JT Riddle felt the strength leave his shoulder the moment of impact, when it struck the infield while he was diving for a ground ball hit up the middle. It was July. The Marlins were playing the Phillies.
The rookie shortstop’s season ended then and there.
“My arm was just dead,” Riddle said. “I caught the ball and tried to push myself off the ground [to make the throw]. But I couldn’t. I had nothing in my left arm to get off the ground.”
Riddle hasn’t played since.
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While Riddle works his way back from labrum injury on his left, nonthrowing shoulder, the starting shortstop’s job for the Marlins remains guesswork.
Just like two of their outfield spots.
Just like three of their rotation openings.
Riddle could be ready by Opening Day. If he isn’t — or even if he is — the job could go to Miguel Rojas.
“He’s a guy who feels like he deserves a chance to play every day,” manager Don Mattingly said of Rojas. “And it’s hard to argue with that after last season.”
But Mattingly is just as impressed with Riddle.
“His offense was OK,” Mattingly said of Riddle, who hit .282 but whose OPS of .637 ranked 28th of 31 shortstops with at least 225 at-bats. “I think there’s still room for improvement there. But, defensively, there wasn’t a place we went to and the other team was, like ‘Man, this guy Riddle is pretty good.’ ”
The shoulder is the problem.
Shoulders have long been a problem for Marlins shortstops through the years.
Alex Gonzalez missed most of the 2002 season after injuring his shoulder while diving for a hard smash by Barry Bonds. Hanley Ramirez twice underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder, which he injured on diving plays.
Even Rojas strained his shoulder on a diving play last September but managed to complete the season.
“When you hit that grass, everything just stops,” said Marlins infield coach Perry Hill.
The typical recovery period following labrum surgery ranges from four to six months. Riddle’s surgery was performed in August — six months ago.
But he has begun taking batting practice and hopes to make it onto the field for games by the final week of the Grapefruit League later in March. If the Marlins decide he’s not ready for Opening Day, the Marlins could place him on the 10-day disabled list and activate him shortly after.
Even though the surgery was to his left shoulder, Riddle has refrained from throwing with his right to avoid further injury.
“When you’re throwing, you drive [forward] with your left arm,” Riddle said. “[The doctor] doesn’t want me moving it. He wants to make sure it’s secure before I do all that, doesn’t want me to reinjure my left arm. Throwing is going to be the longest process.”