August 13, 2010
Under The Knife
Chipper Jones (sprained knee, ERD 10/4)
I'm bad at guessing knees and I should stop. The way Jones went down and the way he held his knee made me think he'd avoided an ACL injury. He didn't. Jones is headed for surgery to repair his Grade II sprain. It's a significant sprain and a rehab that will take somewhere between six and nine months. There's certainly a chance he could be on the low end. He's done it before (ACL repair in 1994), he's got a known high pain tolerance, and he's still in good condition. Milton Bradley's recovery after his ACL tear is the best-case scenario here and many are going to invoke Wes Welker, the NFL wide receiver returning to the Patriots just seven months after tearing his ACL. If Jones could be ready in April—which as I just said is possible—then the Braves will have a tough decision. Do they go another year with Chipper, who will be another year older and somewhat hobbled, or how do they move on from what some are arguing is a first ballot Hall of Famer? Jones is going to need to focus on the rehab to make the rest of this matter, but the fact that he's doing it at all tells us that he's intending to return.
Chase Utley (sprained thumb, ERD 9/1)
Utley was given clearance to start swinging a bat, which could put him back in a Phillies uniform by late next week. That's a pretty rushed timeline and a lot is going to matter on how that thumb, tacked back together, holds up. The key, as I've been saying in many places like this week's Cinesport video, is bat control. Grip is more than just holding the bat, but in this context is focused on how the thumb affects the fine motor control that allows a hitter like Utley to make small adjustments to the ball path and ball movement. This is one you can try at home—get a bat or bat substitute like a broom handle. Take a slow, safe swing, making sure you're not going to bash anything in the house. Note how your thumb helps guide the bat. Imagine something like a Mariano Rivera cutter—wait, that's nearly unhittable. Imagine a nice two-plane slider falling away from you and feel how the hands have to guide and adjust the bat. Now, pull your thumb back off the bat and try the same thing. That's what Utley is going to have to contend with. I'm keeping the ERD consistent, but he could well beat it back.
Andy Pettitte (strained groin/hip, ERD 8/18)
One of the Twitter crew said that "Andy Pettitte's groin hit a speed bump." That's a mixed metaphor that's just... well, ouch. Bryan Hoch from MLB.com tweeted that the problem is in the hip flexor this time, a pretty common cascade. If you've ever watched Pettitte walk off the mound, he's got something of a loping stride. Add that to his long delivery and the hip flexor is not something he can pitch with at less than 100 percent without breaking down along the kinetic chain. The hip issue isn't serious, but it's enough that holding him out and pushing his return back is the smart move. The medical staff will keep working on this and try to figure out how to keep the next link in the chain from becoming the weak one. My guess is they'll try to keep him in sequence and try again when his turn comes up.
Ben Sheets (sprained/strained elbow, ERD 10/4)
The news came out that Ben Sheets had both a torn UCL and a torn flexor tendon. The tendon is the same one he had repaired in 2008 and that cost him the 2009 season. The UCL? That's what's repaired in Tommy John surgery. It sounds devastating, especially for someone with the injury history that Sheets has. Hold on a second. It's the same combination that another pitcher—Edinson Volquez—who came back in about nine months, had. Don't start in with the PED talk, because there's a big difference between the two that will matter a lot more than a dose of Clomid. (I'm not excusing him in the least, by the way.) Volquez's flexor tendon was ruptured (or very close) and the UCL was a partial tear that required a replacement. Sheets' situation is kind of the reverse. The UCL is the more serious injury. Since Sheets took over a year to get back from the flexor tendon issue, this is even worse. But wait, there's more. Dr. Keith Meister also had to repair the pronator tendon. Basically, Sheets' elbow was completely broken from a structural standpoint, making it pretty amazing he was able to pitch at all this season. Whether he can again or not depends on him. Whether he plays again or not is going to depend on whether he's willing to take a lot less than the $10 million he got for 2010.
Aramis Ramirez (strained ribcage, ERD 8/14)
Ramirez is missing time with a rib problem. There's some inconsistency with the reports on this, which don't say much more than "rib." That could be anything from fractured ribs to an oblique or intracostal strain. Given the use of "rib cage," my guess is it's an intracostal strain or strain of the cartilage in the area. Both can be painful, but the latter tends to be a quicker heal. Ramirez, when healthy, has been a bright spot recently for the Cubs, but he's also descended into a run of small but disabling injuries as he continues to age. Ramirez is one of the players the Cubs are going to have to consider trading in the offseason. Ramirez is day to day, but whoever has him next year should get used to this pattern. In some ways, he's Chipper Jones II now.
Edgar Renteria (Strained bicep, ERD 9/1)
For some reason, Renteria is starting to remind me of Ray Durham. They're not really similar players, but Durham spent so much time in the training room that former Giants athletic trainer Barney Nugent once told me that when Durham came off the DL, he'd tell him that they "were breaking up for a while." Renteria has had that kind of year in 2010, spending more time underneath the stands in San Francisco than on the field. It's better than the bust he was last year, but not good. Renteria heads to the DL with a recurrence of the biceps strain that he had last year around this time, which is definitely a bad sign. The Giants traded for a replacement infielder in Mike Fontenot in hopes of continuing their chase of the Padres, but they'll have to do it with Renteria until at least the start of September.
Jack Wilson (fractured hand, ERD 10/1)
While everyone is crushing the Mariners front office and hurting themselves jumping off the bandwagon, the Mariners continue to lose people to the DL. Over the past couple years, athletic trainer Rick Griffin's staff has been in the top half and even the top 10 among medical staffs after years where the organization's strengths and weaknesses were overshadowed by the woodchipper it had become for young arms. This year, they're not back to the Ryan Anderson ways, but the strengths we'd seen emerge over the past couple seasons are showing some weaknesses, or rather the regression to the mean that most will call "luck." Wilson's broken hand is one element of that. On one hand (no pun intended), it's impossible to protect a player from falling on his bathroom floor. On the other, if you believe, like I do, that health is a skill, Wilson is a player that's demonstrated that he's a 40 health at best on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Things even out over the long term, but that doesn't help Wilson or the Mariners right now. It's a six-week injury, so it's possible that Wilson could return late in September, but with the team so far out of it, I doubt he will. His ERD is to show there's some chance.
John Grabow (sprained knee, ERD 10/4)
Medical staffs hate recurrences. Just hate them. When a player is going through a rehab, one of the toughest parts is gauging how much to let him go. A trainer will say "50 percent" to get the guy doing something at 75 percent effort. They watch closely, mentally comparing what they see to what they've seen. In most sports, including baseball, they've seen this hundreds of times before. Still, things happen. That's what happened with Grabow. It's as simple as pop. That's what his knee did as he threw, spraining the MCL. Previously, Grabow had been diagnosed with patellar tendonitis and later a strain. That's a chain—tendonitis, strain, sprain—that's not just a cascade, but an avalanche. His season is done and there's going to be some question about the long-term integrity of the knee, as well as why this regressed.
Quick Cuts: I'm stunned that Johnny Cueto only got a seven-game suspension, likely to go down to five games on appeal. Using your cleats as a weapon is one of those unwritten rules in baseball that should be written down. I'd have gone 30. I'd also like to see whoever caused Jason LaRue's concussion to get a significant suspension. ... Bobby Jenks left yesterday's game with a sore back. He's been dealing with this for a while and the medical staff seems to only be able to control it intermittently. ... Kevin Slowey got through his throw day and will start this weekend. ... The Twins are going to keep J.J. Hardy active despite his wrist injury. They'll revisit the DL option if he's not back by Monday. ... I'm starting to really worry about Jonathan Broxton. His loss of command points to an elbow issue. ... If you follow the NFL and/or play fantasy, I'd invite you to check out my work at SI.com. I'm sure you can find it.