Many happy re­turns from in­jury?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY BARRY SVRLUGA

With the All-Star Game a month away, there’s still plenty of time to sort out buy­ers from sell­ers and de­velop the most in­trigu­ing ques­tions ( Will Cole-Hamels re­ally stay put? Where will Johnny Cueto end up?) lead­ing up to the July 31 non-waiver trade dead­line. But there’s a sur­pris­ing num­ber of con­tend­ing teams who are likely to gain sig­nif­i­cant play­ers with­out giv­ing up any­thing in re­turn — some start­ing as soon as this week­end. A look at the play­ers re­turn­ing from in­jury most likely to im­pact pen­nant races:

Justin Ver­lan­der, Tigers

Ver­lan­der hadn’t pitched since suf­fer­ing a tri­ceps strain in spring train­ing, and given his ac­com­plish­ments and Detroit’s stand­ing as four-time de­fend­ing Amer­i­can League Cen­tral champs, there may be more in­trigue around this re­turn than any other. Ver­lan­der, who al­lowed two runs in five innings Satur­day against the Cleve­land In­di­ans, won the Cy Young award and MVP in 2011 and was an all-star six times in seven years. But he paid the price in work­load. From 2009 to 2013, no pitcher in base­ball threw more than Ver­lan­der’s 1,172 innings — an av­er­age of more than 234 per sea­son. Some scouts be­lieve that di­rectly im­pacted his 2014, when he had his high­est ERA (4.54) and walks-and-hits-per-in­ning pitched (1.398) since 2008. The ques­tion for the Tigers, who en­ter the week­end trail­ing both Kansas City and Min­nesota, is will the old Ver­lan­der sur­face now, at 32, with 1,983 big league innings in that right arm?

Matt Cain, Gi­ants

Re­mem­ber, San Fran­cisco won its third World Se­ries in five years with­out Cain, the hero of the 2012 cham­pi­ons. Re­mem­ber, too, that his re­place­ment in this year’s ro­ta­tion is Chris He­ston, who threw a no-hit­ter against the Mets on Tues­day in what was his 13th ma­jor league start. Cain, who has a per­fect game of his own, last pitched July 9, 2014, which pre­ceded surgery to re­move bone chips from his right el­bow. He threw for Class AA Rich­mond on Tues­day, hit­ting 94 mph, and is due to start Mon­day for Class AAA Sacra­mento. As with Ver­lan­der, there will be some ques­tion as to which ver­sion of Cain the Gi­ants will get upon his re­turn — the three-time all-star who went 55-35 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.096 WHIP from 2009 to 2012, or the banged-up, 10-17 pitcher from the past two sea­sons who posted a 4.06 ERA and a 1.187 WHIP? Ei­ther way, an op­por­tu­nity is there for the Gi­ants, who have hung with the vul­ner­a­ble Dodgers.

David Wright, Mets

This one’s com­pli­cated. Wright has a nar­row­ing in his spinal cord that is caus­ing sig­nif­i­cant back dis­com­fort, and while he has said he plans to play again this sea­son, no one can say when that might be. The Mets, of course, are con­tend­ing be­cause of their ro­ta­tion, but a healthy Wright would be their best hit­ter, which mat­ters for a team that en­tered the week­end ranked 13th in the Na­tional League in runs scored. Wright’s re­turn also could have an im­pact on the trade mar­ket. If he doesn’t re­cover, will the Mets have to make a move for an­other bat? Martin Prado and Aramis Ramirez are third base­men who could be avail­able by trade.

Vic­tor Martinez, Tigers

Here’s the thing about Martinez: If the left knee in­flam­ma­tion that has the des­ig­nated hit­ter side­lined now was caus­ing his strug­gles — a .216 av­er­age and .308 on-base per­cent­age in his first 34 games of the year — then Detroit is get­ting one of the best of­fen­sive play­ers in the league back. But if the .335 hit­ter with a .409 OBP is gone for­ever be­cause Martinez is 36, then the Tigers have a prob­lem on their hands given they signed him to a fouryear, $68 mil­lion deal in the off­sea­son. (And even with­out Martinez, the Tigers have the best OBP in the AL.)

Doug Fis­ter and Stephen Stras­burg, Na­tion­als

Hold off on those “best ro­ta­tion ever” as­sess­ments. En­ter­ing Satur­day, Wash­ing­ton’s starters had a 4.19 ERA — 19th in all of base­ball. That’s in large part due to two things: Stras­burg and Fis­ter have com­bined to start just 17 games, and their com­bined ERA is 5.51. Fis­ter ap­pears closer to re­turn­ing; he threw six score­less innings Fri­day for Class AA Har­ris­burg in his sec­ond re­hab start since he strained his right fore­arm. Stras­burg hasn’t been right phys­i­cally since he sprained his an­kle in spring train­ing, and the Na­tion­als need him to over­come the neck prob­lem that ul­ti­mately put him on the dis­abled list. Should he do that, it’s highly un­likely he will re­peat the hor­rific num­bers — a .325 bat­ting av­er­age against and 6.55 ERA — from his first two months.

LEON HALIP/GETTY IMAGES

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