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April 12, 2010

Under The Knife

Mounting Numbers

by Will Carroll

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If you don't already have your ticket for tonight's event, well, you're probably out of luck. It's worth checking to see if there's any space available for the Q&A with Andy MacPhail and a parliament of BP writers Monday night. Here's the link to all the details. I hope to see many of you there, but let's get to the injuries:

Brian Roberts (abdominal strain, TBD)
One player we won't be seeing tonight is Roberts. He has had an injury-plagued 2010 campaign, starting with a back problem that wiped out most of spring training for him. Now, he's dealing with an abdominal strain. It's hard to say whether or not the two situations are linked, but since these are antagonistic muscles, it's difficult to think that there's not at least some connection. Roberts will see a team doctor on Monday, but it appears his fate has been decided already. The O's are going to DL him retroactively, and try to get him ready and back in action as close to the minimum amount of time as possible. Abdominal strains are tough ones to get a solid timeline on, however, and Roberts isn't going to be rushed back since the O's understand that he's both a key part of pushing towards contention and a valuable trade chip. I'm sure Andy MacPhail will tell us a lot more about this situation and some of the thinking behind it on Monday night at the event.

Miguel Montero (meniscus tear, ERD 5/25)
It's tough to be a catcher. That said, it's not clear how, if any, that contributed to Montero's knee injury. It was clear exactly when it happened, as he was trying to stop before the tag, but was this a one-time traumatic thing, or the straw that broke the Diamondback? So far, the team knows that he has a torn meniscus that will require surgery, but the swelling and pain is making them wait to do imaging. There's the danger that he's got ligament damage as well. If it's just the meniscus, he'll miss a month, more or less, plus some time gearing back up with a rehab assignment. If there's ligament damage, the worry is that the ACL or PCL is damaged, which could cost Montero the season. While it's the right kind of motion, a serious ACL tear would have probably had Montero drop to the ground in pain rather than limping off the field. We'll know more Monday. Until at least late May, Chris Snyder will get the big share of the catching duties in Phoenix.

Ryan Zimmerman (mild hamstring strain, ERD 4/14)
The Nats took Zimmerman out of Saturday's game as a "precaution" after his hamstring tightened up. After missing Sunday's game and announcing that he wouldn't play Monday either, it looks like precaution missed the boat. Instead, Zimmerman has a full-on, yet mild hamstring strain that's going to put him in that no-man's land of not being ready to come back quickly, but not being unable to play for long enough to put the DL into play. The Nats will take this day by day, knowing that Zimmerman is as key a player as they have, and that keeping this from becoming any sort of lingering or chronic problem is even more important. Overall, this should be no big deal in the long term, but frustrating to watch over the next few days.

Aaron Hill (hamstring, ERD 4/13)
The Blue Jays played the entire series this weekend without Hill, who is dealing with a hamstring strain. Like Zimmerman, Hill is in that no-man's land of not serious enough for the DL, but puts the team at a disadvantage since he's not available. Hill's strain is a bit more serious, and the signs that this could linger on are a bit stronger: Hill is not hitting or fielding yet, two things that the Jays were indicating he'd be doing by now. While Cito Gaston is indicating that his second baseman will be ready for the next series, there's a bit of a caveat in there. People in weekly leagues should avoid Hill, not only on the chance that he doesn't play until later in the week but because of the chance of a recurrence. Hill and the Jays are going to want to get him in for the home opener, one where he's one of the big names in the absence of Roy Halladay.

Lance Berkman (post-knee surgery, ERD 5/1)
Berkman is a guy who's easy to root for, so let me be very clear that I'm not rooting against him in any way, shape or form. What I am worried about is his ability to come back from this injury and be the Berkman we've seen. It's beginning to remind me a lot like the last days of Jeff Bagwell, where everyone wanted to see him play and have his moment, but where they could see how much pain he was going through. Watching Bagwell take batting practice before the World Series in 2005 and coming out of the batting cage with tears in his eyes is something I'll never forget, and that I hope I never see again. As Berkman's knees continue to be problematic, swelling with even minimal activity, and even after using cortisone in the knee concurrently with the last draining, the team is pushing back his expected return again. If the Mets were doing this kind of push-and-pull with a return date, the media would be in an uproar, but in Houston, it's getting small typed. I'll continue to stick with a May 1 ERD, but the more I hear about this, the more I think Berkman's in the same boat as Carlos Beltran. That means it probably all comes down to pain tolerance, something that Berkman, a guy who looks up to Bagwell, might do more than he needs.

Ian Kinsler (sprained ankle, ERD 4/21)
The Rangers are playing it safe with Kinsler. He's making progress with his ankle sprain, taking a swings and some fielding, but his big test is going to be running the bases, and that won't happen until mid-week. There was almost no chance of him making any significant progress this weekend, after having a cortisone shot on Friday, but how quickly he gets out there running is a key. It will also help if he runs well and doesn't have any sort of setback. It looks like Kinsler is resistant to bracing, but that's OK because it's not that big a deal with this type of sprain. It's still surprising to me how few players tape their ankles or wear some type of lace-up or structural brace. Most of the time it's a comfort issue rather than a function issue, but there's also the risk when a player becomes reliant on the brace. While disparate athletes like Peyton Manning, Barry Bonds, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin all have become known for their braces, none of them wanted them at first.

Jeff Niemann (bruised shoulder, ERD 4/13)
Niemann took a real shot off his shoulder during his last start, but it could have been worse, and was very close to hitting him in the face. One thing I hadn't noted, but that reader Mike R. did, was that we probably just missed a devastating injury. "Niemann's 6'9" and it hit him in the shoulder. That's probably right on the face or head of almost every other Rays pitcher. How bad could it have been?" We can only guess, but it's very difficult to judge since pitchers aren't standing straight up and down at virtually any poing in the delivery. While Mike has a point, there's also the counterargument that in all these years of baseball, it's a very small number of pitchers at any level that have been injured this way. One is too many, especially when it comes to youth sports, but to me, this is a major failing for baseball. How about each year Bud Selig and a science committee comes up with one problem and an "X Prize" style cash reward for solving it? We don't have pitcher guards because of the cost and an unsure market. By seeding it and giving awareness, that problem would be overcome quickly and the advances are probably never ending. In this case, Niemann's fine and will make his next scheduled start on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols (hamstring)
There was a shot on Friday night where Pujols was in the dugout talking to team trainer Barry Weinberg and grabbing at his hamstring. You can imagine the flood of e-mails right after that from breathless Cardinals fans. While he might not have any homers since Opening Day and despite the back problems he had in spring training, this really appears to be a non-issue. Pujols is a guy who you worry about having some sort of cascade with, since he doesn't take days off and he has a series of serious injuries that he's played through. There's a school of thought that having Pujols take some extra time off would help him, but when you look at what he's done and the dropoff to any other player taking his place in the lineup, that's easier said than done, even for a guy with the room to change things up like Tony La Russa.

Chipper Jones (strained oblique, ERD 4/15)
With age comes wisdom. That's how the phrase goes, but I'm not sure how true it is. Jones is certainly older and the way he's dealt with his oblique strain seems wiser than in the past. He rested, then went out to test the oblique in batting practice. It went downhill from there. Jones had some pretty serious back spasms after just a few swings and shut things down. It's not clear exactly how that cascade worked, but there's obvious interconnection between the areas, especially in the torsional act of swinging a bat. Jones, despite the apparent setback, is going to try some batting practice again soon, and the team indicated that he could be back as early as Wednesday. It's hard to see that based on what happened, but Jones does push to get back in the lineup. We'll see if that age and wisdom thing works out, since Jones also has experience dealing with this.

Ben Sheets
Being compared to John Smoltz is usually a very good thing for a pitcher. Sheets won't be happy when I do it, because Sheets is beginning to look like Smoltz in 2009. Smoltz showed that, in bursts, he could still do the things a pitcher needs to do to succeed, but he couldn't do it over and over on normal rest. Since teams are reluctant to do anything creative, like the "Sunday starter" concept that could make this type of pitcher useful, it makes them a longer-term problem. Sheets seems to have some signs of wearing down between starts, though its tough to draw that from two starts. It will take a couple more to see any sort of real pattern. We do know he's not throwing his fastball as much and relying more on his curve. That's a sign that the fastball is off or not all there, but can just be a simple adjustment. What I'll be watching closely in his next couple starts is if, like Smoltz last year, his velocity tails off each start on normal rest as he simply couldn't recover.

Quick Cuts: Want to fix pace of game issues? Get more Roy Halladays. His complete-game, 111- pitch start went 2:21. He's also starting to get the Randy Johnson treatment, with guys coming up with injuries when he's on the mound. ... Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Beltre collided on Sunday, with Ellsbury looking like he got the worst of it. X-rays were negative, but he's definitely going to be sore, so keep an eye on it. ... Brad Lidge got his work in on Saturday, but that's the best you can say about an A-ball debut. He'll be back on the mound Monday. Watch to see how he progresses and that he stays on schedule more than his stuff, though that's going to have to improve. He did touch 90, but that's it. ... Gil Meche came off the DL and got torched. One observer said Meche "had no business pitching in a big-league game with that stuff." ... Andre Ethier is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday after missing several games with a sprained ankle. ... Scott Kazmir had no issues during his A-ball rehab start. He'll slot in later this week for the Angels. ... The problems Kyle Blanks is experiencing early this season are making some wonder how healthy that back foot is. ... Tommy Hunter's rehab has been pushed back a few days. It's more about good starts from C.J. Wilson and Matt Harrison giving Hunter more time than any real setback. ... Gotta love when a guy tries to pitch through "The Crud", but Aaron Harang should be fine soon. ... Baltimore tonight, but where's next? That's up to you. I know we're in the planning stages on Chicago and Milwaukee, plus I want to get up and see the new park in Minnesota.

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