TORONTO – Jose Bautista wanted relief from the pain in his troubled right shoulder, both on the field and at home, and a cortisone shot was, in his words, "the least invasive but most aggressive next step."
Whether the injection of steroids directly into the affected area reduces the swelling enough to ease the pain, and allow a return to full mobility, won’t be known for a few days yet. Perhaps his body reacts well to it, perhaps not. There are no guarantees here.
In the meantime, both the all-star right-fielder and the Toronto Blue Jays have plenty riding on the effectiveness of the treatment sitting in his shoulder right now. A return to health would allow Bautista to be a complete player again, uncorking the roster bottleneck caused by his inability to throw.
"I don’t think so," he replied Monday when asked if the injury might linger until the off-season, when rest would allow the necessary healing. "It’s inflammation, it’s there until it starts going down, unless I irritate it again, and I have no reason to believe why this will just stick around for a long time."
Well, it’s also a little more complicated than simply inflammation, as Bautista, revealing specifics about the injury for the first time, explained that he has "inflammation inside the shoulder joint which causes an impingement, and the inflammation was just too slow to subside."
An impingement – a constriction of muscle or tendon, which may also be caught against bone – can be more complicated than swelling alone, depending on the type. Bautista repeated Monday that his MRI showed no structural damage and added that the other options at his disposal – more rest or exploratory surgery – were "things that won’t bring me out to right field any sooner."
No one has suggested to him that he may need surgery and right now he won’t consider it "unless my career was in jeopardy." No one is suggesting anything remotely close to that right now, although few foresaw that Bautista’s ill-advised attempt to throw out Delmon Young at first base after an angry exchange with some Orioles on April 21 would have sidelined him this long.
"When you take pictures, you look at MRIs and X-rays, there’s not much there other than inflammation," said Bautista. "It would be pretty hard for all these doctors and experts to have looked at my MRIs and not seen anything. So if you do an exploratory surgery, it would have to be an absolute last resort because it makes no sense unless it gets to the point I can’t play anymore and it would be the only way for me to get back on the field."
Obviously the sooner that happens the better for the Blue Jays, who are also down outfielder Michael Saunders, who’s resting his surgically repaired left knee. Further depleting their depth is that Dalton Pompey down at triple-A Buffalo is day-to-day with left knee soreness after lunging to first base.
They’re using a combination of Chris Colabello, Ezequiel Carrera and Danny Valencia to flank Kevin Pillar in centre right now.
Bautista missed Sunday’s 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners after getting the cortisone shot in the morning, and wasn’t in the starting lineup again Monday against the Chicago White Sox, even though he said he could play and it wasn’t his decision to sit.
On Tuesday he’ll resume his throwing program, and that’s when he’ll be better able to judge whether the cortisone is working or not. The Blue Jays are in Washington next week for three games and in New York on June 15-16 for a pair against the Mets that will be played under National League rules, so DHing won’t be an option, and an already tight crunch will only get worse.
"I want to be back out on the field," said Bautista. "I’m a complete player and I feel like I can contribute on both sides as long as I’m healthy. Right now I’m not, so I can only DH, and because of the makeup of our team as well, the kind of position players that we have, we have (Dioner) Navarro who’s not here, (Justin) Smoak and (Danny) Valencia, and (Chris) Colabello and Edwin (Encarnacion), it’s just tough if we throw myself into that mix.
"It’s too many players sort of in the same role, it definitely creates a logjam and a lack of bodies to go out in the outfield."
Bautista also isn’t looking for half-measures – when he returns to the field, he wants to be able "to compete" without restrictions.
The cortisone shot wasn’t a possibility earlier – they’re generally not recommended in the early stages of an impingement – and it’s usually two or three days before any benefits are felt.
Those can’t come soon enough for Bautista.
"The progression wasn’t going the way I expected or as quick as I expected and I was looking for some relief, not only on the field for my work life, but also for my regular life," he said. "Throbbing pain at night is not necessarily enjoyable and I was having to take pain medication just to go to sleep, that was messing up my stomach. It was just time. I’ve been on the pain medicine for too long anyway, so it was time to cut that off and try alternatives. This was the least invasive of the other alternatives."
Bautista and the Blue Jays also need it to be the most effective, because the alternatives are very bad for the both of them.