A familiar face returned to the Tribe Monday night as third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was in the Indians’ starting lineup for the first time in more than two months. The general assumption after he broke his forearm at the end of June was that his season was over. Yet there he was Monday night, playing third base and going 1-for-4 with a home run in Minnesota.
As far as this year goes, Chisenhall’s return is meaningless. The Tribe’s 2012 season is beyond salvation, and even if it weren’t, a free-swinging corner infielder with a .287 career on-base percentage isn’t the kind of player who can turn a whole team’s year around. But while it won’t prevent Progressive Field from remaining vacant throughout October, that Chisenhall made it back so quickly is a very, very good sign.
Two months ago, there was reason to think Chisenhall’s injury might be the metaphorical straw that breaks the camel’s back of a career that hasn’t gone exactly as Cleveland had hoped. A year ago, the Indians were extremely cautious in handling Chisenhall, holding him back in the minors until they believed he was really ready to succeed in The Show. Since then, we’ve watched as his plate discipline collapsed and he failed to make the 2012 Opening Day roster; add that to his growing reputation for being injury-prone and you’ve got some cause for concern. As I wrote after his injury:
The reality is that the Indians will head into Spring Training 2013 without knowing what to expect from him. If he once again loses the Opening Day starting job to Hannahan—and now that he’s missing a half-season of potential progress that seems like the most likely outcome—then we’re talking about an 24-year-old player who two years after his debut has failed to latch onto the team for good. And that’s when you start to worry.
There’s still valid reason to be skeptical about Chisenhall, but in many respect the fact that he returned so soon should to some extent alleviate the fear. First and most importantly is the fact that he made it back at all. Chisenhall’s injury wasn’t supposed to be career-threatening, but there’s always a significant amount of unknown with major maladies like this. Look at Grady Sizemore—there was no reason to expect that Chisenhall would suffer the same fate, but then again there was no reason to think that Sizemore would miss the whole season either.
Then, the speed of his recovery is both a positive cause and a positive symptom. Starting with the latter case, the fact that Chisenhall returned ahead of schedule suggests that he’s handling the injury better than he had been expected to. Tautological as that may seem, it is important. It’s not unreasonable to think that a batter would have trouble rediscovering his swing after breaking his arm; it’s easy to imagine that a hitter who goes through that might never feel fully comfortable at the plate again. I’m not a doctor, but it seems to me that his quick recovery implies a smaller chance that the injury will hamper him in the future.
And the fact that he’s back now is a good thing in itself. The final three weeks don’t sound like much when you’re talking about a 162-game season, but Chisenhall is still young and developing and that’s three weeks more than he would have gotten otherwise. His brief encore will give Chisenhall the chance to test his recovered arm and give the Indians the chance to take stock of what they have in him. Not to mention the fact that it will prevent him from going a full nine months without playing in the major leagues.
Maybe it’s just that I’ve been trained to be skeptical of third base prospects (thanks, Andy Marte), but I’m still worried about Chisenhall. His plate discipline issues are frightening, and it’s worrisome that he has yet to find a clear place on the roster at the end of his second MLB season. But Chisenhall’s quick recovery is a nice silver lining for the Tribe’s disappointing season, and the fact that he’s back in the lineup now is a promising sign for his future.