Early last season, a sore back made it difficult for Kris Bryant to get out of bed. At the end of last season, a foot injury made every step excruciating.
Physical afflictions came and went. The mental hurdles, however, lasted through the first season of the four-time All-Star’s mega-deal with the Rockies. The new face of the franchise played in all 42 games, most of them in pain.
“It’s constant up and down, like, ‘Man, when is this going to be, like, I can go out there and play,'” Bryant said this week on FOX Sports.
He did try.
While teammates Ryan Rolison and Tyler Kinley went under the knife last June, Bryant tried to chart a path forward with lingering issues that weren’t as serious or as direct. Neither of Bryant’s injuries required surgery, but neither seemed to go away.
The Rockies were 10-6 when a back injury in late April put Bryant on the shelf. I needed a cortisone shot to mask the pain. Bryant would miss almost all of May, returning for two games that month only to return to IL with back strain.
When it was activated on June 27, the last-place Rockies were 11 games under .500. His team had lost 30 of the 44 games they played without him in that stretch.
“I think it was tough for Kris because he signed with us, and I think he wanted to come in and make a really strong statement about his desire to be a Rockie and be a leader on this team,” the coach said Bud Black. . “It was frustrating for him because he couldn’t play, and I think his health was compromised. He wasn’t 100 percent when the season started.”
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The wounds seemed unrelenting. When his back pain finally subsided, the pain in his left foot followed. Bryant had never experienced plantar fasciitis or a bone bruise in his foot before. Any contact with hard surfaces hurt, and playing with spots only made things worse. Everyday tasks weakened.
“For me, it was just a matter of getting to a point where I could feel comfortable waking up in the morning and going to the bathroom and progressing from there,” Bryant said. “When it first happened, I had to crawl into the bathroom after one of the games. I was like, ‘This is not normal.'”
Through all the agony, the former MVP was still producing.
Bryant wanted to make his mark in his first year in Colorado, earning the seven-year, $182 million contract he signed last March after a brief stint with the Giants and a superstar stint with the Cubs. Every game he missed bothered him, let alone entire weeks and months.
“As I went through the season and got to know a lot of the guys here and the staff, it was a little easier to put that concern aside and focus on getting better,” Bryant said. “But it’s always in the back of your mind.”
So he persisted as long as he could.
Bryant didn’t have a home run through his first 20 games, but what he lacked in power he made up for with elite contact skills and an outstanding strikeout rate. Although his slugging rates dipped, he still finished the year with a career-best .306 batting average and a 126 OPS+.
“There were definitely games that I was playing and things weren’t going well, I was hurting, but it’s kind of hard because I felt like when I was on the field I was performing,” Bryant said. “I was doing everything I can. It’s kind of hard to say, ‘Man, this hurts, but things are going great.’
Surprisingly, he was at his best when his foot hurt the most.
All five of his home runs were hit during July, surprisingly all away from Coors Field. From July 24-31, Bryant was 10-for-25 with five extra-base hits. But the pain got to a point where he had to speak.
“Eventually, when things don’t feel right, he’ll catch you up,” Bryant said. “You could even do worse, and that was something we all didn’t want to deal with.”
The only solution was rest. On August 1, he returned to the injured list. He was wearing a walking boot. Later that month, she opted for a PRP injection, hoping it would promote healing. Still not sure if it worked.
With that, Bryant’s season was effectively over. And so did the Rockies. They were 20-22 in the games that Bryant played; 48-72 in those that did not. After their final game of the season on July 31, Colorado went 22-37 the rest of the way.
“I haven’t had any footage since, but it’s kind of something that could flare up again,” Bryant said. “You don’t know, just because it’s one of those things, it’s on the sole of the foot and you can take a weird step, overuse it could pop. I mean Albert Pujols had it for years, and he had it for deal with it until he finally had surgery to cut it out. I don’t want to go down that road. But, you just have to stay on top of it.”
At home this offseason, that meant a combination of heat, ice and rest.
He enters the 2023 campaign in a better place physically, though even with a healthy Bryant, most projections don’t see Colorado moving up from last place in the NFL West. Instead of listening to pundits and predictions, Bryant, who has a stellar .801 OPS for the 2-4 Rockies entering Thursday, has found that sometimes it’s better to turn off the TV, turn off the phone and go play .
“For me, it’s just about exceeding people’s expectations, exceeding our expectations,” the former World Series champion said when asked what he would consider a success this season. “That’s how I’ve always approached baseball in general. I have expectations of myself year-round, year-round, and my goal is to always be better than those.
“I think that’s a very achievable goal. That could mean winning a record 117 games; there’s a lot of different meanings. For me, you see other people’s expectations of ourselves, and that’s not something we look at really. but really going out and playing good teams, surprising a few guys, I mean going to San Diego and opening the season by winning the first two games, doing things like that consistently and having that attitude and seeing where we’re at. at the end of ‘year”.
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously served as editor of the Dodgers’ digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.
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