CHARLESTON, WV – For the past two weeks, Ke’Bryan Hayes’s name has been conspicuously absent from the West Virginia Power lineup card. Hayes last appeared on July 10 when the Power faced the Lakewood Blueclaws and had a forgettable series going 3-for-11.
We now know that those struggles may have come as a result of an upper back injury, which has plagued Hayes for much of the month of July.
Hayes has now seen doctors twice to diagnose the soreness in his upper back, once in early July and once while the Power was in Charleston facing Augusta from July 12-14. The x-ray results are negative, and Hayes has been diagnosed with “swelling of the rhomboid muscles,” he told me after the Power loss tonight.
While an uncommon injury, a sprain or strain of the rhomboid muscles can be particularly detrimental to the slugging third baseman. The rhomboids stretch across the shoulder blade and upper back. With each long throw from third, Hayes uses these muscles to power his arm across his body. These also provide power as he drives his bat across the plate. For a more in-depth look into the potential effects of this kind of injury, I recommend this article from SB Nation on a similar injury suffered by Evan Gattis in 2014.
The Power have had to essentially shut down their star prospect.
“The second time I went [to the doctor], they told me to just completely take off for a week,” Hayes said. “The swelling had gotten pretty bad.”
When the Power returned to Charleston this week to face the Charleston RiverDogs, Hayes was permitted to stretch with the team before the games and play catch. He has worked his way up to hitting off the tee in batting practice but has yet to face live pitching in his recovery.
The Power have been mum regarding Hayes’s injury. Manager Brian Esposito deflected questions but did state that the team was being “proactive” in handling Hayes.
“When you’ve got a 19-year-old kid, he’s got a lot of time ahead of him so we’re just taking our time with him,” added Esposito.
There is no timetable for Hayes’s return to the lineup, but Power trainer Dom Cappozzo has been working out a plan to progress Hayes step by step to his full strength.
In the meantime, Hayes has remained involved on the team and has not seen the disabled list. He coaches first base throughout the games and is using his time on the bench to further his development.
“I can pick up things that the pitchers are doing, in certain counts if they’re doing certain things,” Hayes said.
This injury news could explain Hayes’s recent offensive downturn. In June, he hit .256/.318/.372 compared to his blistering start in April: .343/.368/.457. In his most recent games, he hasn’t looked good at the plate, chasing pitches out of the zone and striking out at a much higher rate than earlier in the year.
To suffer such a nagging injury in his first full season of professional baseball after a solid start is disappointing for Hayes, but the Pirates organization is committed to taking their time in easing Hayes back into the lineup.
“We’re just trying to get him back to where he needs to be, give him some time off, give him some rest,” said Esposito. “We’re backing down from his work days, backing down from games right now.”