03/24/11 10:21 AM ET
Five to Watch: Staying healthy vital this season
Some of game's top stars must avoid further injuries in 2011
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
"If we don't lose him," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Kendrys Morales, "I think we make those last four games in Texas meaningful, that's for sure."
The Angels finished 80-82 last season, 10 games behind the American League West-winning Rangers, and who knows where they could've been had their cleanup hitter not been lost for the final four months.
Injuries, though, are everywhere. As we count down to Opening Day on March 31, MLB.com will identify Five To Watch in various categories -- from big prospects looking to crack the roster, to those with big question marks looking to get their acts together.
Here are five players for whom health will be paramount this season.
Carlos Beltran, RF, Mets
There is a chance that Beltran, helped along by a cortisone shot he received at the end of last week, will be ready to play by the April 1 opener. That's great news for a Mets team that's been hurt by injuries seemingly year in and year out.
"At this point, assuming everything goes well over the next eight days, he's on track," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "He's still on track for Opening Day."
When Beltran's arthritic right knee was operated on in January, it was supposed to be 12 weeks before he resumed baseball activities.
"Whenever I feel that I'm good to go, I will let you know that I'm good to go," Beltran said. "But at the same time, I don't know if it's the right time, if it's too soon. I don't know about that."
Kendrys Morales, 1B, Angels
Already there's been a hitch for the Angels slugger, who was lost in head-scratching fashion last season. After hitting a walk-off grand slam on May 29, Morales' lower left leg was fractured when he jumped and slipped on home plate. He was lost for the rest of the season, and the Angels never recovered.
An injury to the same leg is going to delay the start of Morales' 2011 season, which will begin with him on the 15-day disabled list, shut down temporarily as he waits for the ball of his left foot to recover from soreness caused by running on consecutive days.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
The 2006 American League MVP's season ended on July 7, when he suffered a concussion on the basepaths in Toronto.
As Morneau learned, concussions can require a significant amount of recovery time, and it's a particularly arduous process that affects more than just the ability to play baseball.
"You're driving and you're looking out the window, and stuff's flying by, and you go, 'Would I have noticed that before? Is that bothering me?'" Morneau said when he arrived in camp in February. "It's a constant thing, but eventually you get over that once you start feeling better."
Morneau started off the spring 0-for-13, but he is playing, and that's all the Twins want to see.
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Grady Sizemore, CF, Indians
It's an important year for Sizemore, and it won't start how he or the Indians hoped. He made his spring debut just this week, and he'll open the season on the disabled list with no established timetable for a return.
Working his way back from June microfracture surgery on his left knee, Sizemore was one of baseball's brightest stars in 2008, hitting 33 homers. Having played in just 139 games over the past two years, the 28-year-old needs to stay healthy to re-establish himself.
Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies
Sensing a trend when it comes to knee injuries?
Utley's right one is bothered by tendinitis, bone inflammation and irritation, and he's already received a cortisone shot. He won't be ready for Opening Day, and the Phillies seem prepared for an extended absence. They quickly signed Luis Castillo after he was released by the Mets, and it'd be hard to believe they'd have done so without serious worry for Utley.
"We are [concerned]," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We have been concerned. We haven't made any bones about that."
Unlike the other four on this list, Utley's not on the tail end of his recovery. Surgery is a possibility.
Others ready to stay healthy: Reds starter Edinson Volquez, Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier, Mets starter Johan Santana, Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, A's closer Andrew Bailey, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee.