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July 14, 2003

Under The Knife

Time and Time Again

by Will Carroll

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As we head into the All-Star break, it's time to take a look back and see if injuries have harmed or occasionally helped different teams in any meaningful way. I'll do that later this week in my Mid-Season Reviews, but as we look at the standings, it's pretty clear which teams have remained healthy, which teams have been injury-prone, and which teams have been able to make their own luck and control their destiny by controlling their training rooms and disabled lists. If you haven't been looking at injuries and the standings, now's a good time to start. The value of a great medical staff can allow a team to find an advantage over other teams at an amazingly low cost. Hopefully it won't take several decades and a best-selling book to force baseball to take a hard look at how it handles sports medicine.

  • The circumstances surrounding Matt Morris are getting more and more murky and more and more concerning for Cardinals fans. Any baseball fan can watch his recent performances--the ones following two consecutive complete games in early May--and see how his mechanics have broken down. He's complained of shoulder problems, knots near his shoulder blade, and there was a quickly retracted mention of dead arm.

    An MRI this week led the Cardinals to say there is no structural damage in the shoulder, but is this telling us that they just don't know the cause, or is this the sleight-of-hand we often see from organizations attempting to keep information from reaching the public? The statement "structural" sounds exact, but in fact is quite vague. Is a labrum structural? Without definitive word from a source I trust, I'm just guessing, but I'm led to believe that a muscular injury has led to Morris' mechanics being thrown off, leaving the ball up and his velocity down. What the problem is and how it must be treated will give us an idea on if Morris can return to form or if lack of health will take down a talented St. Louis squad. The Cardinals, for now, will get Morris a week of rest and hope that it will do the trick.

  • Manny Ramirez and the Red Sox continued the long tradition of minor injuries keeping major stars out of the All-Star Game. A mildly-strained hamstring will be made better with three days of rest instead of two solid days of travel and activity. There was some rumble that the Commissioner's Office wanted to officially consider injured players to be not a part of the All-Star Game, putting bonuses in question, but that rumble stopped quickly.

  • I don't even really want to think about the Marcus Giles/Mark Prior collision. Not because they're the anchors of my fantasy team, or because it was a needless collision, but because these are two young players that could have been horribly damaged. Things like this remind us just how fragile the careers of even the elite players can be. Giles is dealing with some serious post-concussion syndrome and will miss the All-Star Game. Were it not for the break, he'd likely be on the DL. One source tells me that he has a hard time carrying on a conversation and cannot make eye contact without getting a headache. For Prior, like everyone else, I was stunned to see him back out on the mound after lying on the ground clutching his shoulder. While there is no serious damage, going out on the mound with that bruise could have altered his mechanics, leading to further, much more serious problems. Prior is unlikely to pitch in the All-Star Game and his first post-All-Star Game start will bear watching closely.

  • Twins fans are not only watching their team fall behind the surprising Royals and rising White Sox, they're also watching one of their best hitters fall to injury. Corey Koskie's back problems have cropped up again. Koskie is likely headed to the DL. The loss of Koskie's power could finally force the hand of GM Terry Ryan, but Ryan's been looking at outfielders--a position where the Twins are already loaded--rather than fixing the pathetic middle infield.

  • Jeff Kent will be back in the lineup for the Astros on Thursday. He'll have one more game at Double-A Round Rock, but felt he could have come back to the Astros for the weekend games. Kent has had no problems with his wrist at bat or in the field. Tendinitis can be a recurring condition, so Kent will continue treatment in the hopes that it will not be an issue.

  • Randy Johnson will have one more rehab start--this time at Class-A (oh, those poor kids)--before returning to Arizona. His knee has been problematic, but not so much that he's been behind. The plan is to use him normally, but to spot him some extra rest when possible. The D'backs have found that they had more pitching depth than anyone expected, so some creative roster moves will help. Getting good mileage out of Johnson while preserving his health will be a big test for Bob Brenly, Paul Lessard, and Chuck Kniffin. (And no, Curt Schilling's performance in his first start had nothing to do with either his injury or Questec. As with Barry Zito, some pitchers just have bad days, weeks, and even years.)

  • The Brewers have problems all over the diamond as well as up and down the organization, but one of the brighter spots is Ben Sheets. Sheets has been effective, but he's always had a tender back. Taking a swing in his last start appears to have aggravated his back. He's in the Miller Park training room getting treatment twice a day and might not make his scheduled Thursday start. It's not serious yet, but it bears watching for a team with no other options.

  • Kazuhiro Sasaki is finally off the stairs, has his luggage (or whatever) put away, and he's back on the mound. While a mini-session in the pen is a long way from a return to closer duties in Seattle, it's a good first step. Sasaki is still a minimum of three weeks from returning to games and Bob Melvin will continue to drive Derek Zumsteg nuts for the full three weeks.

  • Phil Nevin started his injury rehab a couple days early, trying to prove that he's ready to return from shoulder surgery and help a Padres ballclub that's undermanned, but building for Petco Park. Nevin realizes this rehab isn't just to help him get back to the majors; it could also be a pre-trade audition for some contenders.

  • Greg Rakestraw's going to hate reading this, but Michael Cuddyer is probably out for the season after his torn hamstring has failed to respond to treatment. He'll head down to visit Lanning Tucker and the rehab staff at the Twins Ft. Myers complex in hopes of helping the team late this season or competing for a spot in Spring Training 2004.

  • One thing the Ugueth Urbina trade doesn't mean is that Jeff Zimmerman is ready to come back and contribute to the Rangers bullpen. There's no rush anyway, but Zimmerman isn't ready to contribute. At best, Rangers fans might see him back in Arlington by September, but he's more likely to be "ready" for Spring Training next season.

  • Injuries are forcing two players to look at retirement. David Segui has seemingly been injured his entire career and has his own server over at RotoWire. Recent Synvisc injections have helped, but Segui's been thinking about hanging them up. For Olmedo Saenz, setbacks in his rehab from Achilles problems and an unsure situation for him in Oakland may be leading him towards calling it a career.

  • On the flipside, two players are closing in on comebacks from two entirely separate paths. Rickey Henderson is likely headed back to the majors at age 44. Statements from his Atlantic League team, the Newark Bears, indicate that he'll be in the majors after the All-Star break, with all indications pointing to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Chris Snelling, the kamikaze Aussie, is playing well in Double-A San Antonio and appears nearly back from knee surgery. He could be a major player in the Seattle stretch run.

  • Don't read too much into the surprise change in the Toronto training staff. Scott Shannon was removed for much the same reason as Kent Biggerstaff or Dick Martin. He'll catch on somewhere quickly, I'd guess, and George Poulis has been the go-to guy in the Blue Jays clubhouse already.

And yes, if you're wondering, I did manage to switch my mobile phone service this weekend. I'll give high marks to the folks at AT&T Wireless, setting me up with my cool new Nokia 3650. Thanks for the tips and recommendations that many of you sent in to me. It should be a quiet next couple of days, injury-wise, though I am concerned that someone's going to end up hurt in the All-Star Game. I'll be back tomorrow, but you should have plenty of time to check out the archive of Baseball Prospectus Radio this week.

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