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March 3, 2003

Under The Knife

Ground Rules

by Will Carroll

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Greetings and welcome to Under The Knife, baseball's best source of injury information. Thanks to all of you for joining BP Premium. I'll be with you every weekday during the season, keeping up with all the injury news and trying to break it down into understandable terms without insulting your intelligence. Hopefully, I'll be able to help you anticipate problems, scout the competition, keep your team healthy, educate you about sports medicine, and hopefully have some fun along the way.

Those of you that were with me last year will know all this, but there are a few ground rules, some jargon, and some other stuff you should know. The ground rules are that I can't keep up with every email, so while I will try to answer all of them, I won't answer if the reply is just going to go in the next UTK. For instance, if Barry Bonds gets hurt in a night game, please don't write asking what this means--I promise I'll give you a better answer with UTK. If I get a load of questions about the same topic, I'll put the answer in the next UTK rather than answering individually. I don't answer specific fantasy questions--mostly because I suck at it and finding the proper context is hard. Someone called into my local radio show and asked "Should I trade Jacque Jones for someone?" This is precisely the time when I think about cursing on the air, but I held back and gave him the "if you can get someone better, do it" reply. Still, please try not to ask those kinds of specific roto/Scoresheet/Strat/DMB/whatever questions, and we'll get along a lot better.

Most of UTK's jargon and quirks will be covered in a piece I'm doing for tomorrow that explains what I do, how I do it, and what I go through to get this done. I hope you'll enjoy it. For the first couple weeks, I'll try to be good about explaining things like SUN (Show up in the Ninth pitcher--my term for a closer, borrowed from Lee Sinins), ASB (All-Star Break, as in "he's out until the ASB"), or RBC (recurrent, becoming chronic, as in "Griffey's hammy is RBC").

For now, on to the injuries:

 

  • Mike Lieberthal was a late scratch for Sunday's game. The team's line on it is "sore legs." Coming off knee surgery due to golf cart ignorance, this should worry anyone counting on him. The team is insisting the problems aren't related, but since Lieberthal's knees have always been a problem, if this is something new, it's doubly worrying. I guess trading Johnny Estrada wasn't so smart...just kidding. Todd Pratt is a more than adequate backup; Lieberthal's health this season will depend largely on Larry Bowa giving him adequate rest.

     

  • Alfonso Soriano is dealing with some shoulder problems. As usual the Yankees aren't talking, but the problems first popped up near the end of winter ball. It was thought at the time that Soriano was just trying to get out of some commitments, but the problem has persisted--that or he's been hiding it really well. He made his debut and showed no ill effects. My source said he had "full extension and didn't look any different in the field." Soriano wasn't forced to make any challenging throws, so the outlook is still unclear. There's not enough evidence yet to make any sort of guess as to what could be causing the problem, but it bears watching since he's facing such big expectations.

     

  • Mariano Rivera threw his first game action of the spring Sunday and looked good. Again, my source near the Yanks said that he wasn't really challenged. "He never had to bear down. The shoulder looked fine. I watched for flinching or guarding, but didn't see any." I don't have any velocity data, so Rivera looks good, but hasn't proven himself fully back yet.

     

  • Trevor Hoffman underwent surgery on Friday, and amid reports of "everything's fine, see you in July," there were some hidden gems that give some indication of his potential to come back some time this season. While the Mumford procedure used to shave away his clavicle went by the book, the reports indicated that there was a near half-thickness tear of one of the rotator cuff muscles. The popular comparable for a post-Mumford is Jaret Wright, but I'm not sure that's the right comp here. While Wright also had the surgery, they're not similar pitchers and Wright had so many shoulder problems that it's tough to isolate on the Mumford for its effects. I'll stick with my stand that an ASB return is unlikely for Hoffman, but the door's not shut yet. A quick return to throwing won't tell us much; the time it takes him to regain his velocity will.

     

  • Robb Nen is still on schedule for his return, according to Stan Conte's quotes in published reports. The Giants have plenty of time to ease him back from shoulder surgery and will learn from the Hoffman experience. There are some rumors that the Giants have been shopping Felix Rodriguez, but any worry regarding Nen will domino down to keeping Rodriguez around. Whispers that Livan Hernandez could be closing games were laughed off.

     

  • The Tigers may have a battle brewing for the closer position, or they may have some depth they could use to trade and fill one of their many current holes. Matt Anderson is coming back from a torn muscle in his shoulder and looked average in a recent 1 2/3-inning stint. Again, velocity readings in spring are either impossible to find, inconsistent, or unreliable, but he was up in the 90s, which would bode well for a healthy return. Even at less than normal velocity, Anderson's pitches were as flat as my sixth-grade girlfriend. He'll be neck and neck with Franklyn German, but there's no reason for the Tigers to make any long-term decisions this early.

     

  • The oft-injured, rapidly fading but always fighting Kevin Brown made his first spring training appearance. Brown's appearance was nothing more than a cameo--the better test will be tomorrow, when we see if he can return to training without significant pain. The elbow remains unresolved from last year, but he's reporting no problems with the back. Remember it was a recurrence of the post-surgery back pain that shut him down.

     

  • Josh Beckett passed a major test during his outing on Sunday. At the end of his scheduled inning, Beckett threw three consecutive curveballs. It appears the skin cream is working--or something is--since he reported no problems, and no "hot spot" was visible on his fingertip. The blisters could recur at any time, so this isn't something a team can guard against with anything but depth. After the injury nexus article Nate Silver and I put together last week, I'm really looking at these blisters as a positive.

     

  • The Marlins had another young pitcher with a less positive outing. Brad Penny and his "pristine shoulder"--his words, not mine, and honestly, does that really sound like something he'd say or did his agent write that?--were roughed up for three runs on three hits in his one inning. Velocity looked OK, but his effort was noted as "higher than I'd like to see at this point" by one observer. Another noted that he might have made some mechanical changes over the off-season.

     

  • Less than pristine is how Gene Stechschulte might describe his shoulder. Then again, he might just say it's headed under the knife. Stechschulte and his hard-to-spell name are headed for surgery after his labrum was diagnosed as torn. I'm seeing positive signs as more surgery is done in this area, as it slowly moves away from the pitcher's equivalent of a death sentence. Still, a torn labrum is about as bad as it gets for a pitcher. He's been shut down since the midpoint of last season, so no one was expecting much. An amazingly optimistic three-month rehab timeframe was tossed out, but that's as laughable as thinking that Cal Eldred might be the #2 starter.

     

  • If five strikes in 16 pitches can ever be called a positive, it was Saturday when Rick Ankiel pitched. His return to the mound showcased his new delivery, from a lower arm slot, that looked easier and smoother than it had been seen since the early days of his rookie phenom year. The Marlins were clearly up there with an infinite take sign, but seeing Ankiel on the mound with any type of success is definitely a positive. Remember that Ankiel is still younger than the A's aces and has experience on his side now; his maturity and wisdom remain question marks.

     

  • Back problems are keeping Juan Gonzalez on the sidelines so far, giving the fringe guys in the Rangers outfield some time to shine. Laynce Nix is getting noticed a lot by many at the games. The problems with Gonzalez aren't structural, just a matter of getting the spasm cycle under control. Once that happens, we can all find out how his damaged thumb will hold up. For those watching for him, Ryan Ludwick still hasn't made a game appearance, and those that have seen him say his problem has him considerably slowed. I'm unsure if he'll get back to a point where he becomes a legitimate CF.

     

  • The doomsayers point to Darin Erstad's inability to open spring training with the rest of the team as some sort of black cloud. First, the surgery wasn't serious--Ken Griffey came back in-season from a very similar injury and had no loss of power--and second, Erstad's not that good when healthy. He certainly could have another fluky season like 2000, but I sure wouldn't risk $8 million a year on it.

     

  • The last thing the Brewers need is for their one good pitcher to hit the List before the season starts. Ben Sheets has fought back problems on and off. He's one of those types that don't say anything until he's in so much pain that he can't do anything, so the Brewers staff should be watching him closely all the time. Sheets will be babied, but it doesn't look too bad at this stage. Noogy fans can breathe a little easier. Reports are that Nick Neugebauer had successful surgery on his labrum. Now, if I could just get Nick and Mike Marshall together.

     

  • Geoff Jenkins is also keeping the Brewers staff busy. Diving for a catch, Jenkins sprained his right wrist. The injury is unrelated to his ankle--duh--and is on the opposite arm of his bad shoulder. Jenkins is fast moving from unlucky to injury prone.

     

  • It's bad news for Juan Uribe, but the negative for the team really isn't there. Uribe's been falling almost as fast as Japanese export Jose Ortiz, so moving him out and Jose Hernandez in really isn't that bad and certainly ups Hernandez's value. Uribe's stress fracture will be a problem since it's on the outside of his foot. He'll have difficulty stopping, accelerating, or making lateral movements, all necessary skills for a SS. There's no timeframe on this, but Uribe shouldn't be in your short-term plans. By short-term, I mean April.

     

  • Jon Rauch got an inning in and reported no pain. Two sources also say he's showing no velocity or movement on his pitches. At best, it looks like Rauch will be in the five slot of the rotation, rather than anything resembling the ace he was hyped as. Coming back from labrum surgery is starting to look possible, but few if any have had success afterwards.

     

  • The Blue Jays had two mild injuries to deal with. Chris Woodward is dealing with balky hamstrings--they've been an ongoing problem for him--while Ken Huckaby took a foul tip off his hand, complicating the battle for the two catcher slots that will hold the place for Kevin Cash. No, Josh Phelps and Jayson Werth will not go back behind the plate, no matter how much you wish for it.

Back tomorrow with a special version of UTK.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Feature: Th... (02/28)
<< Previous Column
Under The Knife: The D... (02/20)
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Premium Article Under The Knife: A Day... (03/04)
Next Article >>
Surveying the Authors (03/04)

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