May 10, 2010
Under The Knife
Beltran's Moment of Truth
Carlos Beltran (arthritic knee, ERD 5/20)
Carlos Beltran isn't running yet, but this article from Christian Red gives us a picture of his brace and brings us news that he's had a Synvisc injection. The picture is the most telling. It's an Ossur CTi OA brace. (Oddly, it's not a custom brace, though I'm sure it was professionally fitted.) The brace is designed to stabilize the knee, reducing the effects of the arthritic changes inside his knee. Combined with the Synvisc, the doctors are attacking the grinding and the causes of the grinding at the same time. It's not permanent and not corrective, but it gives him a chance to play. It appears that there's a hyperextension strap, though I can't be sure from that picture. Beltran is scheduled to run this week and his response to this is make or break, no pun intended. If his knee holds up, it's expected that Beltran's bat can remain productive. How they'll work him into the lineup remains to be seen. There's almost no chance that he'll be back in center field, but I'll leave it to the sharper knives on how the Mets could adjust. I'll remind everyone that if things go well, Beltran should be moved very quickly back to the Mets' lineup.
Nick Johnson (tendinitis in wrist, ERD 6/15)
Robinson Cano (bruised knee)
These are not your father's Yankees. Or rather, they're not the Yankees from the 2000s. For most of the decade, the team's one weakness was depth. Despite all the money they were spending on superstars, they skimped on the guys behind them. Not anymore. Even with a load of injuries—seven in seven days that forced players from games—the team just keeps moving forward. They seem to have someone at the ready to fill in anywhere, avoiding stacks or big drop-offs that could cost them production. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Nick Johnson has hit the DL. That's what Johnson does and the Yankees paid him that way. Actually, opening up the DH slot works right now, though they'd rather not lose Johnson for an extended period of time. The wrist problem that Johnson has is very problematic and could keep him out for weeks or even months. The tendinitis is serious enough that a cortisone shot did "nothing" to alleviate the inflammation. The wrist (and Johnson, since he's connected) will have to be shut down, possibly even immobilized, though I couldn't get confirmation that this was done. Is it connected to previous wrist problems? That's a tougher question. He had a relatively healthy 2009, so it's tough to make any direct connection, though it's hard to look at Johnson's history and say anything isn't connected. Saying that he'll be out a month is a guess at this stage. We'll have to watch for signs that there's progress, like taking dry swings or batting practice. With Johnson, it's safer to assume on the long side of any projection. The news is better on Robinson Cano. After being plunked on the knee Friday by a Josh Beckett fastball, Johnson's injury allowed him to DH on Saturday. Unlike Jorge Posada, Cano got "lucky" in that he was hit on the kneecap. If the bone doesn't fracture, it's nothing more than painful and tends to heal quickly. In a week, the bruise will fade and Cano will be back to 100 percent.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (neck/shoulder)
At this point, Daisuke Matsuzaka barely resembles the once-coveted pitcher from Japan, the one that dominated NPB with the Seibu Lions and again on Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic. It seems insane that a team would spend $103 million and seemingly go Broadway on him. The Sox are not a collection of stupid people. John Farrell is one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game, sought as a manager a couple times. Still, the evidence is in that whatever Matsuzaka has done in America has made him worse. Not only that, he's continually getting worse the more Americanized he becomes. After a season of shoulder and back problems, something he never had during his heavy-use younger days in Japan, where he put up some famous workloads, Matsuzaka is at best a nibbler without a single dominant pitch. Some can be chalked up to injuries and down time, yes, but there's little evidence that anything the Red Sox have done, down to his offseason in an elite American training facility instead of his normal visit home, has improved things. Perhaps Matsuzaka has a second act in him, the way Hideo Nomo did. Boston can only hope, but remember that Nomo needed out of Dodger blue before that happened. The next question we have to ask is if any Japanese pitcher can succeed in America for any sustained period of time. I'd ask everyone to look at what those methods are doing to American pitchers and wonder why we'd want anyone to change to that model. Matsuzaka scuffled his way to a no-decision in his second start, but I'm not sure there's any positives to take out of his first two starts in 2010.
Carlos Gomez (strained rotator cuff, ERD 5/12)
Carlos Gomez is hitting 30 points above his PECOTA projection's TAv, yet he's got a negative WARP. I don't pretend to understand the stats, but the gamble that Doug Melvin made on Jim Edmonds is paying off. Gomez isn't being asked to do too much, just the things he does, plus make adjustments to make himself better. Edmonds is playing with house money as he continues his Gabe Kapler-style comeback, which makes me and other wonder if Edmonds will play for several more years. Edmonds will get a couple more days as Gomez rests his sore shoulder. He injured it on an awkward play, something that no medical staff can foresee or prevent. The damage is minor and shouldn't affect him once the pain and inflammation gets out of there. It's his non-throwing shoulder, so the effect on his defense should be minimal. We'll have to see if it makes him a bit reluctant on the basepaths for the first few games.
Matt Holliday (strained groin, ERD 5/12)
The Cardinals held Matt Holliday out the entire weekend, hoping that chaining together some rest with the scheduled Monday off day will have his strained groin back to a point where he could be back in the lineup. They'll be very conservative with his timeline, both because of the recurrence risk and because their lead in the division offers them the cushion to do things like this. The injury isn't considered serious, but again, this is precisely the kind of thing that a lead gives you. While you see more discussion about this at the end of the year, when there's discussion of "rest or rust," that's hardly the case in April or May. I'm not sure at what point that starts to be a consideration—maybe August? The Cardinals don't have anything to worry about here now, but this might be a slight sign of worry. Holliday has a football player's body and plays the game hard. That's precisely the type who lack flexibility and get these kind of problems more and more often as he ages.
Joe Mauer (bruised heel)
As expected, Joe Mauer came back on Sunday. He played DH, also expected. What's interesting is that indications are that Mauer will be back at catcher on Tuesday with Wilson Ramos heading back to Triple-A. That leaves Mauer as the near-everyday catcher with almost no safety net. Sure, this really tests the modern take on the roster, with depth being only a plane flight away. It also gives us a strong indication that the Twins' medical staff doesn't feel there's going to be any problem with Mauer going back behind the plate. Ramos' time with the Twins did make the Twins think about Mauer's future behind the plate, but it doesn't appear that future is the near future.
Kurt Suzuki (strained oblique, ERD 5/11)
Kurt Suzuki's taking things in steps. On Thursday, he threw the ball. On Friday, he's expected to start swinging a bat again. Shortly after that, he'll be back behind the plate. There was some thought that he could be activated over the weekend, but with a scheduled day off on Monday, they waited to take him off the list. Little things count with oblique muscles, so an extra day could mean a lot toward preventing a recurrence. There's discussion that Suzuki had some directed injections, something that's been done with other players to help healing, but the Athletics naturally would not comment on treatment. Suzuki has one more test, a one-game rehab assignment at Triple-A where he'll catch a full game. If there are no problems, he'll move from Oklahoma City to Arlington, where he'll rejoin the team. At that point, the Athletics will ease him back in, but expect him to be back to his normal everyday act soon after.
Milton Bradley (emotional issues, ERD TBD)
At the heart of every baseball team is a business. Sometimes we are so emotional about "our team" that we can't see it that way, but like most businesses, baseball teams have employee issues. You'll seldom hear talk about worker's comp, health insurance, or employee assistance programs, but lying just underneath the surface of almost every issue you'll read about in this column, those are there and they're important. Worker's comp costs can mean the difference between signing a player or not and is one of those issues I wish I could talk more about, but it's Byzantine at its easiest. With the news that Milton Bradley has asked the Mariners for help, we got a glimpse. I'm pretty sure every team has an EAP coordinator and they deal with situations ranging from something public like this to helping players adjust to a trade and everything in between. We can only hope that Bradley can deal with the emotional issues that have seemingly held him back despite his talent and get back on the field. If not, we can hope that it helps enough to let him get on with life. This is a condition that could allow him to be placed on the DL, much in the same way we've seen with other mental/emotional issues over the past few seasons. I only wish we had Russell Carleton around this week; the topic's so much more up his alley.
A.J. Pollock (fractured growth plate, ERD 7/1)
I don't normally cover the minors, but a unique injury like what happened to A.J. Pollock, a high pick by the Diamondbacks, sure gets my attention. Pollock had a fractured growth plate. At his age, the plate is normally closed or very close to it, so it's an unusual injury for a player over 18. Beyond that, it was very difficult to tell how he would react. With a younger player, the growth plate might be damaged enough that it could cause a problem with further development, such as one arm being slightly shorter than the other, uninjured arm. I chatted about Pollock's prospects with Kevin Goldstein at the time, speculating that he might need to move to first base. Goldstein didn't think he'd hit enough and wondered if it was so bad that he couldn't play a corner. All those worst-case scenarios seem to be moot. Pollock has made good progress and should start playing competitively. The early indications are that his arm should be "nearly" normal. Its not clear what that means for his center field possibilities, but we'll know a lot more by July. Playing just a few months after having the growth plate screwed back together sounds like a win to me and anything beyond that is just a bonus.
Quick Cuts: Read this. Just read it. Then let's get Gene Monahan a monument, like he deserves. And why are there no athletic trainers or doctors in the Hall of Fame? ... Brian McCann is going back to glasses after more problems with his vision. My LASIK is just fine, thanks. ... More glasses talk from Rob Bradford regarding Adrian Beltre's new look. ... There's been a lot of talk about pitch counts over the last couple days. Matt Harrison hit the DL with biceps tendinitis after an inefficient six-inning outing that saw over 120 pitches. Gil Meche lost a game after being sent out in the eighth, clearly fatigued by 120 pitches. I'm against this as a general rule, but for it in specific, informed cases. I'm telling you, the bigger deal is that teams don't know how to measure this rather than relying on a pitch count to measure fatigue. ... I don't see any significant change in Johan Santana's delivery. He says he's keeping the glove lower. It's impossible to tell if any of the forces have changed, but the timing looks solid. ... No official word on Troy Tulowitzki, but sources tell me he felt something in his quad while turning a double play. ... Carlos Guillen's rehab will take a step up this week, with a rehab assignment by the weekend if all goes well. ... Freddy Sanchez starts a rehab assignment on Tuesday, but one source says "[the Giants] aren't in a rush and aren't expecting much." ... In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series in large part because of starting pitching. They went at least six innings deep into 20 of 24 April starts. The Rays just did the same thing by getting 22 of 26. ... Neither groin strain is serious, but with both Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones missing time, I wonder if the stretching is lacking. ... Adrian Gonzalez was off Sunday so that his sore shoulder would have two days of rest. Doesn't sound like a big deal for now. ... The Angels sat Torii Hunter on Sunday after his knee was stiff from a foul ball off his kneecap. Seems reasonable. ... My pals at Warner Bros. Records hooked me up with the new Everest record. I missed them the first time around, but wow, if you like Wilco, Neil Young, or similar, you're going to love this. ... Ross Ohlendorf had no issues with his back during his rehab start and will start for the Pirates on Monday. ... J.P. Howell will be throwing by the end of the week and could be on a rehab assignment next week. ... Pat Neshek's hand problem was narrowed down, though some are reporting this as a misdiagnosis. It's similar, but not identical, to the problem that shelved Jorge De La Rosa. ... All right, we're going to need a scouting report. ... Congratulations to Dallas Braden, who threw a perfect game against a solid Rays team. Maybe Alex Rodriguez will know who he is now.