Mets outfielder Jay Bruce is clearly struggling to deal with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and it's going to need to be addressed sooner than later...
Bruce recently told reporters that he has dealt with plantar fasciitis on and off during his career.
"It's never really been unbearable where I felt like I had to say something," he explained. "However, he continued, "It definitely was talking to me a little more than I thought it should be. I'm not really one who likes to take days off, but it's the necessary evil sometimes."
He may have requested his first day off in mid-April, but he missed time for this exact issue in St. Lucie. So, my guess is that they beat it back enough to get him on field for the start of the season, but (unlike he experienced in previous seasons, when he was younger) the issue likely flared up again when being forced to play every day in April.
It's no coincidence, I'm sure, that Bruce is batting .100 during his 36 plate appearances since April 8. In that time, the Mets have had one scheduled off day. Mickey Callaway has three times tried to get Bruce a day out of the lineup, but eventually used him as a pinch hitter. In each of those three instances, I'm sure Bruce felt fine, which would typically be the case after getting treatment and resting on the bench. I'm sure he feels fine before first pitch, as well. But, I doubt it lasts...
Basically, plantar fasciitis is when the tissue under your foot becomes inflamed, either from overuse or small tears in the tissue. Scar tissue often develops (even for professional athletes), which can make it more difficult to correct the condition, especially for a nine-inning, everyday baseball player.
I experienced plantar fasciitis in 2007. When it flared and I stepped down, it felt like the bottom of my foot was being ripped wide open by dozens of razor blades. And that's the thing, you don't typically feel the pain until you plant your foot. So, you can literally be standing tall, feeling fine, maybe you even forgot you ever had plantar fasciitis and then you pick your foot up, put it down and, ouch, you buckle to the floor in pain.
"You almost want to pee in your bed rather than go to the bathroom," Angels 1B Albert Pujols once said of the pain when talking to USA Today. "For me, it was that painful."
The point is, if this is what Bruce is currently experiencing, I have no idea how he's tolerating it while being on his feet for three hours each night.
The answer, I'm sure, is that world class trainers and medical professionals are likely treating him before, after and maybe even during games, all of which certainly masks the issue. However, based on what other athletes have described, no matter how it's being treated, if Bruce is standing in the outfield and not moving much, with his feet on grass for 15-20 minutes at a clip, the tissue is almost certainly tightening and causing some level of irritation throughout the night.
Albert Pujols, Clayton Kershaw, R.A. Dickey, Addison Russell,and Ryan Zimmerman are the most notable baseball players in recent history to deal with this issue.
In the cases of Kershaw and Dickey, as pitchers, they were able to avoid the DL and deal with it, because four out of five days they could get treatment, rest and let blood flow around the heel.
This isn't possible as an everyday player.
Russell and Zimmerman tried to deal with it, but eventually gave in to trips to the disabled list, all of which occurred during key moments in their team's seasons. Like Bruce, Russell, and Zimmerman, Pujols was able to go a decade playing through the pain, he told USA Today. However, that changed for him in his early-30s. And by 2013, he was forced to sit out the final two months of the season so the tissue and his heel could finally be treated properly and fully heal.
Bruce is 31 years old.
"I had been dealing with it for nine years," Pujols said in 2013. "This was the worst of all the years. Hopefully, with rest, it will be fine."
Pujols treated the issue and played at least 149 games each of the next four seasons. He never again spoke of it being an issue and returned to averaging 30 home runs and 100 RBI.
For now, Bruce is doing what the above players tried to do, which is get treatment, tolerate pain and wear an orthotic insert in his shoe. I've also heard Bruce has now taken to wearing a boot or splint contraption overnight to help keep his foot in proper position when sleeping.
" I want to do everything I can to really nip it in the bud and knock it out, and not have it be a lingering issue," Bruce recently said.
According to WFAN radio host Bart Scott, who spent four years dealing with plantar fasciitis as a linebacker for the Jets, Bruce will not be Bruce until he eventually goes on the disabled list.
"He has to go through a painful raking, where they move all the scar tissue out," Scott said. "It's gonna hurt, you're gonna cry, you're gonna sweat, but it's necessary and then he needs rest."
Scott's fear, he explained, is that the current treatment and occasional days off will work just enough to keep Bruce on field and able to hit. However, Bruce will not be as productive as he's expected to be and -- worse -- the risk remains that it could flare up on him again later in the season when the Mets are in a pennant race and need him 100 percent healthy.
By the way, Scott is not kidding -- that treatment is killer. I had this exact technique done, where they take a smooth, rounded blade and manually break up the scar tissue by pushing and dragging it across your the bottom of your foot. And he's right, it does feel like a million BBs are breaking bones.
Thankfully, Mets outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares have been terrific and uplifting in every situation Callaway has used them this season. Nimmo has a .517 OBP and Lagares is batting .393 in 32 plate appearances.
On the other hand, in his current condition, Bruce is batting .190 with one home run.
"It's like having a sore tooth all the time," former Angels OF Tim Salmon once said. "You can't quite focus 100 percent when you have a sore tooth. It's always throbbing. It just takes away from your focus of getting ready. My mental preparation of getting ready for a game was diminished over time because I was spending more time trying to get myself healthy and ready to play that night."
I don't know for a fact that Bruce's plantar fasciitis is distracting him. It may or may not be why he's hitless during his last 17 plate appearances dating back to this past weekend. But, if it is, I'd rather see Nimmo and Lagares split time when they're hot, so Bruce can be treated, rest, and be 100 percent for when the Mets push to top the Nationals in September for the NL East.