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March 10, 2003

Under The Knife

A Dash of Humility

by Will Carroll

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As many of you have noted, one of the key themes in my writing is arrogance. I've never had an endeavor where I didn't have success beyond my imagination, and occasionally that type of hubris bites me in the ass. In the midst of what I thought was a private email answer to Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon-Journal, I made the mistake of not focusing on the facts and closed with calling myself an expert. Not just an expert, but the expert. The Internet is full of "experts" and I should learn to leave titles to other people and just focus on doing the best job I can. Meanwhile, I'm still developing the thick skin necessary to do this job. What we're left with is that Ocker was able to divert the argument away from pitcher abuse--where he's wrong--toward me. I contacted Mr. Ocker and he's agreed to be a guest on BPR next week. This should be interesting.

Thanks to Peter Gammons, who gave BP Premium and myself a nice plug in this week's Diamond Notes. Gammons remains the Barry Bonds of baseball journalists.

I'll address the tendonitis/tendinitis issue just this once, but it will probably go into a UTK FAQ at some point. I'll likely spell the word both ways, though I tend to spell it tendonitis. It's how I learned it in my athletic training days and since both are acceptable, it's probably my least favorite email topic.

  • Thanks for the emails on Phil Nevin. One of the crappy things about this job is that to be right, someone has to get injured, and in this case the timing was near eerie. Actually, the Pads THR was written a couple weeks ago, so it's a bit coincidental that the article and the injury appeared so close together. Still, looking at all the facts regarding Nevin prior to the season, it wasn't that hard for me to make the call that he would be injury prone. After seeing the injury, it was apparent from how Nevin's shoulder moved that it would need surgery. There's still a small chance he'll elect not to have the surgery, but it's so small that Mini-Me could step over it. Nevin should be able to return from this injury, but even after surgery, there's no reason his decline won't be hastened.

  • Info is starting to leak out about what was seen inside Eric Milton's knee last week. Besides the known lateral meniscus tear, it appears that the surgeon scraped away quite a bit of bone. This would point to developing arthritis and confirm the need for the longer rehab time--four to six months--that's been bandied about. There are some interesting new techniques being used in cartilage repair/reconstruction, but none advanced enough to risk on a million-dollar pitcher, or at least not until you're desperate. Ron Gardenhire has been the most negative in his public statements, and remember that Gardenhire had his career ended by knee problems.

  • For every source that's telling me that Pedro Astacio has a torn labrum, there's another that says it's bicipital tendonitis. For every one that says this is a new problem, there's another that tells me it's the same thing he had in Houston. I'm not sure which is more negative: Is this a new problem to add on to the unresolved old one? Or is it the old one recurring? Astacio will probably be back, probably not be as effective, and it doesn't really matter what the cause is to most people.

  • Alfonso Soriano is still experiencing some problems with his shoulder. While he could play if the games counted, his condition's still slightly worrisome. Soriano is describing the symptoms of a shoulder impingement, but after an MRI, the Yankees are sticking with a diagnosis of tendonitis. The two aren't mutually exclusive. The current pain is also separate from the pain he was dealing with earlier in the week. Before, he couldn't throw. Now, he can't hit.

  • A lot of eyeballs were on Mariano Rivera as he tuned it up this weekend. Rivera seems to have found his old arm slot and a bit of added bulk in the off-season. He made some comments about his conditioning program, reported over the weekend by RotoWire. My observers didn't get velocity numbers on him, but said that he looked comfortable and showed no signs of pain (guarding, flinching, facial expressions). A healthy Rivera allows the Yankees to keep Steve Karsay on a conservative rehab program. Karsay is making progress, but is still days away from pitching off a mound.

  • Also working in the Yankee bullpen was Jon Lieber. While any work the Yanks get from him this year is a bonus, Lieber is on the accelerated schedule many Tommy John patients seem to be on recently. Some digging revealed that there have been some small but significant changes to the rehab protocol in the weeks just after the surgery. These changes allow for range of motion to return more quickly, and a reduction in rehab time. Instead of 12 months for a return to competitive pitching (note this is different than a return to effective pitching), the number I'm hearing now is 10 months. This is slightly quicker than the schedule Kris Benson was on last year.

  • Jim Edmonds has a torn calf muscle and a bad memory. After being diagnosed with the muscle problem and told he'd start the season on the DL, Edmonds was quoted as saying that he had no idea how to deal with this as "I've never had a pulled muscle." I guess Jim has blocked out the strained groin he suffered a couple years ago that bothered him through the early portions of 2002. Edmonds will start the year on the List and may stay in extended spring training. With J.D. Drew also on the shelf, the Cards' outfield could be ugly for the first month of the season.

  • The Cards got some better news on Jason Isringhausen. Izzy had a good bullpen session in front of lots of interested onlookers and might be available for Opening Day. The repaired labrum will keep him on the far side of healthy for the first half of the season, but he remains the Cards' best option at closer. Darryl Kile returned much quicker and more effective than expected from surgery in 2002, before his untimely passing. There's nothing to say Izzy couldn't follow a similar recovery path, minus the tragedy.

  • The Angels continue to get healthy. Darin Erstad got in some game swings and looked good, knocking the ball to all fields. The surgery he had on his wrist tends not to rob any power, but a slight amount of bat speed will be lost for a couple months. The biggest worry is that his wrist is slightly less stable after the surgery, and one of his trademark dives could be problematic. That's unlikely though; remember that Ken Griffey Jr. had this surgery, returned in-season, and has never had a problem since.

  • Austin Kearns is headed under the knife of Reds team physician Tim Kremchek. Kearns will have bone chips removed in minor arthroscopic surgery. More importantly, the two-week recovery period should give his hamstring some much-needed rest. Kearns has a reputation as hard to shut down, and as someone who can overdo it and damage his recovery, so the timing of the elbow procedure is probably not coincidental. Kearns' hamstring is of greater long-term concern. If it's just the elbow, Kearns should be 100% for Opening Day. The two-week rest makes it likely his hammy will be healed by then too. Health is the only thing that can keep the Reds' outfield from being the best in the NL.

  • There's information that's unknown regarding Scott Williamson's injury. He has an avulsion fracture in his right middle finger. While he is a righty, Williamson probably will have plenty of time for this to heal if it's not too serious. The big worry will be how stiff the finger is. If he can't bend it, Williamson may be limited in what pitches he can throw. With his evil split-fingered fastball, this could be a significant injury--or nothing. I'm chasing more info, but the Reds are claiming HIPAA on just about every inquiry. My best guess is that he has the injury called "baseball finger." According to my Wheeler's guide, this is a "flexion deformity of the distal interphalangeal joint caused by extensor tendon separation from the distal phalanx." As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.

  • The Braves need new tape. Another sprained ankle, this time to Andruw Jones, is forcing some lineup juggling. While Jones doesn't have anything to prove in CF or at bat, it's becoming more of an annoyance to Bobby Cox than it should be. This injury--and others to Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles--shouldn't affect your outlook on Jones for the upcoming season. He'll still glide.

  • New Brave Paul Byrd was scratched from his last start. He's been dealing with a strained groin for a while, but now reports out of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have him with elbow soreness as well. Byrd is perhaps the biggest question mark in the revamped Braves rotation, and as Joe Sheehan pointed out on BPR this week, Byrd failed a previous trip through Camp Leo. Insiders say the Braves could go with a four-man rotation for the early part of the season, but several players like Horacio Ramirez and Trey Hodges have also looked good enough to get a look.

  • A strained hamstring put new Athletic CF Chris Singleton on the shelf for a game or two, giving the healed Jermaine Dye a day in CF. Dye didn't look bad and may see some time there, but Singleton should be back there soon. Dye doesn't need the extra strain on his leg or any other part of his injury-prone body.

  • The Phillies may be the favorites in the NL East, but there's no quicker way to disappoint than filling up the DL. Mike Lieberthal, a frequent visitor to the List, is dealing with something that started as "leg soreness," moved to his hips, and is now being reported as a "mild abdominal strain." Insiders say this has nothing to do with the pelvis injury of a few years back, but Lieberthal is being eaten away by small injuries. We might not see the 31-year-old until late this week, if then. Johnny Estrada, where are you?

  • Something's off with Vicente Padilla. After completely falling apart last year under a workload he'd never dealt with, he is still dealing with some shoulder problems. According to a good Phillies source, so far it's more a situation where he can't get loose than it is actual pain, but no MRIs have been done yet. Padilla's velocity is down from the start of spring training and he's having to push to get to 90. Noises from Mt. Bowa are not positive.

  • Brandon Duckworth, he of the taunting statistical lines, came up lame with forearm pain. It's not a good sign, but early reports of elbow soreness have given way to that of forearm tightness. I'd rather my youngish pitcher had neither, but I'll take forearm over elbow any day. Duckworth is leading the battle for the fifth starter spot and it would probably take a DL stint--not out of the question--to temporarily knock him out of that role.

  • I met Joey Eischen a couple times when I sat behind the bullpen here in Indianapolis. He got a break in Montreal and has been effective, being mentioned as a possible backup for saves if Scott Stewart's elbow stays balky. A sore elbow for Eischen could derail all that. Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette reports that the problem is a strained ligament. The team hopes that rest will be enough.

  • The White Sox are being very tight-lipped regarding Dan Wright. He missed a spring training turn with what was termed a "tender elbow." A new source says he's been guarding and not throwing 100% all spring. He has no history of elbow problems, but a long history of ineffectiveness. Has he been pitching hurt for a while, or are people reading too much into this report? We should know more early this week.

  • The three words every pitcher dreads were said to Mark Wohlers: "See Dr. Andrews." Wohlers will head to Birmingham to see the good doctor, three and a half years after his elbow was rebuilt. Wohlers was on track to be part of the Cleveland bullpen, but he's replaceable. The payroll used on him isn't--or at least that's Larry Dolan's story and he's sticking to it.

I hope everyone enjoyed BPR this week. From the response to our contest, we're reaching a bigger audience than I expected and we hope to continue to expand our reach. We're working on interviews you'll really enjoy--Tommy John this week was great--and on making it more accessible to more people. I'd also like to thank everyone for the emails of encouragement after the first week of UTK. A special thanks to the long-time reader I know only as "Redsguy," who sent me the coffee and tea package.

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