CLEARWATER, Fla. - Throughout batting practice in the morning and the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the afternoon Monday, Roman Quinn wore a white compression sleeve on his right arm. He had practical reasons for doing so. Quinn throws with his right arm, and the sleeve keeps it loose and warm. He also has several religion- and family-themed tattoos - guardian angels, his grandparents' initials - covering his forearm, and the sleeve protects that area from the strong Florida sun, so that the tattoos stay vibrant and defined.
"They mean a lot to me," he said.
It's not unusual to see a ballplayer wearing a compression sleeve, but in light of Quinn's injury history, it was good to ask him why, just to be sure. Was his arm already sore? Had he tweaked his elbow? He has missed at least a portion of each of the last four seasons, and the long and diverse list of injuries has left his body as poked, prodded and examined as a gross-anatomy cadaver: a ruptured Achilles tendon, a fractured left wrist, a strained quad, a concussion, and an oblique muscle that he has strained twice.
That second strain happened late last season in Atlanta, in a game for the Phillies against the Braves. It ended his first stint in the majors after just 57 at-bats, and it was in all likelihood a catalyst for the Phillies' decisions to trade for Howie Kendrick and sign Michael Saunders to play the corner outfield spots. Quinn started in left field on Monday, going 1 for 3 with an infield single, and had he not injured himself again he would be a candidate to be in the Phillies' starting lineup. Instead, the Phillies were a little less certain that he'd hold up, so he's ticketed for triple-A Lehigh Valley. He might spend the entire season there.
"I was actually pissed, man," said Quinn, 23, who hit .263 with an impressive .373 on-base percentage in 15 games with the Phillies last year. "I was playing pretty well, and it's my first taste of the big leagues. And just tweaking it again, man, it pissed me off."
It has done more than that. It has, to a degree, made him re-evaluate how he plays and consider ways to keep himself healthier. Though he's just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Quinn posted an .823 on-base-plus-slugging percentage last year in the minors, his 28 extra-base hits in 346 plate appearances a result of both his speed and the pop in his bat. But he admitted Monday that the succession of pulls and tears he has suffered preys on his mind, even during games sometimes.
"I play aggressive, hard, and sometimes it does get me thinking, 'Am I going too hard? Do I need to slow down a little bit? Do I need to steal this bag?' " he said. "I wish I didn't have to worry about that. But I do."
Quinn spent the winter in Florida, mostly here at the Phillies' headquarters, working with Paul Fournier, their strength and conditioning coordinator, to improve his flexibility, particularly in his hamstrings and other lower-body muscles. "He's got zero body fat," manager Pete Mackanin said. "This guy is cut. He's a superior athlete." And that may be part of the problem - that Quinn's body is so tight that he's his own worst enemy, that the force he generates by swinging a bat or piston-pumping his legs is sometimes too much for his muscles and tendons to handle.
Take his most recent injury, for instance, that second oblique strain. In a single sequence, Quinn lined a double to left field, stole third, scored on an errant throw and immediately left the game. Yet he said Monday that he hurt himself when he hit the double, which means he rounded the bases and single-handedly created a run for the Phillies after he had already sensed the pang of pain in his rib area.
"I was feeling it," he said. "Something just didn't feel right. But I'm better now."
The Phillies want him to prove it over a full season, and Mackanin wants him to shorten his swing, to try to reduce his relatively high strikeout rate. It only makes sense. Quinn should be giving himself as many opportunities as possible to use his speed. "I think he's got a chance to be a real game-changer," Mackanin said. "He's still has kind of a big swing for a little guy. Once he knows what type of hitter he should be, he's going to be outstanding."
For what it's worth, Quinn hit the ball on the ground twice Monday, and the pressure that he can put on an infield defense was apparent on his infield single. The play should probably have been scored as an error on Rays shortstop Daniel Robertson, who juggled and dropped Quinn's sharp grounder. But Quinn forced Robertson to rush by running hard out of the batter's box. Later, he slapped the ball to third, and when the ball took a high, soft hop and settled into Patrick Leonard's glove, Quinn downshifted from a sprint to a jog as Leonard threw him out, as if he knew he had to pick his spots to go full-bore, and this was not a spot to pick. It's a long season, and for once, Roman Quinn would like to know what one feels like.