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April 9, 2010

Under The Knife

Rewind and Forward

by Will Carroll

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Here's a reminder about the Baltimore event—you will need to have the "BP Package" to attend the Q&A with Andy MacPhail plus several BP writers. Don't miss out on this very cool event by waiting. I'll be in Baltimore most of the week, handling some other business as well, but UTK will be in effect. My phone and iPad will be with me, so don't expect much of a slowdown next week. As the first week has shown us, the injuries never stop, so on to the injuries:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (upper back stiffness, ERD TBD)
This one's not going to end well. By hiding some pain near the site of his surgery, Saltalamacchia set off a cascade of roster moves that seemed to tick off everyone in the Rangers organization, starting with Ron Washington. Hiding injuries is nothing new, but this one goes deeper than most. Saltalamacchia has had issues throwing all spring, leading many to call it a case of the 'yips' rather than an injury, but if this is a physical problem manifesting itself, it's kind of an odd one. Obviously, we don't have all the details of the situation, but neither did the Rangers until yesterday. It's hard to tell exactly how "upper back stiffness" would manifest itself as a long-term throwing problem. His throws have been wild, not weak, which is what one would expect there. "Stiffness" doesn't exactly scream significant injury; many in the media are suggesting that Saltalamacchia's issue might be one of pain tolerance. Again, I hesitate to question this much from the outside, but if it's the case, some of the rumblings that this is a career-threatening situation would be significantly overblown. There's much more we need to know before we can get a handle on the situation, the prognosis, and the effect on Saltalamacchia's career. The way this went down is not going to help anyone, especially Saltalamacchia.

Jose Reyes (thyroid condition, 4/10)
It's not often that we get excited about an 0-for-4 night in A-ball, but when it's Jose Reyes, that's something. Reyes played all eight innings of a Florida State League game, showing no issues. He wasn't tested in the field, according to observers, but had no problems with the things he did. While his running wasn't showcased, the word "normal" was used over and over by people there to watch him. Since Reyes has had no issues at all with the hamstring this spring and no problems with the thyroid since returning to the team, there's no reason to treat him any differently now. He's a star-level talent with some injury risk. He's expected to head back to the Mets today and make a start on Saturday. Yes, I'm a bit concerned about the hamstring and his fatigue levels over a longer period, but I'm much more excited about what he can do on the field than the risks.

Luis Castillo (hand/calf, 4/10)
The Mets' middle infield already has one—actually two—injuries to deal with, even before Reyes comes back, and to the same player. Castillo injured his hand on a slide and disclosed that he injured his calf on Opening Day. Neither injury is significant, but Castillo has a tenuous enough hold on his position already. Days off for these kind of players offer a "Pipp'ing opportunity," though the other second-base possibilities on Jerry Manuel's bench aren't exactly Cooperstown candidates, either. The Mets will look to mix and match the four available middle infielders, with Reyes getting the most starts possible at shortstop, while hoping someone emerges as "the guy" at second. In the short term, Castillo will be running less and could have a bit less range.

Chipper Jones (oblique strain, 4/12)
Jones probably gave the Gas Face to someone other than Boog Sciambi after his "side pain" started up Thursday. It wasn't initially clear if Jones was having an oblique issue or some other variation, but the Braves are calling it an oblique. Jones came out after a couple swings in the third, but had actually injured it during batting practice. This follows the typical Jones pattern of trying to play through an injury and ending up doing more damage. The Braves will hold him out through the weekend at least, but Bobby Cox acknowledged that the team was willing to hold him out longer. Jones has often pushed to come back into the lineup early and Cox has often allowed that, but it seems that the combination of the early-season injury and Jones' chronic oblique and abdominal injuries have them erring on the side of caution. Don't be surprised a bit if this goes longer than just the weekend.

Ted Lilly (shoulder surgery, 4/23)
Any setback is bad, but the word from Chicago is that pushing Lilly's rehab start back is precautionary. Lilly had what was described as a "stiff back," so the decision was made to move his Triple-A start from Friday to Sunday to allow him to get treatment and be more ready. The Cubs' starter is coming back from shoulder surgery, so even a subtle change to his mechanics could have very significant consequences, especially early in his return. The Cubs expect Lilly to make two rehab starts before returning, something that doesn't change here. It does make his Sunday start worth a bit more scrutiny, but if he gets in his work then, we can put him back on track for the late-April return. The Cubs are juggling their rotation a bit, but it's unrelated to Lilly and more about matchups in the first couple weeks of the season.

Aaron Hill (hamstring strain, 4/11)
The Jays held Hill out of the lineup Cito Gaston said it was a precautionary move after Hill complained of a mild hamstring strain. The medical staff is working on it, and while it's not something that should keep him out long, it's likely the smart move to make sure that Hill's minor problem doesn't become a major one. With the Jays as one of the last turf teams, it's somewhat interesting to monitor how, if any, they differ from the rest of the league in terms of leg and back injuries, but since they're on the road now and have been in grassy Dunedin all spring, that's not an issue here. Hill should be back during the weekend. It wouldn't surprise me to see him in the lineup Friday, but the Jays tend to be a bit conservative with injury situations like this.

Bronson Arroyo (bruised calf, TBD)
Arroyo pitched through the pain after getting hit by a comebacker in the second inning. He went eight, but after the game described it as very painful, and that it was tightening up throughout the game. He didn't get the win, but I'm sure he's getting the gritty gutty points from his teammates. Arroyo isn't sure whether he'll make his next start, scheduled for Tuesday, which tells you just how serious this one is. We'll have to wait and see how his leg responds. Given the way he pitched, I'd suggest that he get hit there more often if comebackers weren't such a serious problem. Two major-league pitchers were hit Thursday night, and while neither has a serious problem, it can be much worse. How many more do we need before we come up with some kind of protection?

Jeff Niemann (bruised shoulder, TBD)
It wasn't just Arroyo getting hit. Niemann makes for a big target out there, and with his long stride he's closer to the plate than most. On video, you can see that Niemann was turned, with his pitching shoulder towards the plate. That sort of 180 degree turn from the mound-set is something that is often criticized as "bad fielding position," but look how it worked for Niemann—he's a thin target and the shoulder protects his face. To me, I'll give up a little bit of fielding for the safety. Also, watch Miguel Tejada's immediate reaction as Niemann went down. Hitters are as scared of the consequences as the pitchers are, I think. No one wants to be that guy. Niemann has a nice bruise on the shoudler, I'm sure, so we'll have to watch and see if he's available for his side session and next start. My guess is that he will be.

Andre Ethier (sprained ankle, 4/10)
The Dodgers held Ethier out of Thursday's game against the Padres due to a mild sprain of his ankle. It's not considered serious, but being opening week and needing to get Garret Anderson a bit of work made this an easy move for Joe Torre. It's unclear exactly how it happened, though many pointed to his last at-bat of Wednesday's game, saying that he wasn't running well. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com said that the injury occured when Ethier was stepping back on the bag after his RBI single, which would make more sense. There's no good angle on the video of that, so I can't tell myself. All sources point to this as being very minor, so expect Ethier to miss no more than one game.

Quick Cuts: Felix Pie is expected back this weekend after starting the season on the bench with a sore shoulder. The expectation is that he'll be back ahead of where a retro DL move would have put him, but it's close. ... Derrek Lee is dealing with some residual swelling at the base of his thumb. It's affecting his grip, but he doesn't expect to miss any time. Watch to see how it affects his bat control. ... Charlie Manuel attributed Ryan Howard's early-season success to how close to the plate he's standing. I attribute it to pitchers that won't come inside on him. ... C.J. Wilson was solid in his season debut as a starter. He made 98 pitches, but no word on if he's using his gyroball. ... The Padres announced that their young pitchers are not on a pitch count. I think this is smart because common sense still holds, and Bud Black should have a solid handle on his pitching. ... Three games is hardly even a small sample, but the Rangers hitting woes are going to start some "they miss Rudy Jaramillo" rumblings soon. ... While I had his ERD as 4/13, it looks like Gil Meche will be back on April 11th. Please remember that the ERDs are a best guess as to when a player is going to return.

Related Content:  Gutty,  Back,  Jeff Niemann

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