SEATTLE — The Rays should know more today about the right hand injury that will sideline star leftfielder Carl Crawford for at least two weeks and possibly require season-ending surgery, and that could say a lot about their chances to continue winning and reach the playoffs.
Crawford felt a "pop" in his right hand during his final at-bat on Saturday, and his middle finger began to lock up due to what the Rays say is "tendon subluxation," a problem with the tendon being out of its normal groove.
After being examined by Mariners medical director Dr. Edward Khalfayn, Crawford said Sunday morning he could be out six to eight weeks and might need surgery that could prevent him from returning this season. "It ain't looking good either way it goes," Crawford said before flying back to Tampa. "It's just a big disappointment for something like this to happen."
But Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Sunday night it was "unclear" how long Crawford would be out, and the team will wait until he is examined today in St. Petersburg by their hand specialist, Dr. Doug Carlan, before establishing any time frame.
In any case, best or worst, Crawford's absence will be significant to a team that relies on speed and defense and has been struggling for offense.
"There's no doubt he's a key part of the ingredients to this team — defensively, offensively, on the bases and everything, just all around," said starter Edwin Jackson, Crawford's closest friend among the Rays.
"We just have to keep it moving. Hopefully he gets better and hopefully we keep winning and be able to give him a chance to play again at the end of this season, into the playoffs or wherever it is."
Eric Hinske played leftfield on Sunday, with Rocco Baldelli returning to rightfield, and the Rays will use today's off day, and the medical report, to plot further options.
They could keep the present roster and use Ben Zobrist in the outfield (with Jason Bartlett expected back at shortstop on Tuesday); they could recall Justin Ruggiano or, less likely, Jonny Gomes from Triple A; or they could seek outside help by trading for a player who is claimed or clears waivers.
Crawford said the problem occurred when he checked his swing during a 10th-inning at-bat. "I felt my hand pop," he said. "I don't really know yet (what's wrong) I just know it's real sore. … I thought it was something I could just shake off, but then I got to the outfield and tried to play catch and I knew it was worse."
After playing the field, he told head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield it "felt like a rubberband snap."
The problem, Porterfield said, is that the tendon that runs the length of the finger is "out of the groove" and slides over to the side of the third and largest knuckle, which is a sign of damage to the tissue that holds it in place.
"More than likely he's disrupted that, so it's not holding that tendon in the proper groove," Porterfield said. Crawford is "point tender" on the spot and though it could be manipulated back into place, the problem reoccurs when the finger is flexed.
Because the injury is on Crawford's non-throwing hand, the main concern will be his ability to grip and swing the bat.
Porterfield said in general the problem could be fixed by putting the finger in a splint and resting it, or it could have to be repaired surgically, with the tissue reconstructed.
"At this point in time, with our situation, we're going to do whatever we can to get him back on the field as soon as possible," Porterfield said. "So whether that's splinting it and trying to let it heal or whether it's intervention at some point in time, I wouldn't even be able to tell you until he sees that specialist."