Standing in: Injuries offer opportunities for some
Sandy Leon knows that one player's misfortune can be another's bittersweet good fortune.
If Wilson Ramos -- a good friend of Leon's and a fellow Venezuelan, not to mention the catcher a few spots ahead of him on the Nationals depth chart -- had not suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, there may have been no Major League debut for Leon.
"When he got hurt, they called me up," Leon said. "I was in Double-A and playing well, and it was a really big opportunity for me. It was the best thing, because I was going to make the big leagues. But it was sad because it was for [Ramos], a guy from Venezuela, who's a catcher, too."
Injuries are unavoidable. They happen to key players, and sometimes for extended periods of time. But for every injured star, there is a player willing to step in and fill the void.
Take Rafael Furcal, the Cardinals shortstop who has already made headlines this spring for a right elbow injury that will cause him to miss the 2013 season. Enter Pete Kozma, who stepped in during Furcal's absence for the last month of the 2012 season and during the playoffs.
"As long as I get a chance, that's all I can ask for," Kozma said. "I'm going to run with it. I have to do what I did last year. I have to carry it over into the season."
Kozma proved more than capable in his 26 games last season, batting .333 with five doubles, three triples, two homers and 14 RBIs. He drove in five runs in five games and accrued an OPS of .955 against the Nationals in the National League Division Series.
The key to succeeding in such fill-in role, Leon said, is to learn from your teammate without going so far as to trying to be that player. Eliot Johnson said as much when Evan Longoria was sidelined with a torn hamstring last year, and the Giants knew it when they lost their All-Star catcher in 2011.
"You just don't replace a Buster Posey," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said at the time.
Soon enough, the Yankees will find a way to move forward for the time being without Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, and the Cardinals also without Chris Carpenter.
Sometimes, the process can be a challenge. Without Victor Martinez -- a career .303 hitter who batted .330 and drove in 103 runs in 2011, his first year in Detroit -- Tigers designated hitters hit .257 with 70 RBIs last year.
It helps, Leon said, for the player stepping in to be able to lean on the teammate whose void he is filling.
"[Ramos is] a nice person and he wants to help the guy from Venezuela," Leon said. "So I could always go to him."