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April 2, 2010
Under The Knife
Bernie Carbo admitted that he was a drug addict, using during the famous 1975 World Series. He recounts to Boston.com's Stan Grossfield that it started with the Reds' team trainer telling him to "take vitamins." Those vitamins were dexedrine, the infamous greenies that created a pandemic in baseball until they were banned in 2006. I spoke with Larry Starr, the longtime athletic trainer for the Reds, on Monday morning, and when asked if he had ever seen something like this, he responded with "that's bull." Starr and Carbo only overlapped in the Reds' clubhouse for a short time, but Starr went on to explain that when he came to the Reds in 1971, one of the things Bob Howsam asked him was how he would handle player requests for amphetamines. Starr was an outspoken critic of baseball's lack of a drug policy throughout his tenure with the Reds and Marlins. I was unable to locate Bill Cooper, Starr's predecessor and the 1970 athletic trainer that Carbo would be referencing in his confessional. There's no doubt that Carbo and many other players used "greenies," uppers, and other forms of amphetamines with regularity, continuing up to the ban, but there's a sheen of slime that's been lobbed at too many athletic trainers. Most, like Starr, were fighting and educating, rather than distributing. So with just days before we get real games, we've got real injuries to get on to:
Brandon Webb (torn labrum/surgery, 6/1)
Things are looking both bleak and familiar for the Diamondbacks and Brandon Webb. Last year, he would work through a strengthening program then run into trouble as he neared 100 percent throwing. His shoulder would "catch" and he'd get inflammation. Eventually, they had to look inside and found a torn labrum. As he comes back from that repair, we're seeing the same type of pattern. Webb stepped back from his initial plan, but he was cleared to keep throwing, doing long toss and flat ground work. As he began to move into higher-stress work like his Monday front-of-the-mound work, the inflammation came back. Webb had to have a cortisone injection—this time from the team physician rather than his surgeon, Keith Meister, who has been handy, up the road in Surprise with the Rangers—and his timetable has moved back yet again. While the best guess is June 1, the work Webb has done so far barely supports that, and another setback wouldn't surprise me. I spoke with D'backs beat reporter Nick Piecoro today as he prepped a piece; he said that a scout had told him that Webb's session "had some sink, but it was gravity." Great line, but bad news. Right now, the $8-million gamble that the team made on Webb is looking rough. Everything I said on Wednesday holds true as well.
Huston Street (shoulder inflammation, 4/20)
Street will re-start his throwing next week on a new program designed by the Rockies' medical staff. Things have gone well during his shutdown, according to the team, which you can translate as "nothing bad happened and nothing changed." The problem with that is that, well, nothing happening is the upside. As Webb shows us, until a pitcher gets on a mound and throws at full go, we don't know everything. We know some and can make educated guesses, but whether here with some info or there in the training room, we're guessing a lot. Right now, the internal timetable for Street's return is "mid-month, but willing to let his success determine the pace." Relievers don't need much time gearing up, but if the Rockies bullpen can hold together without him, there's no reason to rush.
Daniel Murphy (knee sprain, 5/1)
The Mets are giving a really wide recovery period for Daniel Murphy, but the mild knee sprain isn't a big deal. The mechanism—an awkward step during a rundown—doesn't really tell us much, either. It's just "one of those things," a bad thing that happened that could have been much worse. There are secondary stabilizers and small, unobtrusive braces that could help, so really this is more about comfort. At first base, there's some lateral motion that would be problematic, but even so, Murphy should be back at something short of a month. In the meantime, the Mets resisted calls to bring Ike Davis up and will go with Mike Jacobs. Yes, that means that Mets fans are rending what's left of their garments.
Jose Reyes (thyroid condition, 4/11)
The Mets are scared right now. Every injury is coming with an over-conservative projection because no one wants to have to say to the assembled New York media, "there's been a setback." Reyes was given a drastic projection of "one to nine weeks" and here he is, ready to play at precisely the midpoint. Ready to play? Yes, according to many that have seen him play. Reyes has had no issues since returning to the team, a return that came more slowly than Reyes wanted. Now, he's being deliberately brought along at a deliberate pace because... well, they're scared. Reyes will start the season on the DL and could be back as soon as April 11th, but with the way the Mets have been going, maybe they'll wait until May.
Brad Lidge (lateral elbow inflammation, 4/16)
Lidge has some mild inflammation on the outside (lateral) side of his elbow. The odd thing is, with the "anatomical position" of the body, most non-anatomically knowledgeable people would say it's the "inside." The anatomical position has the body laying on its back with the palms up, like a cadaver. That's not a coincidence. So now that you know where the problem is (and I know, you just laid back and touched the lateral part of your arm!), we have to wonder the cause. It's not unheard of for a pitcher to have lateral issues with their pitching elbow, but it's not common either. Coming on the heels of Andrew Bailey's similar issue, we have to wonder why. I don't see any connections there; nor did doctors I spoke with. The cortisone injection should help calm the area and get Lidge on track to throw again. He'll miss about a week and then gear up, which puts him back around mid-April. What the Phillies get then is anyone's guess. With the Phillies also placing J.C. Romero on the DL, the pen could be a tough task for Charlie Manuel to manage early on.
Joe Blanton (strained oblique, 4/25)
It's not good, but it's simple. Blanton strained his oblique during his last outing, putting him out for the normal three-to-six-week period. Blanton's not known for his athleticism, but he's not John Kruk, either. From talking with several sources, Blanton's strain isn't severe, but the Phillies want to be cautious so that he doesn't reset the problem by pushing things. If that means fully shutting him down and costing themselves an extra week, so be it. Blanton's an innings eater, so with the pen already hurting—see above—pulling Kyle Kendrick out of his long-man role means that someone's likely to be exposed if one of the starters up top has an off day. In the long term, which probably means four weeks, Blanton will come back, should have no problems, and will get right back to munching on those yummy innings. In the next couple weeks, the Phillies will just be looking to hold serve.
Cliff Lee (strained abdominal muscle, 4/12)
Oh good, Cliff Lee had a PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection into his strained abdominal muscle. Go ahead, sit back with me and imagine the joy of that moment. Big needle, soft yet painful abdominal area. Yeah, good times. Lee is hoping to have some good times ahead, once he gets on the mound as the Mariners' No. 1A starter. The strain will heal, of course, but it's very hard to tell how much effect the PRP has. Lee's already throwing again and the M's have an interesting decision on whether to DL him. He'll have to be out for his five game suspension, but a DL move would push that suspension back. It's quite possible they'll just play a man short and hope that Lee is ready to go when they need a fifth starter. They'll wait until the last second to make that decision, which will probably be Saturday.
Roy Oswalt (strained hamstring, 4/5)
After a successful Wednesday outing in a minor-league game, Roy Oswalt is feeling pretty good. He came out of the session saying he had his best stuff of the spring, but understood that the more important part was that he was pain-free. Doctors agree that the hamstring condition and his chronic back issues are interrelated, meaning that there's another back problem on the horizon unless they can get to the root of this. It's a maintenance issue that the Astros have dealt with effectively for a couple seasons now. Oswalt seems on track for the Opening Day start, which could come against Tim Lincecum. That's a matchup I'd pay to see.
There are always things to be learned if you listen closely and find the right context. Lou Pineilla may have been praising Tyler Colvin for killing it in spring training, making the Cubs as the fourth outfielder. Deeper in there, you hear that Colvin's playing time will come at the expense of Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano. To me, that's more about Soriano, who is still not 100 percent after last year's knee surgery. Observers have been saying all spring that Soriano has been tentative, but the stats don't show it. It doesn't really say anything, which is the normal state for spring training stats. He's not limping, running less, or doing any of the things that would set off the bells and whistles here at UTK HQ, but it makes sense. That's the danger here. While we look for patterns, context, and explanations, sometimes we just don't know. I'm worried about Soriano and watching, but I'm not sure. Playing Kremlinologist with a Lou Pineilla presser shouldn't be the basis for any decision.
Quick Cuts: Junichi Tazawa adds a new wrinkle to the Japanese pitcher adjustment issue. He's heading for Tommy John surgery and will miss the season. ... A source insists that Jacoby Ellsbury's arm problem is "no big deal." We'll see come Sunday evening. ... Tommy Hunter will stay in Arizona to build up arm strength. That means the back end of the Texas rotation has a couple weeks to establish themselves. Hunter does have options, but so do the Rangers. ... All signs were positive with Bobby Jenks and his calf strain over the last week. He'll be "option one, the only option" in the closer role for Ozzie Guillen. ... Joey Devine is "making progress," but he won't be in the A's bullpen until mid-April at the earliest. ... Brandon Lyon's shoulder remains "our biggest concern," according to an Astros source. I think he forgot about Lance Berkman, but the concern is notable. ... Johnny Cueto got lit up in his last spring start. Reports have him with a stiff back, so monitor this. ... Mike Aviles (remember him?) could end up the Royals' starting third baseman with Alex Gordon (thumb) on the DL and Alberto Callaspo and Josh Fields also hurting. ... The Royals will place Gil Meche on the DL, but he'll start when eligible on April 11th as planned. ... Matt Joyce hits the DL with an elbow issue. The Rays' roster crunch doesn't help him. ... Reggie Willits is close to being ready, but the Angels will put him on the DL anyway. He'll be back quickly from his hamstring strain. ... I've had two FOTs call me over the last week, asking if I thought Vernon Wells' wrist should still be an issue. Having seen him, they think it is, but he's well past the normal time frame to be recovered. There's a chance, given the chronic nature of the wrist, that he's at what doctors call "MMI"—maximum medical improvement. ... I'm no Kevin Goldstein, but Chris Johnson seems like this year's Gary Scott to me. ... Yes, I'm getting an iPad and yes, I'll have a review. Like you could shut me up about it.