TORONTO — Marco Estrada isn’t exactly sure how many cortisone shots he had on Monday, only that there were an awful lot of them.
“It felt like 10 needles went in me today,” Estrada said. “On both sides—left and right. I don’t know how many, to be honest with you. It felt like needles just kept going in.”
What Estrada does know is he had at least four injections, one in each of the strained sacroiliac joints in his lower back and a couple in his facet joints as well. Inflammation in those joints made it arduous for him to even bend over at the waist and pick a ball up off the mound in his most recent outing, a painful five innings against Cleveland this weekend when he pitched through incredible discomfort.
But as he leaned on a table in the Blue Jays clubhouse Monday afternoon, his back still completely numb from treatment, Estrada said he felt hopeful the cortisone injections would work and he’d be able to make his next start.
“I hope so. I hope so. I don’t want to miss any starts. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do, but it’s what I want to do,” Estrada said. “But only time will tell right now. I really can’t give an answer today. I’m pretty sore from all the needles and stuff. Hopefully tomorrow’s a little bit better. I should know by maybe two days from now.”
So, what are these spinal joints that have been causing Estrada such trouble? Well, the sacroiliac joints are actually a part of the pelvis, and connect a pair of pelvic bones—the sacrum and ilium. You have one on each side and they mostly help with shock absorption and torsion in the lower back. Every time you push off to take a step forward, the sacroiliac joints work to stabilize the weight transfer between your legs.
Meanwhile, facet joints operate between the vertebrae of your spine, helping stabilize your back. Essentially, they allow you to bend your back forwards and backwards without vertebrae grinding against each other, while also limiting that movement so you don’t topple over. They also produce fluid to help lubricate your spine’s movement. Ever cracked your back? That popping sound is caused by the cavitation of that fluid.
And if that information was a little heavy for you, don’t worry—you’re not alone.
“I don’t really know much about them, to be honest with you,” Estrada said. “I didn’t really ask too many questions, because I don’t think it’s that serious. I think they would’ve told me if something was torn. They probably would’ve mentioned it.”
That’s fair—they probably would have. And considering Estrada had an MRI on Sunday and wasn’t immediately placed on the disabled list, it’s safe to assume the Blue Jays training staff feels he can get past these issues with the help of cortisone and other treatment.
What’s encouraging for Estrada and the Blue Jays is that the right-hander suffered exactly the same sacroiliac joint ailment during spring training and was able to quickly overcome it with the help of cortisone. He missed only his first start of the season, and then rattled off 12 great outings, pitching to a 2.57 ERA, before reinjuring himself while taking an at-bat against the Philadelphia Phillies during interleague play last month.
“It’ll definitely go away, I think. I basically have the same thing. I just re-aggravated everything,” Estrada said. “I couldn’t really do anything during spring. But once I had the cortisone shot, it took a few days and then I was fine after that. It felt good until Philadelphia when I took a few awkward swings. If it wasn’t for that, I’d probably be fine.”
Since that start against the Phillies, Estrada has eased his between-starts routine, lifting fewer weights, performing less conditioning work, and giving his back more time to rest. Estrada rarely throws side sessions, even when he’s healthy, which makes things easier. But he has been getting frustrated with the need to lighten his workload.
“I’ve had to alter a few things and I’m kind of tired of it. I’m tired of not being able to do everything at 100 per cent. I’ve had to tone down a lot of things,” Estrada said. “I haven’t done anything since my last start. Obviously, it’s been pretty painful. But I got to walk today. So, I guess that was cool.”
If Estrada is unable to make his next start, scheduled for Thursday against the Detroit Tigers, Drew Hutchison would take his place. If the Blue Jays went that route, they could give Estrada two entire weeks of rest, utilizing the all-star break next week.
But according to both Estrada and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, the plan is currently for Estrada to take his regular turn. More will be known in the coming days as the cortisone does its work and Estrada either begins to feel better or doesn’t.
“We’re going to try to keep doing everything we possibly can. But I also know I need rest. And that’s probably the best medicine for me right now,” Estrada said. “We’ll see. We’ll see in a few days what happens. Hopefully I’ll be ready to go by Thursday.”