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April 21, 2003

Under The Knife

He's Baaack

by Will Carroll

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So did you miss me? Don't answer that, I probably don't want to know the answer. After a week at the fabulous Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, it's back to the cool rain-filled air of Indianapolis.

Thanks for all the response to the articles published while I was gone, especially the interesting piece with Lee Sinins. I apologize, but there's no way I'm going to be able to respond to all the emails. I did read them all though. To summarize most of the answers, I realize that it is far from a scientific study, that nothing was "proven," and that a "control group" study is needed--and don't think that's not in the works! What the piece was is interesting, since several distinct patterns came up during an observable time frame among a more or less random sampling. Until the injury database is up and populated, we're left with studies like this; imagine analyzing hitting without any data to work from and you'll realize just how primitive injury analysis is at this stage. Any step, no matter how small, is movement towards something, even if we had found nothing. At worst, I get great response from my readers that help us find the next direction to go.

  • Medicine has come a long way in a short time, even for the routine things. When my appendix burst in 1988, I was in the hospital nearly a week and there's still a weakness/defect where the doctors cut through my abdominal muscles. This weekend, Curt Schilling had his appendix removed arthroscopically and could miss as little as one start. He'll skip this week's start in Montreal, though there aren't any serious concerns over Schilling's health.

  • Robb Nen's season is just a big question mark at this stage. After exploratory--and perhaps more--surgery late last week, there's still no clear indication of what Nen's prognosis is and my usual sources are being a little too quiet for my liking. Nen, along with Trevor Hoffman and Jason Isringhausen, are object lessons in the vagaries of shoulder injuries, surgeries, and rehabs. All three were treated with state-of-the-art techniques and great care from medical professionals, all were conservatively returned to activity, but the results are all oddly similar.

  • What's causing the problems in Randy Johnson's knee? As most of you know, swelling doesn't occur just for the heck of it; it's the body's response to some sort of irritation. Sources say that Johnson has a synovial plica--something like a bone spur behind his kneecap. I'm unsure on this, but it would be a reasonable explanation. Worst case, Johnson could have the knee scoped and miss minimal time.

  • Follow the bouncing ball...A.J. Burnett returns from the DL, throws over 110 pitches with his funky mechanics, then comes back and can't crack 90 mph on the gun in his next start. Perhaps it's not a direct cause and effect--and don't get me started on Jeff Torborg--but doesn't someone see this in the Marlins front office? Let's see...Keith Woolner has a great job, Dr. Jazayerli isn't available for house calls, so that leaves...me. My email's at the bottom of this article, Mr. Beinfest.

  • Kevin Brown is dealing with some unexplained upper respiratory problem which he states has left him "weak and gasping" at times. He's undergone tests, but it's still a mystery. As well as he's been pitching lately, I'm not sure I'd want it cured on some level. With SARS around, it does have to be a little worrisome for Brown and his family.

  • The blisters are back for Jeremy Affeldt, and this really hits the Royals hard. The one thing that the suddenly decent Royals don't have in spades is depth. Affeldt can only hope that rest and dermatologic care (Rany?) can help him return when eligible.

  • Kevin Appier was pulled from his last start due to elbow soreness. Appier is complaining that the injury doesn't hurt during pitches, but becomes excrutiating between pitches. Too bad this type of thing doesn't happen to Steve Trachsel. Appier may miss a start to see if rest will cure things, but it does have to be watched closely.

  • Roy Oswalt seems to be losing it. Granted, it could be nothing, but he's complained about having "no feel for his curveball or slider" and worse, "it's like it's not my hand." I think many of you have heard that line before a time or two.

  • The Yanks bullpen hasn't hurt them yet, but as Joe Sheehan has pointed out, it's an unaddressed weakness in their armor. Of course, it should get better when Mariano Rivera returns--and that return is imminent. Rivera should have one minor league rehab start, then rejoin the team by the weekend. Steve Karsay is a bit further behind, but should begin throwing from a mound this week. The Yanks are more worried about the mechanical problems of Jose Contreras. He'll be watched closely in Columbus.

  • The Yanks also saw Brandon Claussen, one of their better minor league pitchers, return from Tommy John surgery only 10 months after the procedure. As I've noted here a couple times, this is not a rush--it's a major change in the rehab protocol. Look for more pitchers to be on this timetable or an even slightly faster one in the coming months, including Jon Lieber, also a Yankee now.

  • The A's are happy to see how fast Jim Mecir has made it back from knee surgery. He should be back in green and gold by Tuesday. He only needed to make it through a few starts (yes, starts) in Sacramento to get the green light to return, and there are no reports of problems today.

  • The Cubs are pleased with the progress of Antonio Alfonseca and plan to have him out on a rehab assignment some time this week. His target date of May 1 hasn't moved, but it's a bit more flexible after a good bullpen session.

  • While I've warned people that J.D. Drew was coming quick, even I didn't expect him back this soon. Yes, the injury to Albert Pujols--a strained elbow ligament--had a lot to do with it. Yes, Drew is rushed and probably isn't ready to play every day in the field, but La Russa (when he's not making bizarre statements about pitchers) seems to be indicating that Drew and Eli Marrero will split time in right, with Marrero also spotting in at the other outfield slots and occasionally behind the plate. Drew should have slightly less speed, slightly less power, but seemed to have a nice stroke in his rehab assigment, according to two scouts who saw him.

  • Speaking of La Russa--and yesterday's brawl-- ("old school" baseball is fine, Mr. Fassero, but what Tino Martinez started, Miguel Batista could have finished in a very ugly way if the thrown baseball had connected at close range) Mark Grace came out of the pileup with a strained groin. Make up your own joke.

  • The Yankees don't seem to miss him much, but Derek Jeter is on his way back. While he's quite a ways off--early June is still the best guess--Jeter is throwing the ball well, is able to take slow grounders, and is working hard to remain in 'game condition.' He'll begin swinging a bat lightly next week, but there's still quite a chance that there will be a recurrence of the injury due to residual laxity. In other words, that shoulder might pop right back out. How concerned are they? He can't catch thrown balls because the force of the ball could pop his shoulder out!

  • Darin Erstad is having one of "those" seasons so far. Adding to his hand/wrist problems is an inflamed hamstring tendon. This isn't more or less serious than the oft-reported hamstring strain, just different.

  • Let's look at the suddenly injury-prone Braves quickly: Javy Lopez will miss time with a hamstring strain, but the team hopes to keep him off the DL. Expect a decision by mid-week. The Braves were able to call up the incredibly valuable Johnny Estrada to cover for Lopez's absence when they placed former catcher Robert Fick on the DL with a strained shoulder. Fick had been playing with pain and the move was more roster-motivated than anything. Chipper Jones will also miss a bit of time after a cortisone shot in his shoulder. The DL is not a concern, but the Braves offense is starting to wake up slightly, so losing Chipper for any period of time would be a major blow.

  • The Pirates need Brian Giles to have any real offensive threat. The rest of their attack is based on the power potential of their left fielder. Out with a knee injury, Giles has seen his Bucs tank without him. Giles should be back shortly after becoming eligible, and will wear a custom knee brace to protect his strained MCL from further damage. With proper care, a good brace, and some small adjustments, Giles should be able to avoid surgery.

  • Just after tying Eddie Murray on the Home Run list, Sammy Sosa took one almost literally in the ear. One cracked earflap later, Sosa was saved from the fate of Ray Chapman by the modern batting helmet. Sammy left the game as a precaution and managed to escape with only some small cuts from the shattered helmet. He did have a CAT scan, but trainer Dave Tumbas gave Sosa a clean bill of health. The Cubs are off on Monday, giving Sammy a bit more time to clear his head.

  • The sun rose. I paid taxes. David Segui is hurt. This time, it's his hamstring. What's scary is that Segui is the team's best hitter right now. I was convinced the Orioles would be as bad as the Tigers actually are, and I'm not sure that I wasn't right on the O's.

  • Our best wishes go out to Bobby Bonds and his family. Bonds had brain surgery on Thursday and is at home recuperating. The tumor in his brain is in addition to the lung cancer he is fighting, and the kidney tumor that was removed last year. Cancer will be the toughest opponent Bonds has ever faced. He hit a lot of homers, stole a lot of bases, and struck out a lot in his career in baseball. This time, I hope he steals some more time to live, or that his doctors hit a homer for him.

  • It's not the timeliest recap, but the Cincinnati Pizza Feed was both one of the best and one of the worst. Thanks to the size of the room and the overall noise level of the restaurant, Rany Jazayerli and I could not do our normal presentations or Q&A sessions. On the positive, though, Brad Kullman (Asst. GM of the Reds) did a phenomenal Q&A and really impressed everyone. At least the room had a nice view, and no one can ever say that we don't have women at Feeds again. I also really liked my first look at Great American Ballpark. It's not quite the stunner that PNC Park is, but it's much better than Cinergy/Riverfront ever was or could hope to be.

  • I'm back tomorrow, still looking for a good local poker game, now that I've learned Omaha Hi/Lo. Be sure to listen to Baseball Prospectus Radio this weekend (3 p.m. Eastern, Noon Pacific on www.959thepoint.com) for a great (and rare) interview with Bill Lee. If you want to hear BPR in your city, email me and let me know the station in your area I should be talking to.
Related Content:  Back,  Time,  Year Of The Injury,  Q&A

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