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March 31, 2003

Under The Knife

Opening Night

by Will Carroll

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It's Opening Night. It doesn't have the same ring or even the same importance as "Opening Day," but it's still nice to see games that count. It's fun to see the season open with something like a Doug Glanville full-count walk or a couple sac bunts in the first inning. Oy, baseball is a long season, but this we don't need. At least Alex Rodriguez went deep. Even better, the game looks great on the big screen and I'm ready--beer, chips and salsa, and coffee--for the 12-hour orgy of baseball that will be my Monday.

I don't often plug much of anything MLB does, but MLB.com's Gameday Live is probably the best net feed of games. Sure, the MLB.TV thing is interesting, but most of the time I'd rather watch it on the big screen. They've added in park dimensions, added some subtle improvements, and it's working with my browser, so I'm a happy guy. Now, if they (or anyone else) would add in velocity data, I'd be about as happy as the day that Starbucks opened in Indy, or the day Stuart Scott realizes I watch SportsCenter for the information and not for his feeble attempts at comedy catchphrases.

Most of the news I usually cover in this space is DL moves. There's a ton of those today, and I'll only cover the ones that are a bit surprising or really important to teams. We've seen most of these coming, and I'll leave the transaction stuff to Chris Kahrl, thank you very much. If you're really interested and can't wait until Tuesday for TA, I'd advise checking out Rotowire. Powered by warm Grolsch in the swingtop bottle, we're on to the injuries.

  • Mike Hampton was placed on the DL with a strained calf. This one came out of the blue since there'd been no reports of physical problems. Add this to the Paul Byrd injury and a team with questions becomes a team with issues. Hampton is likely to miss at least two starts, and there are some reports that he may be out beyond the expected 15 days. Hampton had a similar injury a couple years back, so he's dealt with this before. Cox and Mazzone will make do with a four-man rotation (yay!) for the first two weeks at least.

  • There are times when consistency is good, and times when you like to see players making adjustments. Todd Helton has a back problem. It's well known, it's chronic, and it occasionally will cause Helton some significant problems. Helton's swing puts an amazing amount of strain on his back with all the torque he generates. That he is not changing or even adjusting his swing points to either an inability to make the change, a cost/benefit analysis that says the reduced risk is not worth reducing the results, or maybe--just maybe--the Rockies think they know what they're doing. Helton is being watched closely, and with the addition of Chris Richard, Helton could be rested more this season. There are even some whispers that Larry Walker might see some time at first. Flexible thinking can often help teams with a lot of room to improve.

  • The Cardinals say they knew that playing Jim Edmonds in an exhibition game would prevent them from DLing him retro, but there are just too many people saying that they didn't to discount the notion that they messed up. Either way, La Russa appears to have been committed to having Edmonds on his roster at the start of the season. Edmonds won't start on back-to-back days, will be spotted when necessary, and La Russa hasn't ruled out using him at a corner outfield or even first-base slot if necessary. One other factor in the decision not to DL him had to be that Edmonds' replacements at 100% aren't as good as even a reduced Edmonds--which says something for Edmonds and nothing for the Cards' minor-league system.

  • The Cards are also finally admitting what we've known about Jason Isringhausen all along--he won't be available for most of April. The official line is April 15th, but privately, team sources are saying May 1. Let's split the difference and say three to four weeks for a return, then possibly a rehab stint or extended spring training to shake off the rust. The Cards can't expect a fully effective Izzy for at least the first half of 2003, if not longer.

  • I sort of dismissed Joe Girardi last week, only because the initial reports of muscle problems sounded like something trivial. Instead, Girardi has some rather serious, potentially career-threatening disc problem. There's discussion of a "procedure" being done in several media stories, but I don't have any information on what was done. The best guess my advisors have is that he had an epidural injection, but it's possible that he may have had a procedure called VAX-D, where the disc is poached like an egg. I'm still trying to find more info on this, but it gives some serious roster problems to the Cards. Eli Marrero now becomes the primary backup catcher and a primary--perhaps starting--outfielder. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cards sign a Quad-A guy in the next few days to cover themselves.

  • Good news for the Expos: Despite a number of problems in their pitching staff, their best pitcher will be available early in the season. Javier Vazquez is making good progress after straining his calf, and will avoid the DL. Various sources have him starting on Thursday or Friday; he should be fine for either, but will probably be watched closely and removed early as a precaution.

  • The Tigers have enough problems, but one they hope to turn from poop into gold is Matt Anderson's status. Yes, he throws extremely hard, even after a shoulder injury, and yes, he has that "proven closer" line on his resume that many teams overvalue. A team like the Tigers--out of contention, short on prospects, and with a ready replacement at hand--know that they need to showcase Anderson, hope he looks good and stays healthy, and move him along. Still, in the little bit of video and data I've seen on Anderson, they'd better hope someone's not paying much attention--they might want to take the first decent offer they get and move on with life. Something's still not right with Anderson's delivery: There's almost a hitch, I think. On a side Tigers note, the more I hear about Bob Cluck, the less I worry about Jeremy Bonderman.

  • I got a firsthand report from Bill Sanders and Eric Moyer, two guys from the Indy Scoresheet League, who had the good fortune to attend the first game at Great American Ballpark. They enjoyed the park and concurred with most people that it will be a hitter's park. They also saw Sean Casey dive for a ball and jam his wrist pretty painfully. The wrist did not swell, but was sore the next day. Casey took BP on Sunday and will be available to open the ballpark on Monday. Bill also reminded me that Casey's power is mostly to the opposite field, so he won't be helped quite as much by the short right field as I had thought. Always good to have smart readers!

  • Both Eric Gagne and Kevin Brown lost some velocity toward the end of spring training. Both are worth keeping an eye on for velocity and command in the early stages of the season, especially Brown.

  • Why did the Twins keep Johan Santana in the pen and sign Kenny Rogers? Things like this were bound to happen--Joe Mays is reporting that his elbow is not feeling near 100 percent and that his velocity is way off. My sources had him under 90 for every pitch. They also told me that he's having a lot of problems warming up and getting the arm loose. If Mays doesn't watch this, he could get lit up in early innings. He'll be on a strict pitch count for his first few starts of the season.

If anyone's really bored and willing to watch baseball for no pay and some thanks, I'm looking for some help with a research project. You'd need to be able to watch your favorite team on television at least twice a week. Email me with the subject line VELOCITY PROJECT if interested.

Sign of the Apocalypse #37: Just go to April 10 on this calendar and tell me which one doesn't belong.

I hate the Longhorns. Hate 'em, Horns. Go Syracuse.

Related Content:  Catchphrases,  Quad-a

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