Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 6:20 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Josh Willingham will have arthroscopic surgery Wednesday to repair the medial meniscus tear in his left knee, a procedure that will keep the Washington Nationals outfielder from playing again this season but should give him plenty of time to recover in advance of 2011.
Willingham was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday after an attempt to play through the injury proved fruitless. He had known about the meniscus tear since mid-April but managed to produce at career-high levels throughout the season's first half. At the All-Star break, he was batting .281 with 15 homers, 41 RBI and a .411 on-base percentage.
But after sliding awkwardly into second base in late-July, Willingham said his knee started bothering him worse. He said it affected him most in the field and on the bases, but his numbers also tailed off considerably at the plate, perhaps because he was subconsciously compensating. Over his last 27 games, he hit just .225 with one homer, 10 RBI and a .314 on-base percentage before getting shut down after an August 15 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"That Sunday, I guess the last game I played, I scored from second on a base hit," he said. "It really bothered me doing that. It just kind of locked up after that game."
Willingham will undergo the arthroscopic surgery Wednesday in Washington, with Nationals orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih performing the operation. He expects to begin rehabbing within a couple of days and says he should be 100 percent after six weeks.
He takes some comfort knowing he's been through the exact same procedure before; he had torn meniscus in his right knee while a catching prospect in the Florida Marlins' system earlier this decade.
"I was playing six weeks afterward," he said. "So it's not that bad as far as rehab."
Still, there is some regret from Willingham that what was shaping up to be a career year instead came to an abrupt and premature conclusion. He had hoped to make it through the full season before having the surgery, but ultimately understood it wouldn't be possible.
"It's something that was going to have to get done at the end of the year anyways," he said. "It just so happened that it got to where I couldn't play on it earlier. So that's the reason we're doing it now. But yeah, it stinks."