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June 15, 2010

Under The Knife

Happy Returns?

by Will Carroll

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If there's one thing besides sports medicine that fascinates me, it's technology. When that meshes with writing, it definitely has my attention. While Shawn Hoffman and I are accused—rightly—of being Apple fanboys with our iPhones and iPads, it's a small, almost unnoticed feature in the latest release of Safari that interests me. The "Reader" feature is something of an offshoot of the popular Instapaper service that allows for simplified, offline reading. It mirrors and uses code from the bookmarklet Readability, which can be used on Firefox and Chrome. Both make for a more book-like reading experience. It's a simple but powerful change. BPro rocks the 1999 look-and-feel, but even when we brought ads to the site, it's been about simplicity and readability. Seeing how Reader makes my articles look makes me wish you didn't have to push a button to see them that way. Now if I can just figure out how FaceTime can be used to get my information to you faster, I'll be on to something. Then again, Microsoft and ESPN are looking to make sure that if you ever get off your couch, it's only to wave around in front of a new control scheme. The promise of on-demand highlights, essentially letting you produce your own personal SportsCenter, is pretty amazing. It's more amazing when you consider what goes in to the average highlight package—from rights issues to editing to voicing and broadcast. ESPN knows how to handle all that better than anyone, and we'll see how the average person deals with it. Right now, let's get on to the injuries:

Brian Roberts (herniated disc, ERD 7/1)
Mike Gonzalez (strained shoulder, ERD 7/1)
Almost nothing has gone to plan for Roberts this season, but maybe there's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Just a week after I was hearing rumblings that he was going to see several back specialists in order to choose one for surgery, it looks like he's on the fast track back to Baltimore. Andy MacPhail told MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli that Roberts was among a collection of injured O's that could be back by the end of June. That's a quick jump for an ERD, but with Roberts back in Sarasota, the O's seem to be trying to get something out of Roberts as soon as possible. If his back feels comfortable, it's reasonable that he could get right back in with a minimum of time rehabbing, but the recurrence risk remains. At this stage, it's a combination of how comfortable the medical staff can get him and how much pain Roberts is willing to tolerate. There's a pretty broad range for expectations if he is to come back, so don't be surprised by anything. I'll stick with a bit more realistic ERD for now.

The situation is even more unpredictable for Gonzalez. While he's back throwing, his shoulder is weak and the velocity is low. There's a chance he could come back to a role other than closer, though it's unclear who will be pulling the strings at that point. Interim managers tend to be very by-the-book, keeping their head and blame potential low, so don't expect anything groundbreaking if Gonzalez is available. He'll need to get into the 90s before a return; he's been touching 88 in recent work.

Brandon Phillips (strained hamstring, ERD 6/18)
The Reds got a bit of good news yesterday, as Phillips came back from an MRI of his strained hamstring. Described as "more of a knot" by GM Walt Jocketty, the encouraging imaging means that Phillips is expected back by the end of the week. It's going to be interesting to see how Phillips is worked back in and if the low-grade strain hurts his speed or range. One thing that's clear about Dusty Baker is that he's conscious of appearances. Phillips looks like a speedy ballplayer, which to Baker means he should be at or near the top of the order and stealing. When Baker doesn't see on the field what he expects to see, he tends to go with a less talented option than a better but limited player.

Carlos Beltran (arthritic knee, ERD 7/15)
It's another step towards Queens for Beltran, as he's playing in the outfield and he's playing in center. He was out there for five innings, but never had a ball hit his way. Observers say that he looked very tentative during the outing, but that's reasonable for his first time out there. The key again is recovery, so we'll have to see whether or not he's back out there no later than Wednesday. There are some rumblings that Beltran will only play a few more complex games before heading over to A-ball, starting his 20-day rehab clock. The Mets do seem serious about keeping Beltran in center, something that no one I've spoken with think will contribute to his longevity, but the knee brace does seem to be doing its job. His final test is going to be running the bases at full speed, which has been rumored to be happening imminently for two weeks now. When you hear about that going well, he's not far away.

Matt Lindstrom (back spasms)
The Astros spent a weekend without their closer available to them, as Lindstrom had some back spasms and was held out to get them under control without taxing it or risking his changing his mechanics. It appears this was your basic issue, a transient problem that was relatively easy to correct. Lindstrom was evidently available Sunday, but wasn't used. Assuming that nothing's changed over the off-day to the negative, Lindstrom should be available again and going forward. Back spasms are painful, but usually easily corrected unless there's some underlying issue like a herniated disc or sprained ligament in the spinal area. There's always a recurrence risk, but the Astros will be conservative here with Lindstrom given his effectiveness.

Mark Reynolds (strained quad)
There's no question that Reynolds' quad strain is affecting him on the bases—he's simply not running—but there's an open question about how it's affecting him in the field and at bat. Sources tell me that Reynolds insists it's neither. Given the demands of a third baseman in the field, that's reasonable. The quad is stressed by powerful movements and jumps rather than small quick movements. Absent a jump or dive for a ball, there's little reason to think that Reynolds would have issues. At bat, the quad problem would present as a lack of power, being his back leg. There's no real evidence for that either, with Reynolds doing his normal TTO routine at the plate. Since he's playing through it, it's much tougher to expect a big change. The All-Star break might be the time off he and the medical staff needs to get ahead of it.

Jeff Mathis (sprained wrist, ERD 6/19)
Erick Aybar (hyperextended knee, TBD)
The Angels have been playing well since losing Kendry Morales, proving that cause and effect isn't always the case in MLB. Getting healthy could help them, but they've had a harder time with that this year, something that has often the best indicator as to whether they'll be a real playoff threat over the last decade. Mathis is closer to a comeback after an extended rehab that has involved a couple of setbacks. He hit a double and triple in his latest game, proving that the hand/wrist is healthy; he could be back as soon as this weekend. The Angels seem to have gotten a bit lucky after Aybar appeared to seriously injure his knee on a double play; the play recalled the injury to Akinori Iwamura last season, and Iwamura came back quickly there. Aybar doesn't have any significant damage according to the Angels, but his response to the sure inflammation and stretching after the hyperextension will determine how long he's out.

Brett Gardner (sprained thumb)
The Yankees have found a way to keep Gardner in the lineup despite a thumb issue that they admit won't clear up. Called a "ring" by reports, Gardner will be wearing the fitted plastic device to keep the thumb stable despite the sprain. It doesn't appear to significantly affect him at the plate, and Gardner has been wearing the device at least a week, though sources tell me that it's a work in progress as they try to find the best balance between stability and comfort. The team's athletic trainers will be shaving, melting, and generally working their magic to find that balance. Given Gardner's results over the last few games, it's a very positive sign for his season. It's precisely this kind of little thing—a piece of plastic that probably cost less than a hundred bucks—that can turn a season by being worth a win or two in a close division.

Albert Pujols (concussion)
Someday, we might see what Pujols can do in a season where he's healthy. This isn't that season: Pujols has been dealing his knee, back, and foot problems since Opening Day. Add "sore head" to that one after he took a throw home off the side of his head in last night's game. It definitely got him on the helmet, but Jose Lopez's throw had enough on it to leave Pujols bent over and needing assistance from Yadier Molina as he left the field. Now, the question is whether it was pain or nausea that had him bent over. Just take a look at Pujols' eyes and it's pretty clear that there's some level of concussion there. He stayed in the game and let's hope there's no lingering issue. I doubt we'll hear the word "concussion" used here, but that's what it was, no matter how low grade.

Quick Cuts: I think we should make sure that the term "howler" makes its way into baseball and that the vuvuzela never does. ... Zack Greinke continues to be one of the more fascinating pitchers to watch work his craft. ... Dustin McGowan felt a pop in his shoulder during a rehab outing. That's a bad sign, and he's headed for more tests. ... Travis Snider still hasn't started a rehab assignment due to continued pain in his wrist. He's working out and ready once his wrist is. ... Magglio Ordonez is expected back Tuesday for the Tigers, after missing six games with a strained oblique. ... There are some positive signs on Derek Holland, who is reportedly throwing without pain. ... No decision has been made yet on Mark DeRosa's wrist; he continues to have tests. ... Matt Stairs is dealing with a reasonably serious knee injury, but should be able to return for the Padres. ... Anthony Ranaudo, the 39th overall pick in last week's draft, is waging a campaign to prove his elbow is healthy and that he deserves the big bucks. He'll head to the Cape Cod League to show his stuff, an interesting move. ... Alex Speier has a nice article on the Red Sox' recent medical issues that's worth a read.

Related Content:  Back,  Matt Lindstrom,  Quad-a

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