Hanley's back a big problem

Right now, the Marlins are remaining optimistic, but the early signs just aren’t very good regarding Hanley Ramirez and his lower back stiffness.

“I just got scared. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t rotate,” [Ramirez] said Monday before taking treatment. “I was hoping I could play today, but I can’t. I’ve just got to go day to day. I’m feeling it in my legs, down the left side. A tingle in my leg. That’s not a good sign. That’s what we’re worried about right now, the feeling in my legs. Hopefully it’ll be better in a couple of days.”

The combination of lower back stiffness and a few of those symptoms he mentioned sound like classical symptoms of a herniated disc. Right now, the injury is being classified as lower back stiffness, but it is possible that the swing that supposedly brought on the onset of the back stiffness could have been enough trauma to cause a herniation. Having said that, Ramirez also mentioned that he had felt his back was not well prior to the incident, so it could have easily been an injury from earlier in the season that was only aggravated during that swing.

A herniated disc is a situation where the nucleus pulposus of the intervertebral discs slips or bulges out of its normal position. The nucleus pulposus is the soft aspect of the disc that serves as a “shock absorber” for the spine. A tear in the annulus fibrosus, or fibrous tissue ring, surrounding the nucleus pulposus can allow the nucleus to bulge out of its positioning and potentially impinge on nerves originating from the spinal cord. The parenthesia or tingling that Ramirez is describing is a possible sign that the herniation of the nucleus pulposus is impinging on nerves serving his leg. The sciatic nerve originates the lumbar spine around that region and is the primary origin of many of the nerves of the lower leg; a pinching of that nerve could cause this problem.

Of course, without doing a physical examination, I could not determine whether or not a slipped disc is the cause of injury, but that was the first thing that I thought of. If it is anything more serious than simple stiffness or inflammation, there is a good chance Ramirez will miss time on the disabled list, and that could be seen as either a good thing or a really bad thing.

The fact that Ramirez mentioned that this injury was around for a little while and that only now had it seriously affected his ability to play could be a sign of something that had been developing throughout the season. This could be a good sign in the sense that the Fish may not have received a 100 percent Hanley Ramirez through 2011 and thus did not get the best version of their superstar player. Undoubtedly a lower back problem like this could have affected Ramirez’s performance and certainly his power. If so, then we can weight this season a bit less in the sense that it was not a strong representation of Ramirez’s true talent but more of a showing of what he would play like through injury.

The bad news, of course, is that a serious injury would keep Ramirez out for a while, and this lineup is ill-equipped to handle the loss of its best hitter. Even if you buy that Ramirez’s true talent dropped significantly, there is no way that his true talent is that of a .210/.306/.309 hitter or even close to that. The team has no hitter remotely close to his ability, even after this season’s poor showing. Right now, the projections have Ramirez hitting about as well as he did last season.

Who are the replacements that the team has available? Get ready for a full-time playing slot for Emilio Bonifacio, someone that Edwin Rodriguez ultimately wanted out there everyday from the start of the year. Also, get used to a full-time platoon of career pinch-hitters Greg Dobbs and Wes Helms at third base. The Marlins will probably bring up Osvaldo Martinez from the minors to fill in as a backup infielder as well, though he and Bonifacio could compete for starts at shortstop. In any event, if those choices do not sound appealing to you, I do not blame you.

What about the trade market? Conveniently, FanGraphs writer and friend of the Maniac Eno Sarris penned this piece regarding middle infield trade targets. Among those names listed was Kansas City Royals infielder Mike Aviles, a player who would fit nicely for the Fish. Aviles is not a good enough player that he would require a ton in return, but he does hold enough team control (through 2014) that the Marlins would be interested and willing to pay a decent price. The team could slot him at second base, third base, or shortstop with Ramirez’s absence, and he can field each of those positions at an acceptable fashion. Look for his name to be one of interest for the Fish.

Ultimately, however this situation turns out, the Marlins will be facing some adversity in the next few weeks. The best case scenario is that some rest and rehab can help Ramirez click again and return at full force. However, given the potential severity of the injury and the replacements available to the team, it just does not seem like a great chance. As always, Marlin Maniac will stay tuned.

Tags: Emilio Bonifacio Hanley Ramirez Miami Marlins Mike Aviles

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