The pain in his right shin started sometime during spring training, but Shed Long Jr. wasn’t quite sure exactly when or what caused it. He only knew he had to play through it because everyday starting second base jobs are rarely rewarded to unproven players with less than a season’s worth of games at the major-league level.
So no matter how much it hurt or ached, how much it bothered him at the plate or in the field, he was going to push through it, particularly when the season was reduced to 60 games.
“There’s been good days and a lot of bad days,” Long said in video call before Saturday’s game. “But there’s pretty much been a feeling of something there every day. There hasn’t been a time I didn’t feel something in my leg.”
But a foul ball off that sore shin area a few weeks ago in Texas aggravated the issue to the point where he could no longer play through it. Long’s season came to an end Friday when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right shin and was placed on the 10-day injured list.
“It was bothering me a little bit and gradually got worse and worse,” Long said. “It was something I was battling through. But it was my choice, and I wanted to play. Who wants to come off the field? Definitely not me.”
It caps a disappointing season for Long, who was given the starting job before the season and lost it midway through this 60-game season due to lack of production.
He finished with a .171/.242/.291 slash line* with five doubles, three homers, nine RBI, four stolen bases, 11 walks and 37 strikeouts in 34 games. It’s a stark contrast to his final 23 games of 2019 where he posted a .289/.337/.518 slash line with five doubles, a triple, four homers, 10 RBI, six doubles and 20 strikeouts.
“I know he didn’t have the season he was looking to have,” manager Scott Servais said in a pregame video call. “I do think Shed made a lot of progress in other areas of his game. His defense and the work he put in on getting comfortable at second base and all the nuances around the bag with the different arm angles and throws. I thought he made huge improvement there.”
But offense is Long’s carrying tool to the big leagues, and it’s his hitting that earned him the opportunity. He wouldn’t use the shin injury as an excuse despite the obvious need for healthy legs as the base for any batting stance and swing.
“I’m not a guy that will say this happened because of this or I wasn’t swinging it (well) because of this,” he said. “I just wasn’t getting it done. It probably impacted me more than I know, but that was something I wasn’t trying to think about. It was my choice to play through it, so I was going out and trying to do what I had to do to help the team win.”
While X-rays revealed the stress fracture, Long also will undergo an MRI and other tests and have them sent to Dr. James Andrews to see if surgery is needed.
An already forgettable season ends early with an injury and a possible surgical procedure?
“It’s very frustrating, but at the same time it’s a relief,” he said. “I haven’t been able to feel myself playing at 100% and see what I can really do. It’s a relief to know that I can take care of this and come back and feel good — be able to move and not hurt, jump and not hurt.”
And yet Long doesn’t regret the decision to play through the discomfort. He knew what was at stake. Opportunities aren’t given every year. Windows for success can close quickly.
“Honestly, the best way for me to explain it is you tell any person in America, or anywhere for that matter, that they’re going to be the starting second baseman for any major-league team, no matter what,” he said. “You get the opportunity, that’s not an opportunity that’s always presented to you. No matter what, I’m trying to do whatever I can do with this opportunity. I’m trying to make the most of the opportunity. I’m trying to take this opportunity and go.”
Pain wasn’t going to be a factor.
“It was like, ‘Yeah, there’s pain there, but I think I can make it through it.’ And for me, I’m a high pain-tolerance guy,” he said. “There’s a lot of pain that I can deal with. I can take this pain, but I’m still a go. Like I said, you tell a 25-year-old young man, that this is your job. Who’s gonna say no? Are you? Even with you, not even being 25, are you gonna say no to that?”
*batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage