Stephen Drew’s Return Nears: Expectations?

It has been nearly eleven months since Stephen Drew attempted to score from first on a line drive to left field by Chris Young. As he tried to avoid the tag by Brewers catcher Lucroy, his cleat caught both the ground and his shin guard twisting it nearly 180 degrees and ending Drew’s season. He would suffer a broken ankle as well as ligament damage, an injury that has lingered with the Diamondbacks shortstop much longer than expected.

Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew hits a fly ball at Chase Field. Image: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Following the July 20th game- an extra inning loss- the team would go 42-22, a full 20 games over .500 on their way  to the N.L. West title and 94 wins. They were 52-46 with Drew. Filling in for the injured Drew were veterans Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald who was acquired in late August. At the time of the injury, Drew was hitting just .252 on the year and hadn’t really found a groove at the plate watching his average drop each passing month. But Drew was always good for extra base hits in crucial spots, his range at short is competitive with any shortstop in the league and his presence at shortstop is important to a team grinding out 162 games each year.

The real question here with Drew seemingly getting closer to returning to Shortstop is whether or not he will provide a boost to the floundering offense and will he really be an upgrade to Willie Bloomquist? What can we really expect from a player that hasn’t played in eleven months and up until this past weekend, hadn’t played back to back nine inning games? Realistically, Drew returning before the All-Star Break would be a surprise to some. I say this only because he is still having soreness in the surgically repaired ankle and that has to worry both him and the coaches. There’s nothing worse than rushing back an injured player only to see them go down just weeks later with the same type of injury. It was only a week ago that Drew had to exit an extended spring training game because of soreness. With talks in March that Drew would be our starting shortstop come Opening Day, the frustration level must mount with each passing week for the 29 year old.  Yet, now two months into the season, there is still no timetable for his return.

There is a plus side here as Drew is expected to play with AAA Reno on Thursday night in Tucson. He is done with extended spring training and it appears as though Reno is his final stop. The concern is whether he moved to AAA because he was ready or just because extended spring training ended last weekend. We will find out soon enough when he’s put into a real game situation on a more regular basis where he’ll have to run the bases as well as plant and throw to first without thinking about his ankle. Perhaps this is a best case scenario? Maybe that’s what he needs heading into his sixth MLB season- real, full speed competition put on his plate to see how he responds. Perhaps he’ll see that he is able to play through any pain or soreness without fear of making it worse. Perhaps he is just a couple weeks away from joining his team again.

In the meantime, the Dbacks continue to lean on journeyman Bloomquist who has not only taken on the everyday role in stride, but has done very well. In the 42 games he’s played in, he is hitting a very respectable-first on the team- .282 with an on base percentage of .322. He hit .300 during the month of May and has tallied nine multi-hit games in his last fourteen played. Defensively, Bloomquist and McDonald have combined to post the highest fielding percentage of all shortstops in the N.L. Not bad considering the most games 34 year old Bloomquist had ever played at shortstop prior to last year was in 2009 with the Royals when he played 38 games there.

Honestly, the one thing that should change with the Diamondbacks shortstop position right now is Gibson should stop benching Bloomquist every two or three days to “save” him for the long season. Please. I think I’ve heard something about a 37 year old(turning 38 this month) shortstop in New York doing an OK job playing everyday, no? How many days has ‘old man’ Jeter had to take off so far this year? One.

It is important that Drew returns to the Diamondbacks- he is their franchise Shortstop. But expecting him to do better than what is currently in place may be putting the ceiling too high on a player returning from an injury of this magnitude. Be excited for Drew’s presence on the field and hopefully our shortstop for years to come. Just be prepared for him to have his ups and downs throughout the remainder of 2012 when does finally make his debut.

Topics: Arizona Diamondbacks, Chase Field, Chris Young, D-backs, Dbacks, John McDonald, Kirk Gibson, Milwaukee Brewers, Stephen Drew, Willie Bloomquist

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