Yonder Alonso returned to the lineup today and went 0-2 for the Gulf Coast League Reds. Alonso had been out since mid-June after suffering a fracture of the hamate bone of the right hand while swinging at a pitch for double-A Carolina.
The hamate bone (bone "H" in the photo to the right) is a roughly triangular-shaped bone composed of both a body and a hook. Hamate fractures are classified as type I fractures involving the hook and type II fractures involving the body. Type I fractures, which usually occur in the non-dominant hand, are more common than type II fractures. Type I fractures can be caused by repetitive motion or by direct trauma, while type II fractures always require direct force. It's estimated that hamate bone fractures account for 2% of all carpal fractures.
Hook of the Hamate Fractures
The hamate has a hook through which the flexor carpi ulanris tendon passes. The hook acts as a fulcrum to increase the strength of the muscle. A fracture of the hook of the hamate bone is an usual injury, but is more common among athletes who consistently swing a bat, racket, or club. Loss of grip strength, especially on the little finger side of the hand is a common symptom of this fracture, which is obviously a problem in professional baseball. Other common symptoms include pain and tenderness in the palm and numbness in the ring and pinky fingers.
Treatment of this fracture usually involves immobilizing the bone in a cast for 4 to 6 weeks. However, in more serious cases, surgery may be required to remove the hamate bone. Healing is usually complete in 6 to 8 weeks, which was the case with Yonder.
Return to Action
It'll be interesting to see how Yonder performs as he works his way back. He wasn't flashing great power before the injury, slugging only .466, so this injury certainly won't help in that department. Occasionally, players returning from injury have a difficult time immediately regaining the same power that they had before the injury. Pirate uber-prospect Pedro Alvarez struggled early in his return from hamate bone injury, but has picked it up as of late. Other players who have suffered from the injury are Dustin Pedroia, who managed to play through the injury effectively, and Darin Erstad, while both David Ortiz and Wily Mo Pena fractured the hook of their hamate bones at one time.
While hitters can be 100% healthy from a medical standpoint, they may not regain the power and timing needed to be successful at the plate for quite a while longer. The best case for the Reds is that Yonder uses the rest of 2009 to get his timing and power back and hits the ground running for the 2010 season.
Future with the Organization
Now that the Reds have traded for Scott Rolen and revealed their intention to compete in 2010, it'll be interesting to see what they do with Yonder Alonso. Rolen's arrival makes it more likely that Todd Frazier will compete for time in leftfield with Chris Heisey, Chris Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Jonny Gomes, and Wladimir Balentien.
So, will the Reds keep Yonder Alonso at first when he's ready for the majors and shift Joey Votto to leftfield? Or, does he become a very attractive chip to trade for a shortstop, catcher, or young pitcher to offset the loss of Zach Stewart?
Personally, I've never been a fan of the idea of shifting Joey Votto to leftfield. And, his performance at first base this year strengthens the case for keeping him there. In addition, the Reds seem to have a lot of viable candidates for leftfield, so flipping Yonder for a piece of the puzzle that we actually need may be the better option.
Regardless, it's nice to have Yonder back and healthy. Reds fans need as many silver linings as they can find right now.