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July 29, 2003

Under The Knife

Southern Rock Opera

by Will Carroll

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There are days when baseball is just too good to me. Five-hundred-and-two foot home runs; radio stations calling at all hours wanting me to talk about pitch counts; reader e-mail, which has always been a joy. It's all just fantastic.

Often though, the highlight of my day is when I go through my list of things I must read and find that the normal, high-quality stuff I spend my time perusing has taken it to another level. From Jayson Stark--who has the best round-up of the Reds situation that I've seen--to Jim Baker, to the work done by Jamey Newberg and Mike Hindman of the Newberg Report: there's a ton of writing out there that has been flat-out amazing lately.

Someone asked me about football today, and I just stared at him, wondering if he knew what he was missing.

  • With the Pirates selling off the team, it's going to be hard for Lloyd McClendon to keep the remaining veterans playing hard. Kris Benson has cast his lot as an outsider, forcing second opinions with Jim Andrews and Craig Morgan, all the while defying the opinion of the Pirates medical staff. A Pirates source was livid when I spoke with him yesterday, implying that Benson hid the pain in his elbow for a period of time, then made the injury public when it was rumored that he would be traded to a city that his wife didn't care for. There are reputations on the line when Benson gets re-examined, but I won't fault him if it turns out he's protecting his own interest because he feels those entrusted to do so aren't doing their jobs.

  • There are actually a number of things we can learn from watching Javier Vazquez go nearly 130 pitches in less than six innings, like he did last night. First, Frank Robinson might as well hold up a sign that reads "I'm not moving to San Juan!" What he expects to accomplish in tearing down one of the more valuable assets the Expos still have is lost on me, but maybe he's just going out swinging. Second, Vazquez is fatigued. After a couple good starts following the All-Star break, Vazquez is once again having trouble with both velocity and command. Third, if you're Omar Minaya or Frank Sobotka in the Stevedore Fantasy League, you'd better not count on much from Vazquez for the next couple months. Maybe you should get on the phone to Kris Benson.

  • Lots of email came in after the always-informative Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette mentioned that Vladimir Guerrero was limping on Sunday. My best Expos source says that the limping had nothing to do with his back and that it's nothing to be concerned over. I believe him, especially after Vlad crushed two balls last night, one of which traveled 502 feet. (By the way, the Reds' official site has a pretty cool home run distance calculator; more teams should do this.) Also, it appears that Jose Vidro didn't sprain his knee after all, but is merely experiencing some patellar tendinitis. He should be back once anti-inflammatories kick in. Michael Barrett, however, may head to the DL with a hip flexor strain.

  • Derrek Lee was forced out of Monday's game after falling during a play at first and, according to early reports, partially dislocating his right shoulder. While it's easy to see on replay, Lee fell forward and took the brunt of his weight on his non-glove hand. The dislocation was visible on tape, but not grotesque. The injury looked bad, but it depends on what happened structurally, not how it looked. I'll be following this one.

  • Mark Prior had a short throwing session on Sunday and felt better. The Cubs continue to be very conservative with him, targeting the middle of next week for his return. The timing depends on his pain perception, pain tolerance, and Jim Hendry's cell phone.

  • Getting hit on the hand is never a good thing, but for Nomar Garciaparra and Red Sox Nation, they had to wonder if it was payback for Pedro Martinez's peppering of Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano. It didn't look like Jeff Weaver had much intent, but maybe he's just a good actor. X-rays on Nomar were negative and he'll miss minimal time, if any.

  • Miguel Tejada continues in the grand tradition of concealing injuries, finally admitting that he's played the last month with a thumb injury. Tejada is trying to spin it as a positive as he starts a salary drive. If some of the underperforming A's start playing up to the level of their pitching, it could get interesting.

  • Andruw Jones has a mildly strained oblique that is causing him more pain when he throws than when he hits. He's undergoing treatments, and while the Braves' staff thinks he won't need a DL stint, they have enough of a lead built up in the NL East that they could miss him for the requisite 15 days and not worry too much.

  • The Cardinals need all the help they can get, so news that Eli Marrero is making good progress coming back from ankle surgery not only has to brighten the spirits of a team that has as much injury risk as those nameless ensigns on Star Trek, but makes possible deals involving J.D. Drew a bit more likely as well. Marrero probably won't have full mobility or speed when he returns--and definitely will not catch--but he could be a useful corner outfielder or first baseman down the stretch.

  • Jim Mecir is the latest on the list of baseball players to consider the use of Synvisc, the artificial joint lubricant. Mecir's well-known leg problems are similar to Rondell White's; both have differing leg lengths, leading to a myriad of problems. Sometimes, players are just injury prone; others overcome injuries to become something despite the injuries. For the latter, we should celebrate that fact rather than point out that they didn't do more.

  • Quick Cuts: Wily Mo Pena is hitting well in Triple-A while on a rehab assignment. He'll stay down the full 20 days, unless Brad Kullman swaps him for some pitching...Glendon Rusch is pitching better since a quick trip to Indy and picking up the valuable Baseball Prospectus Radio karma, but his delivery is suddenly very high-effort...Is that Vanilla Ice in the K-Swiss ad that plays during Baseball Tonight?...Trey Hodges heads to the DL with elbow soreness. Jason Marquis, himself trade bait, will replace him...Mike Sweeney insists he will be back...Chan Ho Park is done for the season.

As much as I like the Blue Jays--and remember, I jumped on the bandwagon before the 2003 season--I have the receipt on my new lid to prove it: I like Roy Halladay even more. Yes, he gets scads of run support, but he also is among the most intelligent and efficient pitchers in the game. Sixty-eight pitches in seven innings is sick. If even a few more pitches learned to do what Halladay does, with or without his stuff, the game would be better and we'd have more good, healthy pitchers out there. Oh, did I mention he did this on three days rest? Point that out next time someone says the four-man rotation can't work.

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