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09/11/08 10:59 PM ET
Beltre reluctant to end season
Slugger needs thumb surgery, but wants to help mates out
By Jim Street / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Sore-thumbed third baseman Adrian Beltre talked his way into the Mariners' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Angels, when just about everyone else was trying to talk him into having surgery before the regular season ends. An MRI exam taken on Monday confirmed that Beltre still has a torn ligament in his left thumb, which will require surgery. The only question in Beltre's mind is whether to have it before the Mariners play their season finale on Sept. 28 against the Athletics at Safeco Field. "I'm debating what to do," Beltre said. "I really want to finish the year, but everyone is against me. They want me to [have surgery] before then, and I don't really want to. I would feel bad walking away from the guys who have come to play every day this close to the end of the season." Beltre singled off Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning Thursday to extend his hitting streak to a season-high 14 games. The third baseman mentioned teammates Ichiro Suzuki, Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Raul Ibanez as the reasons he is so reluctant to end the regular season prematurely. "I would feel really guilty if I had surgery, and then was totally recovered in about two months." That appears unlikely, however. Beltre has been told by the organization's medical experts that the recuperation period would be four to five months. So having the surgery done in the next few days, as opposed to late September or early October, would provide at least two more weeks of healing time, improving his chances of being ready to go when Spring Training begins next February. Beltre said he probably would make a final decision in the next day or two as to when to have surgery, which basically is Tommy John surgery of the thumb. As head athletic trainer Rick Griffin explained, a small piece of donor tissue would replace the torn ligament. "I want to have enough time to be sure that I'm going to be 100 percent by Spring Training," Beltre said. "If I finish the season, it would be a really tight schedule to have surgery and be ready. That would take me to January and February, and that's cutting it too close. I'm not really sure what to do yet.'" Beltre first injured the thumb on May 31, 2007, when he dove for a ball that was hit near the third-base line in a game against the Rangers at Safeco Field. "My glove went under my body and I thought I broke my thumb," he recalled. "It started swelling right away and we had some X-rays taken and they showed nothing was broken." Beltre said he missed about two weeks, came back against the Cubs in an Interleague Play game in Chicago and "couldn't swing," and took a few more days off. "I thought it was going to get better, but it never did," he said. He finished the season and returned to the Dominican Republic, figuring that a month or so of complete rest would make the thumb better. He was wrong. Beltre picked up a bat for the first time in nearly six weeks, took a few swings and his thumb still hurt. He took another couple of weeks off, tried it again and the thumb still hurt. "We decided to fly to Seattle and find out what was happening," he said. An MRI taken in late December revealed the torn ligament, but rather than have surgery, which would have forced him to miss the first two or three months of this season, Beltre decided to play on. But with the season winding down and the recovery time uncertain, it was decided last week for Beltre to have another MRI. It now is up to Beltre to make the decision when to have surgery, which will be performed by Seattle-based hand specialist Dr. Carlton Keck. "The sooner he gets the surgery done, obviously the sooner he can start rehabbing," Griffin said. "The big thing is the thumb has to be placed in cast, and then a splint. When he comes out of the splint, there is a period of range-of-motion exercises that could last as long as six weeks." Beltre would then have go through strengthening drills, and then move on to baseball-related activities prior to reporting to camp in Peoria, Ariz. Griffin said it is remarkable that Beltre, who went into Thursday night's game with a .268 batting average, 25 home runs and 74 RBIs, has played as well as he has this season with such a painful injury. "He is a very, very tough individual," Griffin said. "He plays as hard as he can play, plays through lot of discomfort and plays well." Besides the torn ligament in his thumb, Beltre also has an inflamed bursa in his left shoulder, and that also will be repaired during a "clean-up" procedure. "There's nothing seriously wrong with his shoulder," general manager Lee Pelekoudas said, "but you have to give the guy credit for going out there and playing the way he has been banged up. He's done a heck of a job. He's a gamer."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.