Rangers third baseman Josh Jung suffered a fracture in his left thumb during today’s game with the Marlins, manager Bruce Bochy told MLB.com’s Kennedi Landry and other reporters. The injury occurred in the sixth inning when Jorge Soler hit a 109.4mph liner off of Jung’s glove hand at third base, and while Jung recovered to start an unlikely double play, he left the game after the next batter.
The fracture was apparent on initial x-rays, and a clearer timeline will be known in a day or so. If surgery is required, the usual six-to-eight week timeframe for thumb procedures threatens to possibly end Jung’s 2023 season entirely, though much depends on the nature and severity of the fracture. Since the Rangers are on pace to reach the postseason and receive a first-round bye if they win the division, Jung could rejoin the team before the start of its first playoff series.
Of course, winning the AL West and holding off the Astros and Mariners will be more difficult for the Rangers without their star rookie in the lineup. Considered one of baseball’s top prospects during his time in the Texas farm system, Jung made his big league debut with 26 games in 2022, and then headed into this season as the everyday third baseman. Jung has more than delivered on that regular role, hitting .274/.323/.489 with 22 homers over 461 plate appearances and becoming one of the favorites in the AL Rookie of the Year race.
Not that there’s a good time to ever lose a key player, but Jung’s injury occurring after the trade deadline makes it more difficult for the Rangers to find any sort of depth or replacement. It was a little over a week ago that the Rangers also lost catcher Jonah Heim to a wrist sprain, and with Heim’s return in question this year, Texas quickly pivoted to acquire Austin Hedges and Kevin Plawecki in separate trades with the Pirates and Padres. While there are still several ways to obtain players after the deadline, it’s easy to imagine the aggressive Rangers getting into the hunt for a bigger-name third baseman like Jeimer Candelario if Jung had gotten hurt even a week earlier.
Between Jung, Heim, Brad Miller out with a hamstring strain, and Corey Seager still battling a nagging thumb problem, the powerful Rangers lineup has started to spring some holes. Jung has played almost every inning at third base this season, but Josh H. Smith or Ezequiel Duran figure to platoon at the position while Jung is sidelined. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News figures that outfielder Bubba Thompson is the likeliest call-up from Triple-A, unless Seager’s status makes the Rangers call up another infielder (perhaps Jonathan Ornelas, also on the 40-man roster) to provide more depth on the dirt.
Like pretty much everyone on the Rangers, Smith and Duran are having good offensive seasons in their own rights, with Duran in particular delivering a .281/.326/.482 slash line over 325 PA. However, Duran has been in a slump since the start of July, and has started to lose playing time at his regular left field or DH spots. Perhaps getting more regular infield work would help spark Duran, since a return to that earlier-season form would go a long way towards helping the Rangers thrive without Jung. Duran and Smith make for a natural righty/lefty platoon, and Smith has an above-average (101 wRC+) offensive profile this year, hitting .214/.344/.349 over 153 PA.
This marks the third straight season that Jung has suffered a notable injury, as he surely would’ve been in the majors much earlier than September 2022 if he’d had some better health luck. Jung underwent surgery for a foot fracture in 2021, and then missed over half of the 2022 season recovering from shoulder surgery.