Where is McLain on the road to recovery?

May 12th, 2024

This story was excerpted from the Reds Beat newsletter, with MLB.com reporter Sonja Chen contributing the opening item. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SAN FRANCISCO -- still has a long way to go on the road to recovery from left shoulder surgery, but he's beginning to get a clearer picture of what his rehab will look like.

Six weeks after undergoing a procedure to address cartilage damage and repair his labrum, McLain was cleared to resume throwing and running. He had previously been limited to simple rehab exercises and work in the weight room.

The goal remains for McLain to play in 2024, but he's taking it one day at a time.

"I'm not even thinking about that," said McLain, who joined the Reds in San Francisco and will be around the team for the rest of its West Coast swing through Phoenix and Los Angeles. "I want to play; it's great to be here. But I'm still six weeks away from taking a dry swing, so I've got a ways to go."

McLain was injured while attempting to make a diving catch during a mid-March Spring Training workout. It was initially thought to be a minor injury, but after getting a second opinion, the 24-year-old second baseman ultimately needed surgery.

For the time being, McLain said that Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the procedure on March 26, has told him he's "in a good spot." Running and throwing are not expected to pose any issues, so this step is more about building back up.

How McLain feels when he resumes swinging in six weeks will help determine a potential timeline for his return. He has an unofficial target in mind: Late August or early September, which would be approximately five months after surgery.

"Hopefully; that's the goal," McLain said of a late-season return. "Whenever it's ready, it's ready. … Dr. ElAttrache, he was telling me, 'Hey, the timeline could be this, but your shoulder -- it could heal faster or slower.' August would be a great goal."

As much as the Reds would benefit from having McLain back in the lineup, they're making sure they proceed in a way that sets him up for both short- and long-term success. He was a key contributor as Cincinnati surged to 82 wins in 2023, batting .290 with a 128 OPS+ in 89 games before sustaining a right oblique injury that prematurely ended his rookie season.

In terms of wins above replacement, McLain (3.7 bWAR) was the Reds’ second-most valuable player in 2023, trailing only TJ Friedl (3.8).

"I've heard from our doctors, who were in close contact with the doctor that did the surgery," manager David Bell said. "And they feel very confident that he's going to come back fully, and there's not going to be any long-term effects, which is the most important thing for Matt.

"We are focused on getting him back at the end of the season, but he has a long career ahead of him, so that's a relief to hear that he's not going to have to deal with it."

McLain acknowledged that his recovery may not be a linear process, as is often the case with longer-term injuries. Even if all goes to plan for the next three and a half months, it can take some time for hitters to fully regain their swing after dealing with a shoulder injury.

In the meantime, McLain will put in the work to ensure that the rest of his body remains in shape so that he's ready to hit the ground running once it's time to test the surgically repaired shoulder. Bell pointed to Friedl, who returned from a fractured right wrist last Tuesday, as an example for McLain to follow.

"He has to strengthen it, continue to let it heal, be somewhat patient," Bell said of McLain. "There's a lot he can do before he comes back -- kind of like TJ did so much, so then when the time came, his arms, legs, all that was in shape and ready to go. So Matt's going to be doing the same thing."