Dustin Fowler’s Road to Recovery Could Be Tricky

New York Yankees rookie outfielder Dustin Fowler has suffered from an open rupture of the patellar tendon in his right knee on Thursday night. How long will the recovery be?

Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

Imagine playing in your first MLB game and you have a rain delay that lasts for two hours and 50 minutes. On top of all of that, the game is an hour back of the time zone that you are used to.

This was the reality of Dustin Fowler, who is a prospect in the Yankees system. Before being called up to the big league roster, Fowler slashed .293/.329/.542, batted in 43 runs, and 13 home runs in 70 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

He would finally make his Major League debut on Thursday night, but it wouldn’t go as planned. While running, the 22-year-old crashed into the first base line railing. When he tried to get back up, he fell down, immediately drawing the concerns of the Yankees and others.

His knee looked out of place. It was an open rupture of the patellar tendon. After being injured and taken off of the field, Fowler would undergo surgery that same night at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The patellar tendon starts at the femur, connects to the kneecap (patella) and inserts to the shinbone (tibia). In Fowler’s case, the rupture of his patellar tendon was an open wound. This is why he had to go into emergency surgery.

This kind of injury is extremely uncommon in baseball. The only other player that comes to mind with the same injury is Los Angeles Angels pitcher Garrett Richards. Richards tore his patellar tendon in August 2014. He would undergo surgery on August 22, 2014 and return from the disabled list on April 19, 2015.

Richards owned a 2.61 ERA before being shelved for the rest of the year in 2014. When he returned in 2015, his ERA was 3.65. In 2016 (6 starts), Richards pitched to a 2.34 ERA.

In the NFL, then New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz tore his patellar tendon on October 12, 2014. While attempting to rehab for his torn tendon in his knee, he also injured his calf. He wouldn’t return to action until the 2016 season.

Victor Cruz (80) holds his knee after falling down while attempting to make a catch against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Cruz was a dynamic playmaker before his injury. He was a Super Bowl-winning receiver, who had also made it to the Pro Bowl. From 2011–13, Cruz scored at least four touchdowns each season. Since his injury, he has only scored two touchdowns total.

Another athlete who has had the same injury is Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham. On November 29, 2015, Graham ruptured his right patellar tendon. He would be able to return in the 2016 season, where he’d be selected to a Pro Bowl appearance.

In an article published by Bryson P. Lesniak, MD and Asheesh Bedi, MD for Sports MD, they discussed the recovery time of such an injury:

After surgery, athletes are placed in a knee brace that keeps their knee straight. Rehabilitation plans vary based on surgeon preference but most programs allow initiation of active knee flexion and passive extension by two weeks after surgery. At six weeks after surgery, athletes can walk without crutches. Usually, a return to athletic activities is delayed until 4–6 months after surgery based on leg strength and range of motion. The rehabilitation for chronic reconstructions is more substantial and prolonged than above.

In Fowler’s case, we don’t know how bad the injury was besides the fact that his knee cap was out of place. If there was a dislocation involved, it could prolong his recovery time.

Currently, there is no timetable for his recovery and you hate to see a young player, or any player for that matter, go down with an injury. It is especially a bummer to see a player go down before his first Major League at-bat.