JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- For all the public support by the Cardinal brass for Kolten Wong as a vital part of the future infield this offseason, the 26-year-old Hawaiian has yet to see a full workload. That’s because the infielder is still dealing with pain in his right shoulder and has been follow a strengthening and rehab track that has limited his throwing.
“That's the only thing that's kind of holding me back, the throwing part. But everything else feels fine,” he said Saturday. “It's coming along. It's taken a little bit. But as everything you have to let something heal before you can push it harder.”
More concerning, the pain has been nagging Wong since his injury in late 2016 at Wrigley Field. On September 23, Wong started the game in left field, having returned to outfield work during a stint in the minors in an effort to find playing time at the major league level.
With the weather sour and the grass wet, the Cardinals decided against batting practice and warmups before the game- a not unusual occurrence for a day game in Chicago. But Wong went into his first turn in the Wrigley outfield without any familiarity.
In the first inning, the grass gave way beneath him as he tracked a liner. He jammed his shoulder during an ugly fall and the pain from that injury persisted through the season’s end. He received a cortisone shot after the team missed October. It didn’t help.
“I didn't throw at all until January. I tried to take a long break and let that thing just heal on its own. But as soon as I started throwing I could feel the pain right away.” Wong said. “I got a cortisone [shot] at the end of the season and tried to stay with my arm care. It wasn't getting better. So at the Winter Warm-up I went to them and got an MRI. They just told me I need to clear some stuff up.”
That “stuff” was inflammation in his shoulder, apparently not alleviated by the shot. He entered a strengthening program targeting his scapula area, which is designed to support his shoulder more thoroughly.
“I guess for some reason my shoulder liked to roll forward. And I guess because of that there's no strength in my scapula to hold it back in a good position. So it's always in a vulnerable position. I’m just trying to work on keeping it there and strengthening out the shoulder in general,” he said.
While Wong said he took infield Saturday with no limitations, he also admitted he still is experiencing pain. To compensate for what could be compromised velocity on his throws- at least until he can get full repetitions- he’s worked on his quickness.
“I think I can hide that. Out of every position that's the one that I know I can. Being quick is better than being strong at second,” he said. “Obviously there's going to be a little pain here and there. But I've played through pain my whole life so there's not going to be a difference. I took infield today and it felt fine. We'll see what happens.”
For the manager’s part, there’s little worry. Mike Matheny said Saturday he had no concern about Wong’s ability to effectively perform as camp goes on, despite the slow start.
“We have a lot of spring. We have a long way to go. They (team doctors) saw enough to just say, ‘Hey, let’s give a little different throwing program. Let’s monitor it and keep our eye on how far he’s throwing it, how hard he’s throwing it, instead of just throwing him in with the group.’ It’s just been keeping a closer eye. You watched him out there today taking infield. He’s going to be fine. Just some guys it makes sense to pull them back a little bit,” he said.
Wong says the damage in the shoulder is not significant enough to require an operation. When he asked directly whether he needed surgery to address the issue, he was told “not yet.”
“They said there's obviously some things that are concerning. But at this point if I just strengthen it up it will be just fine for now,” he said.
How long “for now” lasts is obviously a point of concern. The length of time the pain has persisted in Wong’s throwing shoulder means this is something the Cardinals will likely have to monitor throughout the season.