September 27, 2010
Under The Knife
A Small Part Of Tenth Inning
Looking back at the things I've done here, there's one where I really wish things had gone different. Brad Wochomurka got the chance to interview Buck O'Neil one day. He was at the studio in Indianapolis and there was a time window where O'Neil was available. I couldn't make it into the studio in time, so Brad did it alone. Joe Posnanski's book The Soul of Baseball is one of my favorite books, baseball or not, and the lessons of O'Neil are just stunning in any context. O'Neil's passion in Ken Burns' Baseball is one of those enduring images. O'Neil should be in the Hall of Fame. In fact, I think we should have a place for people like O'Neil, who spent their lives furthering the game, building the spirit, and showing just what baseball can do. I'd love it if it were the Buck O'Neil Ambassador Award, or something, where others who have given their very souls could be rewarded, where for one afternoon they could hear the roar of a Cooperstown crowd and see their life immortalized on a plaque. I only wish Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame had seen fit to do so for O'Neil, but I think he understood.
I'll never interview Buck O'Neil or be half the man he was, but in one tiny way, I'll be on the same stage as him. Burns is returning to baseball with a coda to his masterpiece titled The Tenth inning. I was honored to be asked by Burns if they could use Baseball Prospectus Radio on their documentary. We ended up recording several segments especially for them due to quality issues. Two of them—one with Keith Woolner and another with Cory Schwartz—can be heard leading into and as the sound bed for the short section on statistics. It's a "blink and you'll miss it" moment, just as the credit at the end passes by too quickly. When I watched the preview copy nearly a month ago, it had me. It's every bit as good as the nine parts of the original series and should hold up just as well. I can't tell you how proud I am to be associated with something so amazing and the timing ... well, it's perfect. Check your local listings. Powered by the spirit of Buck O'Neil and all the men who loved this game like we do, on to the injuries:
Joe Mauer (inflamed knee, 9/29)
JJ Hardy (inflamed knee, 9/30)
Denard Span (bruised foot, 9/29)
With the division locked up, the Twins can ease these players back and make sure that they're healthy as can be for the playoffs. A week off can mean a lot, especially when there's dings and bruises that players have been fighting through. Mauer has not only fought through his shoulder, back, leg, and knee problems, he's excelled, picking up the slack after Justin Morneau was knocked out of the lineup. Mauer's knee is the proximal issue and the cortisone injection appears to have worked, but the Twins are keeping him out through mid-week. It's tough to gauge just how much relief he'll get, but the assumption should be tempered by the lack of results. Mauer will play, don't get me wrong, but whether he's more comfortable back there could make a difference, especially if the Twins can get deeper into the playoffs. Ron Gardenhire is aiming for a Wednesday return, but Mauer is tough to keep off the field. Expect the Twins to use the DH slot some even when he comes back. The Twins are also keeping an eye on Hardy (knee) and Span (foot, shoulder). Neither injury is thought to be serious, though Hardy's could be enough to push him out of the starting lineup if he's not 100 percent. He's headed to see the team physician today. The rest those two will get over the next few days should help, but the Twins are willing to push them back if that means they can't get home field advantage through the AL playoffs.
Josh Hamilton (fractured ribs, 10/2)
Hamilton is making some progress after the team got a good handle on exactly what the problem actually is that he's dealing with. The injury has been known, but the mechanism of the pain has been tough to find and therefore tough to fight. After discovering that the fracture itself was causing his back to spasm as a "defense", there's been rapid progress. Hamilton isn't taking full swings yet, with most of the descriptions of the work he's done being "half-swings" or "one-handed." The pain curtailed, Hamilton's progress should continue, with steps like full swings and throwing to come early this week. Watch for steady progress towards a return on Friday.
Takashi Saito (inflamed shoulder, 10/1)
The Braves can make it to the playoffs without Saito, but the bullpen has been a strength this year for Bobby Cox. Given all the years he went into the postseason with a hodgepodge pen or a created closer, having a full complement was part of what Cox was given in this last run at glory. Saito's past couple seasons have been near-miraculous from a medical level. In his last season in Los Angeles, his UCL was damaged enough that Tommy John surgery was discussed. The tearing was at the 25-30% level where doing a reconstruction is kind of a question and Saito decided to go another route. It's held up, though, and he's been solid in front of Billy Wagner. It's an interesting medical contrast, showing how surgical and non-surgical options can both work out. Saito has had shoulder problems since midseason, not an uncommon cascade after elbow problems, but he just hasn't been able to get past the inflammation. Saito will keep at it, but if he's not back by the end of the week and available to prove he can go back-to-back, Cox is likely to leave him off the first round roster.
Jimmy Rollins (strained hamstring)
Jimmy Rollins beat the projection (and made me change this note) by coming in as a pinch-hitter on Sunday. Rollins is scheduled to start tonight, his first time since being cleared to play. The hamstring isn't 100%, so don't expect much in the way of running, but the Phillies seem confident enough in Rollins that they sent him out to play shortstop in the ninth inning despite the lack of a "normal" warm-up. Rollins is expected to be the starter for the rest of the week, though the Phillies will have reserves at the ready if there's any signs of soreness. The "no steal" order will be lifted for the playoffs, but I don't think it turns into a green light either. Rollins missed half the season with leg problems and at 32, it's reasonable to expect that this kind of issue might be the start of a sharp decline. That said, Rollins is beginning to remind me of someone, and that someone stayed productive for several years because of the work of the medical staff. Rollins has that same advantage.
Freddy Sanchez (inflamed shoulder, 9/30)
Sanchez's tenure with the Giants hasn't really gone how he'd expect. He's spent the better part of it rehabbing from one thing or another, usually centered around his throwing shoulder. It's acting up again, just as the Giants are succeeding in spite of deals like the one that brought them Sanchez. He'll head out for an MRI today, but given the look of some of his throws, the shoulder has something serious going on. He was basically lobbing the ball to first base, but as a confusing element, he went 2-for-4 with a homer. That symptomology leads many to think that this is a rotator cuff or labrum issue, causing problems only when the arm is raised. The results of the MRI will go a long way towards telling us if Sanchez would make the theoretical post-season roster. It's doubtful that Sanchez will play again until midweek at the earliest.
Albert Pujols (general soreness)
Tony La Russa mentioned in passing that he was considering shutting Pujols down. With hopes of making the playoffs gone and individual numbers irrelevant, Pujols' elbow, feet, and back could probably use the rest. Then again, this is Albert Pujols, who has played through much worse and as one former teammate described him once, "he's an angry sitter. He percolates. He starts to seethe. He'll never coach because he could never sit that long." Rest for Pujols is 500 swings in the cage instead of 1,000. He showed this weekend that he's not having trouble hitting, but while others try and read tea leaves, I'll remind everyone of one of the most amazing things: Pujols has done all this with injuries. Players don't come back from plantar fasciitis, but Pujols did. He's played half his career with a thread instead of a ligament in his elbow. If the old joke about being half man and half amazing is ever told about Pujols, I'll disagree. He's much more than half amazing.
Ryan Zimmerman (oblique strain, 10/3)
I tweeted on Saturday that the Nationals were thinking about shutting "Zimmerman" down. Given all the heat I took for misspelling Jordan Zimmermann's name earlier this season, I should give some of that back. Zimmerman, he of the one "N" and the MVP caliber production, has a muscle strain alternately described as oblique, intracostal, and back. That pretty much tells us that it's one of those general soreness issues that presents in the same way but isn't so serious that it's point tender beyond the "ow, quit poking me" level. Zimmerman was unable to take batting practice as scheduled on Saturday and was no better on Sunday. The Nats want to shut Zimmerman down since there's nothing to gain here, but Zimmerman is resistant to the move. We'll have to see how this goes, and with Stan Kasten exiting the building, who takes the lead in this decision. I don't expect Zimmerman to return, but the ERD reflects that small chance that he talks his way back into the lineup.
One hundred and five miles per hour? I keep waiting for George Plimpton to come out and say something about Aroldis Chapman. Hal McCoy thinks Chapman should dial back his fastball, recalling advice given to Rob Dibble ... Mike Lowell didn't have a concussion after getting hit in the face with a bad-hop grounder. He's likely to get a lot of playing time as the Red Sox try to send him off on a high note ... Victor Martinez elbowed himself in the ribs on a diving play. Look for the Sox to give him rest once they're officially eliminated ... Ian Kinsler served his one-game suspension Sunday, a game he was going to sit out anyway. The Major League Baseball suspension process is an utter joke ... In what is not a joke,Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown's article about Ron Washington's drug test is pretty powerful stuff. It shows why that, as much as anything, could be the pivot point for why the Rangers are succeeding ... Jose Valverde was thought to be only available as an emergency option for the rest of the season, but he came in on Sunday and threw well ... It sounds like Jim Edmonds will not be able to play in the postseason ... Pete Rose? We nailed that story. Hopefully sometime soon, I'll get the key source to step out of the shadows ... Blake Hawksworth escaped with just stitches when a comebacker hit him in the mouth ... Longtime minor leaguer John Lindsey's season ends with a broken hand. Even dreamers need good protective equipment ... I got 99 Problems, but—I'll see you Wednesday.