on July 17, then got four more simulated at-bats two days later at Dodger Stadium, against fellow 60-day injured list member Corey Knebel.
Dave Roberts has usually been loath to pinpoint an exact return date for Seager, which generally is a good policy, because setting a date only causes more questions if said target isn’t met.
“He’ll be ready when he’s ready,” Roberts said on July 10. “With Corey, it’s been some time, and we’ve just got to make sure we get him feeling physically, mentally, mechanically, all that stuff 100 percent. Whenever that is, we’re all at peace with it.”
This four-game Dodgers-Giants series was nebulously mentioned multiple times as a landing spot for Seager’s return, and last week Roberts even said if things go well enough, he could have been activated as early as the third game of the series.
On July 20, Roberts walked that back a little bit.
“I’m leaving it in the training staff’s hands. He wants to be active,” Roberts said. “I just want the green light on the build up, the hand, the soft tissue, feeling like when he gets out there, we can run him out there six or seven days in a row. The hitting guys telling me mechanically he’s sound, Corey giving me the green light, all that stuff.
“There’s a lot of moving parts. Ultimately, we’re not quite there yet.”
10 days later, and several simulated at-bats later, the Dodgers are finally there.