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The lockout brings unintended consequences for Yankees on the mend

Physical rehabilitation is always tricky, but it’s even more complex when you can’t talk to your physical therapist.

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Toronto Blue Jays play the New York Yankees with an increased capacity from 15,000 fans to 30,000 fans Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

During a lockout, most of us fans have a tendency to focus on the obvious drawbacks and frustrations, like the enthralling world of labor law suddenly being the front and center topic of discussion. Yet something that’s flown under the radar until recently is that while locked out, players aren’t able to have contact with non-playing team officials and employees. So hypothetically speaking, if you’re Jameson Taillon and recently had ankle surgery, you can’t speak to the team’s physical therapists to discuss your rehabilitation.

Apparently, this isn’t a hypothetical situation. In case you missed it, Taillon tweeted this out Thursday morning:

I am certainly a flawed human, and one of my many flaws is a complete inability to detect sarcasm and intended humor in social media posts. As a result, I’m assuming Taillon is being facetious when he says “I’m thinking I’m done with this boot”, under another assumption, which is the team physical therapist suggested he should be wearing one in order to restrict ankle movement for the time being.

Jokes aside, there’s much to unpack here. Taillon seems to not be bothered too much about being “in charge of my own PT,” as he likely already knows another physical therapist or can find one pretty easily. Yet it can be problematic for players recovering from injuries and going through physical rehabilitation to not have access to the person or people originally in charge of the rehab.

One might speculate that Taillon can certainly find a qualified physical therapist in the private sector who’s not affiliated with the Yankees, so this shouldn’t be a topic of concern. The problem with that line of thinking is that physical rehabilitation is not an exact science — light years from it, actually.

What physical therapists do is essentially make educated guesses based on their past experiences with patients with similar injuries and what the specifics are about the player’s injury from a biomechanical standpoint. Two qualified physical therapists can see the same person who’s recovering from an injury and have two completely different plans for how the player should go about rehabbing. We shouldn’t take that to mean that one is right and one is wrong, it simply is an indication of how complex and how many variables there are when it comes to mechanisms of injury, how they heal and how to prevent them from recurring.

That’s in a case where everyone has access to the same information, too. In Taillon’s situation, one can assume that if he connects with a PT outside of the Yankees’ organization, then that PT might not have the same kind of access as the team to the doctor who performed the surgery, nor would they have access to Yankees pitching coaches or strength and conditioning coaches, who could provide information about Taillon in the time leading up to the initial onset of pain and dysfunction.

For example, a pitching coach may have noticed Taillon’s foot gradually moving into a slightly different position in his windup as the season progressed. An S&C coach may have noticed a lateral weight shift when Taillon was squatting, which may indicate an ankle problem even without the presence of pain. Such information would go a long way toward being able to more confidently decide what Taillon should be doing and not doing ongoing, both in therapy and when back in the weight room. In the absence of all of those bits of information, the educated guess from Taillon’s new outsider PT becomes far less educated, and more of just a plain old guess.

It is worth noting that Lindsey Adler of The Athletic reported that rehabbing Yankees worked with the team’s staff to establish offseason programs and connect with local trainers. So it’s good to know that there was at least a game plan for the lockout period and that they won’t be flying completely blind. Nonetheless, it simply won’t be the same as a normal offseason rehab without the same consistent voice in the recovering players’ ears. It was already going to be a slightly different rehab anyway, given the 162-game 2021 season following the weird, abbreviated 60-game 2020.

I’m only using Taillon as an example because of his tweet, but his situation is obviously mirrored by many players. DJ LeMahieu is recovering from sports hernia surgery, and effectively rehabbing musculature in the lower torso (which generally functions reflexively, not consciously) is a much trickier proposition than an ankle. A player like Luke Voit, who’s had multiple issues with what we can safely call unsuccessful rehabs, creates a complex scenario for physical therapists as well — the absence of communication with regards to his recovery could be very problematic.

Hopefully this turns out to be a non-issue. Perhaps all of the Yankees who are in various parts of the physical rehabilitation process are not only 100-percent pain-free by spring training but have rehabbed in a manner that reduces the chances of recurring issues (although my glass-half-empty outlook finds that unlikely). Regardless, the discussion makes the owners' decision — especially the Yankees’ owner, who has so many key players in this unenviable position — to lock the players out even more puzzling than it already is.