Frustrating injury halts Drury’s chance for fresh start with Blue Jays

New York Yankees' Brandon Drury is hit by a pitch thrown by Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Yonny Chirinos. (Mike Carlson/AP)

TORONTO — Exactly two weeks ago, Toronto Blue Jays infielder Brandon Drury stepped in for his second plate appearance of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Drury was a member of the New York Yankees then, and was playing in only his third game since being recalled from triple-A days earlier. Yonny Chirinos was on the mound for the Rays, and with his sixth pitch of the plate appearance, he tried to locate a 93-m.p.h. fastball up and in.

The pitch got away, barrelling towards Drury’s chest. Drury tried to contort himself out of harm’s way, but the pitch caught him on the base of his left hand, right above the wrist. He was in obvious discomfort as he took first base and, after he advanced to third on a hit-and-run, a Yankees trainer went out to check on Drury and decided to remove him from the game.

X-rays conducted by the Yankees were determined to be negative. The team described Drury’s hand as bruised and designated his status as day-to-day. As it happens, he never appeared in pinstripes again. Drury was held out of New York’s lineup the subsequent night and traded to the Blue Jays a day later. Drury made his debut appearance with Toronto 72 hours after the injury, entering the game as a pinch hitter, before starting seven of his new team’s next eight games.

But the thing about bruises — often referred to as contusions — is they tend to improve progressively with proper care. Drury held up his end of the bargain, receiving extensive daily treatment on his injury. But, as he went 4-for-26 in his first eight games with the Blue Jays, his hand never got better.

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Things reached a tipping point Saturday in Seattle, when it was decided Drury would be held out of Sunday’s game and sent for an MRI and CT scan on his hand in an attempt to determine why his injury wasn’t improving. Follow-up imaging was completed Monday in Toronto, as club physicians consulted a hand specialist for further analysis.

Turns out, Drury had been playing through a fracture at the base of the fifth metacarpal — the pinky finger — on his left hand since being hit by the pitch with the Yankees. What New York’s training staff identified as a bruise was actually much worse.

“X-Ray came back clean, looked good. So, I was just trying to do treatment and stuff the last week-and-a-half. And it just wasn’t getting better,” Drury said. “My hand was broke. So, I was just trying to play through it. I was doing everything I could to play through it. But it was just to the point where I couldn’t swing right, I couldn’t catch the ball right — it wasn’t right.”

Now, Drury will spend the next two weeks with his left hand and wrist immobilized in a cast. He’ll be re-evaluated after the cast is removed, and then work towards a return to play.

“It’s very frustrating. It’s not what I was looking for when I got traded over here. But my goal is now to get back healthy and get where I want to be as fast as I can,” he said. “I was out there playing, so, there’s no excuses. But, at the same time, it didn’t feel too good.”

The injury helps explain Drury’s poor performance in his first 29 plate appearances with Toronto, in which he reached base seven times while piling up eight strikeouts. The soon-to-be 26-year-old has been chasing his season essentially since April, when he hit the disabled list with a headache and blurred vision issues he says he’s been playing through for much of his career.

While it’s certainly not optimal in terms of recovery to play baseball with a broken bone in your hand, the good news for Drury is that he’s now two weeks into the healing process. That means he’ll likely be able to resume baseball activities not long after he gets his cast off. It’s possible he’ll be back in games by the end of the month.

That would not only be ideal for Drury, but also for the Blue Jays as the club continues to evaluate him and how he could fit into Toronto’s roster for the 2019 season. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he was impressed with Drury’s work defensively in spite of the injury, but could tell the infielder wasn’t feeling his best at the plate.

“He’s hit before, he’s got some power,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “I just thought he was feeling for the ball a little bit too much. But that kind of explains it with the wrist. He was biting the bullet a little bit. But he’s a kid that’s been in demand by everybody — so, that tells you everything you need to know. He’s a hard-nosed guy. He doesn’t talk a lot. He’s still feeling his way around a new team, I think. But he seems to be all business.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Speaking of Blue Jay’s third basemen, this week will be a big one for Josh Donaldson, as he continues to recover from a left calf injury at the club’s complex in Dunedin, Fla. Donaldson is expected to attempt some sprinting in the coming days, one of the final tests he must pass before he’s cleared to return to games.

Donaldson has been running, hitting, throwing and fielding groundballs since mid-July, and has been able to perform plyometric exercises such as jumping. Once he’s able to sprint, a rehab assignment will likely soon follow. Sidelined since late May, Donaldson will no doubt need some games to get his sea legs back. But he’ll have a large say in determining when he’s ready to return to major-league action.

Of course, it behooves both Donaldson and the Blue Jays to have the 32-year-old back in big-league games as soon as possible. Donaldson is entering free agency for the first time in his career and wants to prove that he’s still capable of performing like he did over the five seasons preceding this one, when he put up a .901 OPS and finished top-10 in MVP voting four times.

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, would be just as happy to see that happen so they could shop Donaldson to other teams and potentially engineer an August trade.

In order for that to happen, Donaldson would have to clear waivers first and he can’t be placed on waivers until he begins his rehab assignment. But, with more than $7 million still remaining on his 2018 salary, it’s likely he’d pass through untouched.

Meanwhile, infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. continues to take positive steps in his return from left knee and ankle injuries suffered during an awkward slide 10 days ago. The 24-year-old was out early taking groundballs on the Rogers Centre infield Tuesday, and has also been taking swings in the batting cages. His recovery timeline was estimated at two to six weeks at the time of the injury, and he’ll be reassessed going forward depending on how quickly he can demonstrate he’s asymptomatic.

And, finally, Aaron Sanchez will pitch in a game for the first time since June this week, when he takes the mound Thursday for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. Sanchez is scheduled to throw 55-60 pitches in the outing as he continues to work his way back from a right index finger contusion. Sanchez is expected to need two or three rehab outings before he’s ready to return to the Blue Jays.

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