Nootbaar sidelined with rib fractures, expected out 2 weeks

March 9th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- A Dodgers fan as a kid while growing up in suburban Los Angeles, Lars Nootbaar always dreamed of someday playing at Dodger Stadium, against some of baseball’s best players and on the game’s grandest stages.

Now, following yet another random and freakish injury, Nootbaar knows that he just might have to miss the Cardinals season-opening series against the Dodgers near his El Segundo, Calif., hometown. Not only that, Nootbaar might also miss out on facing new Dodgers superstars Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto -- close friends of his from their time playing together for Japan in the World Baseball Classic.

“[Playing at Dodger Stadium] was a big carrot even starting out the season, and it’s motivating to get back as soon as possible, but at the same time, I don’t want to do anything dumb,” said Nootbaar, who learned Friday that he has two nondisplaced rib fractures on his left side following a hard fall in the outfield last Saturday in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Nootbaar, 26, was projected to be the Cardinals starter in left field when they open the regular season on March 28 against the Dodgers. Now, after president of baseball operations John Mozeliak revealed on Friday that Tommy Edman is also “doubtful” to be ready for Opening Day, the Cardinals are dealing with the possibility they will be missing two-thirds of their starting outfield.

“I mean, obviously, this isn’t great news,” Mozeliak said. “But we’re not overly concerned about it when you think about it in terms of the season.”

Nootbaar, who was limited to 117 games last season because of thumb, back and groin injuries, underwent imaging on his ribs and abdomen after soreness from the fall continued to linger and kept him out of the lineup. The Cardinals are hopeful that Nootbaar can return by the opener, but the odds of that decrease with him likely missing at least two weeks of Spring Training.

“He has to get to the point where he is pain-free,” Mozeliak said. “He has to get to the point where -- and this could take 10 to 14 days -- where he won’t have any traumatic injury to that area. You won’t see him playing in the field because you don’t want to see him diving.”

Edman underwent surgery on his right wrist in October, and he has progressed slowly so far. He has yet to hit live pitching, and the switch-hitter is further behind from the right side of the plate than while batting lefty. Manager Oliver Marmol said Dylan Carlson and Alec Burleson figure to be the primary outfield replacements, but speedsters Michael Siani and Victor Scott II could play their way into roles.

Nootbaar suffered the injury when he attempted to make a twisting and turning catch in left field, falling onto the warning track at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. As he landed, Nootbaar’s elbow and forearm jammed into his midsection and caused him pain. The left fielder hasn’t played since Saturday.

“I went up and jumped for the ball, and when I went to brace it, my elbow got caught between the wall and my ribs on impact,” said Nootbaar, who contacted former teammate Harrison Bader, who suffered a similar rib injury in 2022. “It was bothersome, but I had adrenaline and thought it was just a bump. I stayed in, but laying in bed, I could feel it and I was wary.”

This spring, Nootbaar has gone 4-for-9 (.444) with two walks and an RBI in four Grapefruit League games.

In 2023, he hit .261 with 14 home runs, 23 doubles, one triple and 46 RBIs. His .367 on-base percentage led the team after he drew 72 walks. However, he was unable to find much rhythm because of the myriad of injuries he suffered.

“The frustrating part is in the heat of the moment, I don’t know what could be done about these freaky contact injuries,” he said. “The frustrating thing is I go home and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how these can be avoided.’”

Over the offseason, Nootbaar worked out almost daily with close friend and teammate Nolan Arenado. The duo also participated in drills with former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, who hit a then-MLB record 70 home runs in 1998. Nootbaar is hoping that working with McGwire will help him unlock some of the power potential he feels he has in his bat in the coming seasons.

“We did some drills, and I was failing, failing and failing, but once I started to feel what [McGwire] wanted the drill to be like, I realized there are some good things that came with what he was teaching," Nootbaar said.