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August 11, 2010

Under The Knife

Put Me In, Coach

by Will Carroll

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At Great American Ball Park on Monday, I learned something, but I still don't get it. I think everyone knows John Fogerty's "Center Field." Yeah, I'm a bit sick of it, too, but who writes songs about the NFL or NBA? Anyway, I'm sure I've sung along to that song a million times, but I realized I didn't really know part of the lyrics. They have a board just under the giant video screen in left field that's essentially closed captioning. During the song, it's showing the lyrics and just between "Say Hey Willie" and "Joe DiMaggio," I realized I had no idea what Fogerty was singing there. "Tell Ty Cobb"? Wait a minute. I didn't know what it was, but I still don't hear "Tell Ty Cobb" in there, do you? (I'd thought it was "Tell the coach," if you have to know.) Am I alone in this? Probably, so let's get to the injuries:

Stephen Strasburg (inflamed shoulder)
The return of Strasburg wasn't what the Nationals had hoped for results-wise, but everything else looked OK. Strasburg came out with his normal velocity and the curveball that Manny Acta and I debated on Saturday. (I argued it might be the best curve in baseball, while Acta said that while it was a good pitch, it was the different looks and speeds that made it effective rather than sheer stuff.) Strasburg's mechanics continue to be controversial but there didn't seem to be any change. I looked specifically for any apparent change in his arm angle or the scapular loading that is so key to his delivery. In essence, it looks as if whatever issue he had with his shoulder cleared up with rest and treatment. Strasburg now heads into his next start with the only real question being how he'll be handled over the next few weeks. 

Chipper Jones (sprained knee, ERD TBD)
Jason Heyward (inflamed knee, ERD 8/11)
"Uh-oh, Chipper's down." That's what Chip Caray said after Jones' leaping throw caused an injury to his left knee. While the video doesn't show his landing, the combination of lateral movement before he landed and the way he was holding his knee suggests a strained collateral ligament. He was holding the left (lateral) side and with the lateral and slightly rotational force he had, it's a classic mechanism for an LCL sprain. (Actually, the most common mechanism is having someone hit the inside.) There's a chance it could be the MCL, but because Jones held the knee on the outside and because Jones says the outside aspect is where the swelling is focused, signs point to LCL. Jones is headed for an MRI tomorrow, with the delay in place to allow the swelling to reduce. Jones tore his ACL in 1994, so he knows this kind of injury and says it's not nearly as severe. Let's hope an injury isn't how Jones ends his career. The Braves are also a bit worried about the knee of Heyward. The rookie was scratched with soreness and inflammation in his knee just before yesterday's game. While it's not considered anything more than a day-to-day problem, sore knees on a player who just celebrated his 21st birthday isn't the best long-term sign. It's pretty amazing that right now, I'm not sure that Heyward or Strasburgwould be on my National League Rookie of the Year ballot.

Ryan Braun (strained wrist, ERD TBD)
There's still not much info out there on Braun and his wrist problem. The team has given us one key piece of info, telling us that it's a strain and narrowing down things. Since they haven't put him on the DL yet, there's also some indication that there's a bit of debate about how long he'll be out and his possible short-term function. Sources guess that the key here we don't know is the level of pain and inflammation in the wrist. If the tendon is able to be calmed down with rest and treatment, it could be a very short-term issue and, at worst, the team holds the ability to retro Braun to the DL. Remember that the team's current situation dictates a lot of this, so as with many injuries at this time of year, getting a pure injury read is very difficult and the timelines really can't be trusted.

Dustin Pedroia (fractured foot, ERD 8/16)
Are we closer to the return of the Laser Show? All that stands between Pedroia and the top of the Red Sox lineup is a week of running and probably a couple rehab games over the weekend. Pedroia is going to increase his running this week, though he still won't be "full go" even after being activated. That's a bit of a tough one since Pedroia is not someone you'd expect to be self-limiting in a game situation. The key is going to be his lateral motion, but you'll notice that it might not be tested until his last rehab game. That's curious—do the Red Sox know something we don't here? (Of course they do, but you know what I mean.) I'm very curious to see how that aspect is going to be handled. The easiest solution would be to put Pedroia at DH or even first base.

Rafael Furcal (strained back, ERD 8/20)
The Dodgers started yesterday thinking that Furcal would be in the lineup. Instead of writing his name on the lineup card, they typed his name into the system MLB uses to place players on the DL. Even Joe Torre saidFurcal wouldn't go on the DL just before the game, but it seems that it was around this point where the team made the decision (without consulting Torre, if one source is to be believed). Furcal's back simply wasn't ready to play, though it's unclear if there was actually a setback. The way things were reported—and sources mostly corroborate this—was that Furcal didn't seem confident enough in his back to play more than there was any physical change. With the retro move, Furcal could be back in the lineup as soon as next week, but this chronic problem is very difficult to read. We've already seen his return pushed back once, so not only could this recur, the team context has the potential to change a lot in the next 10 days.

Chase Utley (sprained thumb, ERD 8/31)
The Phillies are hoping that things go well with Utley's checkup today. He'll be seeing his hand surgeon and hopes to be cleared to start swinging a bat. That would keep him on track for a September 1 return, though Utleycontinues to insist he'll be back more quickly. The key here will be grip, and as I told Jeff Erickson on Monday on his Sirius/XM show, the key to watch for is fine bat control. If Utley's grip and hand control isn't affected by the injury, he'll be able to make the normal adjustments to ball movement and not miss. It's a very difficult thing to read from a statistical standpoint since there's a lot of noise and range in SAM and K numbers. This requires watching Utley, noting his reactions and his ability to make adjustments. We should know more about him medically later today, but functionally? That's going to take at least another 10 days.

Chris Young (strained rotator cuff, ERD 9/10)
The Padres are in a tough position. They have a young staff that's being taxed by the long season, a staff smart enough to know this, but not much help is coming. There might be some, if Young can hold together through his rehab. Young only pitched one game this season before heading back to the DL with shoulder problems, but he's up to simulated games in his rehab and could be back for the Pads in September. Still, you should temper any expectations. Young is, according to one observer, "serviceable, maybe" at this stage. His pitches "looked slow, but I'm not sure if he was supposed to be throwing at 75-80 percent or if he was going all out." At worst, the Padres hope that Young can just come in and soak up some innings during September. However, if the NL West stays tight, he's also going to have to produce, making this one a tough call for Jed Hoyer and his medical staff.

Mike Leake (fatigue)
Leake is out of gas. There's simply no other way to explain how he went from being so good to so bad in such a short period of time. Despite reasonable handling by the Reds, Leake hasn't been here before, and at this point he's not only not helping the team, he's not helping his long-term chances. The Reds have options—Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, and a soon-to-return Aaron Harang—but seem committed to Leake in a way that reminds me of Tom Gorzelanny being pushed for the meaningless 15-wins mark a couple years ago. I understand that Dusty Baker thinks this is a confidence thing and that he'll ride with "his guy" for as long as he can, but for a solid young pitcher below the injury nexus on a contending team, this is folly at best and injurious at worst. It's a good sign for the long term that his mechanics and velocity have held up under such heavy fatigue, but at some point they'll break down and then it goes downhill fast.

Brandon Morrow (fatigue)
Speaking of fatigue, Morrow is going to get a little extra rest after his near no-hitter. His dominant start went long and he was showing clear fatigue at the end, pitching on adrenaline. It's at that point where pitchers in this situation seem to do the most damage. Announcers say they are "digging deep" and that's true, going to physical reserves that require a different sequence of muscles to create the same, normal force. That change, even small ones, can be very damaging. The Blue Jays are smartly pushing his next start to August 17. We'll have to see if Morrow can avoid the same sort of serious dropoff that Edwin Jackson had in the games just after his no-hitter.

 Quick Cuts: Robinson Cano didn't start last night due to an illness but played later in the game. ... Jorge Posada was unavailable due to a sore shoulder, which is going to put more pressure on Francisco Cervelli. Sources tell me the Yankees would like to add a catcher, which really makes you question Jesus Montero's status. ... An MRI on Ian Kinsler's strained groin showed some residual inflammation, so he's likely out until the end of the month rather than the middle. ... Gordon Beckham told reporters he'll be back in the lineup today. ... Andrew Bailey is long tossing and should be back from his oblique problem next week. ... Harang made it through a 60-pitch simulation game and will go to Louisville this weekend for a rehab start. ... Mike Cameron took batting practice yesterday. He's unlikely to be activated soon, but could play in bursts if the Red Sox need him. ...ShaneVictorino had no issues in his first rehab game. He should be back with the Phillies on Friday. ... Jason Bay is not having post-concussion symptoms any more, but the Mets don't seem in any rush to get him back. "End of month" is now the party line on his return. ... Someone explain to me what the Royals hope to gain by trying to get Gil Meche back for September. He threw a sim inning on Monday. Not a sim game, but a sim inning. ... Jay Gibbons—"hero." That's all I'll say about that.   

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