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August 29, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Vitek back strain stalls development in key year

In what was supposed to be a pivotal year in his development, Kolbrin Vitek’s 2012 campaign has been stunted by a recurring back injury that has limited the Red Sox’ top pick in 2010 to just 46 Double-A games this year.

“It’s been really tough,” Vitek said last week in New Britain. “It’s been a lot of sitting around and watching ball games every night… but it’s been really tough dealing with the aspect of losing an entire year, my first year in Double-A. It’s been an important year for me, and I haven’t been able to play.”

Vitek has been dealing with a strain to the intercostal muscle in his back, an issue he said began at the end of last season but that he had never experienced before.

“It’s kind of become an open strain, meaning there’s a lot more pulling on the muscle going on there than we thought,” he said. “It’s all kind of caused by some skeletal damage to my spine and my ribs, which causes all the damage to my muscles.”

Vitek was placed on the disabled list on May 22 with the injury after hitting .252/.302/.338 in 35 games. He rehabbed with the team for a while, but ultimately, the team’s long bus rides were not doing his recovery any favors, and Vitek was sent to Fort Myers to speed up his recovery. He returned to game action in the GCL on July 14, and after four games in Florida and two with Lowell, Vitek was back with Portland for two weeks before his back flared up again.

“I went through all the imaging and all that stuff again,” Vitek said. “They found the same problems, and they found a few more problems. They’re going after the injury with a different mindset right now, different treatment program to see if that will put me in a better direction. They’re trying everything they can on me right now.”

Despite the disappointment, Portland manager Kevin Boles said Vitek has “kept a real positive attitude” when around his teammates.

“The game is the greatest teacher,” Boles said. “Following the situations, watching us play, coaching first base. He gets involved when the games are played, even when he’s not playing. Obviously, when guys get hurt, they get frustrated. He hasn’t shown any of that. We know he wants to play… It’s not the most ideal situation for him, but he’s still trying to learn.”

Vitek said observing how his teammates go about their routines without having to go through one himself was beneficial this season, though he admitted he would much rather be out there improving his skills alongside them. When he will get the chance to play again, however, is unclear. There were discussions about him playing in the Arizona Fall League, “but that’s only about a month away now, and I’m still not feeling very good at all. There’s really no timeline with it, just whenever I start feeling better.”

Photo: Kolbrin Vitek by Kelly O'Connor

Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.