Emotional D-backs OF Souza Jr. vows strong return after knee surgery

Apr 5, 2019, 3:35 PM

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — When Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo read off the MRI results of Steven Souza Jr.’s left knee two days before the team’s first regular season game, he admittedly was in shock.

Torn ACL.

Torn LCL.

A partial PCL tear.

And a torn posterior lateral capsule.

Lovullo had just learned of the results. Nobody, including Souza, knew what the future held on March 26, a day after the outfielder slipped on home plate in an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox, tearing up his knee.

On Friday, 10 days after learning his diagnosis, an emotional Souza explained the road ahead and promised to return at full strength.

Safe to say he’s optimistic.

“The first day was really hard. It was really, really hard. I just want to be out playing baseball, I think, more than anything,” Souza said as his voice cracked. “I can play this game and I don’t want people to forget that, especially the Arizona fans. I’ve been here for (72) games, but you better believe I can play this game, and I’m going to come back and I’m going to play this game at a high level.

“That’s what I’ve got my mind on,” he added, his tone changing. “I’ve got my mind set on: I believe that God is going to heal me and he’s going to heal me 100 percent. And that when I come back I’m going to show … what I was doing in the past.”

Souza went as far as saying he wants to be healthy by this postseason because his recovery time is six to nine months.

Realistic or not, he has more certainty that he can return by 2019 spring training.

Souza was in a good mental spot Friday as his Diamondbacks prepared for their home opener against the Boston Red Sox. But he admitted to having a glum outlook in the days after his injury.

Talking to Los Angeles Angels infielder Zack Cozart helped him think more positively in the days following his injury.

In mid-June of 2015, Cozart slipped on first base, tearing up his knee. His surgeon then, Dr. Timothy Kremchek, performed Souza’s surgery on Tuesday, and the doctor told Souza that the inside of Cozart’s knee looked “identical.”

Cozart eventually recovered.

He was ready to start spring training less than nine months after surgery and played 121 games in 2016. He was shut down in the final weeks of that season due to his knee but in 2017 had a career year, earning his only All-Star berth.

“I think (Cozart) kind of flipped my mindset after the first couple of days,” Souza said.

That’s why Souza chose Kremchek to perform his surgery. The recovery time proposed was also faster than other opinions Souza received. A few doctors said it would take eight to 12 months because they thought the D-back outfielder required two separate surgeries.

From a wider angle, there remains a weight on Souza regardless of optimism for a full recovery.

He injured his shoulder diving in a late spring training game before the 2018 season, and a slow recovery allowed him play in just 72 games after Arizona acquired him from Tampa Bay in an offseason trade.

And that’s why his immediate thoughts were so gloomy immediately after he slipped on Chase Field’s home plate.

“It’s a play I’ve done in my life hundreds of thousands of times,” Souza said. “It’s just a play there’s nothing I could’ve changed, there’s nothing I could’ve done.

“The most frustrating thing was I wanted to come to this city and show what I’m capable of. When I went down again, my heart just dropped for my teammates and (GM) Mike Hazen for bringing me over here because, you know, this team means a lot to me. To not be out there with them is killing me.”

For the D-backs, losing Souza and then infielder Jake Lamb to a grade 2 quad strain just a week into the season hurts.

Lovullo admitted it’s impossible for the team to expect their teammates to produce the projected 60 home runs expected between Souza and Lamb.

“I’m not going to avoid thinking about it,” Lovullo said. “I’m going to be real, I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. In similar ways, they are coming off 2018 injuries. It hurts double.

“I think once we embrace what’s happened and we understand what’s happened, we got to find a way to move on. And this team will.”

Souza doesn’t know whether wearing metal spikes instead of plastic cleats would have prevented his slip. After two serious injuries in two years with Arizona, there’s nothing more he feels he can do.

Souza is leaning on his faith and believes there’s more to this. He’s certain he will be able to come through on his promise to D-backs teammates and their fans.

“I just look at this situation and just think, there’s so much out of my control,” he said. “So there’s just got to be a much bigger story surrounding it than just me playing in the big leagues for the last two years and getting hurt and only being able to play (72) games.

“I’m not scared of it. I’m not afraid of what’s in front of me. It’s going to be tough.”

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