Sky Sox right fielder Kent Matthes is not about to let his latest setback, a spinal injury discovered in late June, slow down his pursuit of the majors.
The former Alabama standout was sidelined by back spasms after clubbing four home runs in as many games for Triple-A Colorado Springs on June 22-25. It was the second occurrence this season for the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, prompting an MRI.
What the doctors found stunned the prospect, who was batting an eye-popping .643 in his first four games.
He has a stress fracture in his lower back, called a pars defect, that caused spasms when his fifth lumbar vertebrae slipped out of place.
The fracture is a repetition injury caused by repeated twisting, such as when the power hitter swings, and compression. Research has linked the injury to contact sports and genetic predisposition.
It is treated through strengthening core abdominal muscles to stabilize the lower back and pelvis and allow movement above and below the unstable vertebrae.
"We spent the month in physical therapy working to strengthen the muscles," Matthes said. "I am glad to be back. I am working really hard to take care of my body. As long as I do, I should have no trouble playing."
In most cases, physical therapy is enough to alleviate the pain. If not, surgery may be required. If he stays pain-free and maintains his core strength, there is no reason he cannot keep playing, according to the Mayo Clinic.
He shows no sign of letting it affect him. If anything, he showed over the past few games he is the same player who steadily climbed the organizational ladder after Colorado chose him 121st (fourth round) of the 2009 draft.
Matthes was the 2011 California League Most Valuable Player with the Class A Modesto Nuts (23 homers, 95 RBIs), despite missing the playoffs with a broken hand. He was named as the best minor league power hitter in the organization by Baseball America headed into the 2012 season in Double-A Tulsa, which was cut short by a nagging oblique injury.
He showed he was healed after a strong showing in the 2012 Arizona Fall League for Salt River (22 games, 18 RBIs) and starting 2013 with 68 games for Triple-A Tulsa (.270, 24 doubles, 32 RBIs).
"He's certainly got a big league arm, a big league right-field arm," Rafters manager Matt Williams told MLB.com. "He's got good power to his pull side. He's got all the tools that you need to be a big league player."
Matthes looks to be at full strength again after this latest setback with a .366 average and 10 RBIs for the Sky Sox.
He connected for his third multi-hit game in Triple-A, including a two-run double in Saturday's loss. More importantly, Matthes dived to make a defensive play in Sunday's win against Fresno.
"I think he feels pretty good about his body and is comfortable with it," manager Glenallen Hill said. "He has quick hands and is working hard to get better. He is a good hitting addition to the team."