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June 24, 2010

Under The Knife

Occam's Razor in Reverse

by Will Carroll

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Here's why I do what I do. Nick Wingbermuehle was a reader who was also a college pitcher. He drove to Indianapolis from Kansas City after reading about the gyroball and we spent a couple hours working with the pitch, his grips, and then sat in a McDonalds for another hour talking pitching. I could—and would—do that every day if I could. I'd lost touch with Nick over the last year, but he sent me a nice e-mail today: "I don't know if you remember me or not, but I came to Indianapolis to learn the gyroball from you back in the winter of 2007 (or maybe it just turned 2008). In any case, I just finished up my college career at Rockhurst University in Kansas City using the gyroball as my primary off-speed pitch. I recorded 17 strikeouts in 21 innings and I think that pretty much all of them came via the gyroball, so thanks for teaching me." People can say the pitch doesn't exist. People can bring up the "all but done" all they want. I'm proudest of the little things, whether that's teaching a gyroball or getting people to talk about sports medicine as a part of baseball, not just something that happens. I may never have that day where there are no injuries, no need to talk about pitch counts or pitcher protection, but there are some little victories along the way. Let's get to the injuries:

Ubaldo Jimenez (dizziness/dehydration)
Jimenez was having some issues with dizziness on Tuesday. He came back Wednesday and wasn't his overpowering self. Is it connected, or did Boston just have a good offensive night? That's the hard part of this job. I keep saying "cause and effect," but it's not the accurate term. That's something I'm still trying to formulate into a sound bite, one to pair with "A strain is a tear!" It's not even the old "correlation is not causation," but that's closer. It's more a medhead reversal of Occam's razor: The fact that there's an easy possible explanation does not make it so. Jimenez was facing a very solid offense, in Coors Field. These are the kinds of starts that we used to avoid without thinking in fantasy. Jimenez didn't seem to have bad stuff, but had a night where he didn't dominate. Those will happen and, unfortunately, his teammates couldn't pick him up. It's a point, not a pattern, so until there's more evidence, it's nothing more than an off night in what is one heck of a first half.

Zach Duke (inflamed elbow, ERD 7/7)
The Pirates waited and hoped, but Duke had to go on the DL. It's a retro move that would allow him to come back on July 1, but the elbow has enough stiffness in it that the Pirates think he could be out a bit longer than that. It's possible, if not probable, that the team could hold Duke out until after the All-Star break, just to make sure that the elbow is as healthy as it can get and that he can solidify the problematic rotation in the second half. The Pirates waited in part because they don't have a great option to replace Duke. Whether he gets the extra time has a lot to do with who gets the starts and what they do with them. The Pirates haven't been active as acquirers at the deadline in recent years, but pressure on the team to win might push them to go after pitching rather than pitching prospects this July and August.

Tony Sanchez (fractured jaw, ERD 8/15)
Last year's top pick by the Pirates looks like he could be done for 2010. Sanchez was hit by a pitch on Tuesday and images have shown two fractures in his jaw. He'll get to drink his meals for a while, as he's headed for surgery to wire his jaw together. In the long term, this should be no real issue for Sanchez. Fractures heal and, while annoying, jaw fractures actually have one of the highest "good union" rates. The jaw actually works as something of a shock absorber for the brain, breaking and taking away some of the force, the same way an IndyCar dissipates energy by breaking apart or even in half. At best, Sanchez will be back in mid-August, and because he's a catcher, they might have to keep him at DH to make sure there's no problem with a collision at the plate or a backswing. Sanchez's development shouldn't be harmed too much by this, but I'll leave that to the prospect mavens.

Edinson Volquez (post-Tommy John surgery, ERD 7/7)
Aroldis Chapman
Mike Leake
The Reds' pitching has brought them this far, despite some injuries. They'll have to rely not only on Dusty Baker and Bryan Price to get them through the second half, but they'll also need Walt Jocketty's help as well. No one is quite sure what to expect from Volquez at this stage, but expecting him to put up a full second half on normal rest and with good results might be a bit lofty. He can contribute, yes, but just back from Tommy John surgery isn't normally the time when someone steps things up. His results in the minors have been good and all the physical tests are being passed, but I can almost hear Leonidas saying, "but this is Sparta!" Rehab assignments aren't usually that telling from a results perspective (which is a bit odd since minor-league results are predictive. This is one I'm going to have to think on. Where's Clay Davenport when you need him?). Volquez's latest outing was another good one, going five innings at Triple-A, with reports that his fastball touched 98 mph. More importantly for a pitcher coming back from elbow surgery? No walks. He's coming fast. The Reds have also shifted Aroldis Chapman to the pen in Triple-A just as some have said that the left-hander is looking fatigued and not making the adjustments he needs to as a starter. Sources tell me that while the team still sees Chapman as a starter long term, the success of Neftali Feliz in the pen is the model. They also pointed to Volquez, saying "the window Chapman had to start is closing, unless [Homer] Bailey is out longer than they think." While I don't disagree, it seems the Reds are counting on Volquez and Bailey staying healthy and effective, while at the same time acknowledging they'll need to pull the reins on Leake a bit. That would leave the gap Chapman might need. Leake's next start will be skipped as the Reds follow the Phil Hughes plan of holding innings down.


Josh Outman (post-Tommy John surgery, ERD TBD)
Joey Devine (strained flexor tendon, ERD TBD)
The pitching staff was always The Big Risk for the Athletics. They've seen injuries and fatigue come in with nearly every pitcher, but going into the season, their depth looked to be the one saving grace. At the halfway point, they've pretty much used all of it, leading me to wonder whether they have a Plan B. Like the Nationals, the A's could actually benefit by acquiring someone who's not necessarily good, but could take the ball every fifth day. The Athletics are innovative enough that if they can't find their own private Livan, they could do something that would be the rough equivalent. The A's could tandem up a couple guys and switch to a modified four-man rotation with Ben Sheets at the lead. With two pitchers, Outman and Devine, being shut down from their rehabs and both unlikely to pitch this season, we'll soon learn just how creative David Forst and that front office can be.
 

Josh Beckett (strained back, ERD 7/16)
Jacoby Ellsbury (fractured ribs, ERD TBD)
Beckett threw all his pitches during the 55-pitch session, setting him up for a simulated game on Saturday. If his back reacts well to that—and the team still seems a bit concerned with how he'll deal with the up and down of pitching—he'll throw batting practice five days later to show his recovery. That would be the last test before heading out on a three-start rehab assignment that would put him back in Fenway just after the All-Star break. The Red Sox seem very positive about how Beckett is doing, but back injuries are very difficult to read and have a high recurrence rate. The Sox will be working hard on those non-throwing days to keep his back loose and strong. Sometimes, small back injuries like this can help a player in the long term by giving him a bit of a scare and coaxing him into taking health and conditioning more seriously. We'll see how that plays out with Beckett, especially now that he's signed a long-term deal. The Sox will also get their first look at Ellsbury this weekend. He'll rejoin the team after spending a couple weeks at Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe. Reports are that he's still feeling some pain in his ribs, so a return date is very fluid.

 Quick Cuts: Doctors don't know yet if Ryan Westmoreland will play baseball again. They do think he'll have a normal life. Good to see a team understanding which is more important. ... J.D. Drew continues to struggle with a strained hamstring. The DL remains a possibility. ... Brian Bannister beat Stephen Strasburg. My word, anything really can happen. ... Brandon Webb had another positive bullpen session. Better than making it through 65 pitches, Webb told reporters he feels like he's getting arm speed back in his new arm slot. ... Ryan Madson will start his rehab assignment on Sunday. He should come pretty fast if the toe is healed. ... The Astros lose Tommy Manzella for a month with a broken left index finger. ... Landon Donovan may not have had soccer's version of a walk-off home run, but it was pretty close. ... I met Manute Bol twice. Once, he was at my school practicing before an exhibition game while he was with the 76ers. I heard a knock at the training room door, opened it, and well, let's just say I wasn't looking Bol in the eye. I met him again years later when he came to Indiana to play a game of hockey, making a spectacle of himself to raise money for his African homeland. I can't say I knew the man, but both times, he was polite to the little guy. Of course, everyone was little next to him. Maybe that helped his perspective.   

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Elbow Stiffness

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