Derrek Lee could miss at least two months with a broken right wrist, putting the injury-plagued Cubs in the same boat in which they capsized last summer.
Lee will be in a cast for up to six weeks after fracturing the distal radial bone and the distal ulna bone in his wrist during a freakish collision with Los Angeles shortstop Rafael Furcal in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's 5-4 victory at Dodger Stadium.
For the first three weeks, Lee will wear a cast to his elbow, immobilizing his right arm. General manager Jim Hendry declined to put a time frame on when Lee could return, though it could take another four to six weeks for the bones to heal completely after the second cast is off and for Lee to get his hitting stroke back in a minor-league rehabilitation stint.
Hendry has seen his best-laid plans get waylaid in stunning fashion for three years in a row.
Lee's injury came only eight days after he signed a five-year, $65 million contract extension. Coincidentally, Kerry Wood suffered a triceps injury at Dodger Stadium on May 11, 2004, after signing a three-year, $32 million extension in spring training. Wood missed the next two months of the '04 season and has made only 36 starts since that day in Los Angeles nearly two years ago.
"Obviously, he's going to be out a while, and he's a great player," Hendry said. "I'm sure he's devastated because he's a total team guy who is integral to what we want to accomplish. It's a big blow, but we have to keep plugging and hope we can get better and better."
With Wood and Mark Prior already rehabbing from shoulder injuries, the Cubs are having recurring nightmares of '05, when Wood, Mark Prior and Nomar Garciaparra all went down with serious injuries, damaging their chances of contending from the outset of the season.
Hendry said he's not looking to acquire a first baseman, preferring his in-house options.
"You're not going to replace Derrek Lee in any kind of a trade in April," he said. "You probably couldn't replace him anytime in a trade, as hard as you might try."
The only immediate options on the roster to replace Lee are second baseman Todd Walker, who has backed up Lee this year after only nine career games at the position coming into the season, and John Mabry, who had 400 games at first under his belt entering '06.
Of their top minor-league first basemen, Double-A West Tenn's Brian Dopirak is on the disabled list with a broken foot, and Brandon Sing is hitting .200 at Triple-A Iowa and isn't on the 40-man roster. Mike Restovich, an outfielder who has played some first, also is in Iowa
Walker is hitting .405 and has sparked the Cubs on the current trip, particularly in his first-inning at-bats. In his five starts on the trip, Walker has a triple, a solo homer, a two-run homer and a single in his first-inning at-bats. If Walker plays first, Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston presumably would share second, though the Cubs prefer Hairston to play against left-handers only.
If Mabry plays first, the Cubs lose their most experienced backup and their top pinch-hitter, but they could justify the call-up of Triple-A center fielder Felix Pie, who's hitting .394, because they would need another outfielder.
Neither Walker nor Mabry can replace Lee's power numbers, intimidation factor at the plate or outstanding defense. Lee led the National League last year with a .335 batting average, finished second in home runs (46) and earned his second Gold Glove award. Moreover, Lee is the acknowledged team leader in spite of his low-key demeanor, much like White Sox captain Paul Konerko.
Lee's injury occurred Wednesday night when reliever Scott Eyre scooped up Furcal's bunt with his glove and tried to shovel it to Lee after flopping on his stomach. Lee moved over to the base to try to reel in the high toss, but Furcal plowed directly into him, jamming Lee's right hand as he tried to brace himself from the collision.
Eyre blamed himself for the injury, second-guessing his decision to make the flip instead of eating the ball and giving Furcal the hit.
"I feel bad that I think I got Derrek hurt," Eyre said. "You're human. You second-guess yourself. I keep thinking in my head now that if I didn't flip it, he wouldn't be hurt."
Lost in the affair was the fact the Cubs staged an impressive comeback to win for the fourth time in six games on the trip, and the five starters have combined for a 2.61 earned-run average in the last five games.
"It was a big victory for us," manager Dusty Baker said. "I just hope we don't win the game and lose the war, so to speak."
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