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August 25, 2003

Under The Knife

Bad News in Oakland

by Will Carroll

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Mark the scoresheet as Neyer: HBP. In his recent chat on ESPN.com, Rob was blindsided by the "gyroball." Like many baseball fans, he'd never heard of the pitch, despite a great Japanese pitcher, Daisuke Matsusaka, making a living off the pitch. Here's a video of the pitch so that you know this isn't a hoax.

I'm unsure of Matsusaka's contract status, but I'd love to see the gyroball make it over here since it's so well documented in Japanese biomechanical texts. (Which are worth a read if you can find them, just for the diagrams. They're obsessed with spirals.) I have an admitted love for knuckleballs so finding another oddball pitch is just a way of finding an advantage--something pitchers have much less of these days. Add in the decline of knucklers--the Tigers, of all teams, released Steve Sparks recently, a move that they'll come to regret--and I know of only one knuckler in the minors. Some organization is going to get smart and find their "failed prospects" and send them back to A-ball and say: "Look, you're either going to get cut or learn one of these pitches." Give an organization a bullpen with a couple knucklers, a guy with a mean scroogie, and a gyroball specialist, and there's a pen no one would want to face. Heck, let's toss in one of the sidewinders, even if they're not so odd these days.

Powered by Grolsch in the fliptop bottles, onto the injuries...

  • The strained hip should have been a signal. People came out of the woodwork, claiming that Mark Mulder had been experiencing pain for weeks, but again, the leakproof A's kept the information out of the hands of everyone who follows injury information. Mulder's injury, as you know, is a stress fracture, not a muscle strain--but what does that mean? The definition of stress fracture is clear cut, but the specifics of Mulder's acetabular fracture are much less clear. First, we have no clear cut facts from media reports or sources. Second, the information is a bit unclear. Most reports have the fracture in the femoral head, or acetabulum. Most stress fractures of this type happen at the femoral neck. Add in the note from Susan Slusser that Mulder cannot golf and could have "broken his leg," and the signs point to the neck again.

    Bottom line: Mulder is, for all intents and purposes, done for 2003, both regular and post-season. But what does this injury mean to Mulder's future? Hip injuries are notoriously slow to heal due to poor blood flow in the area, but I haven't heard anyone trotting out the Bo Jackson comparisons yet, and hopefully they won't. With proper healing on a normal timeframe, there's little to indicate that Mulder couldn't return for 2004 fully healthy.

  • The A's certainly didn't make it hard on Tim Hudson in his return. Hudson was never tested, kept on a low pitch count, but looked solid in his first game back from being hit on the hand. Hudson didn't appear to have any problems with grip--the major concern--and was throwing all his pitches with only slightly less velocity than normal. As bad as the news is on Mulder, the immediate future looks bright for Hudson. (And let me be the first to publicly lobby for Keith Foulke as Mulder's replacement.)

  • The Cubs took the term "knock him out of the game" a bit too literally on Sunday with the D'backs. A ball off the bat of Ramon Martinez hit Brandon Webb in the forearm, and knocked him out of the game less than an inning later. The injury is painful, but not considered serious, and he should make his next start without a problem. The D'backs need great starting pitching to hang on in the NL wild card race, and Webb has been one of the bright spots for the injury ravaged, but still contending, D'backs.

  • The biggest question with the return of Matt Morris was, "Would his shoulder benefit from the enforced rest?" Early results are good: his velocity was consistently around 90 and as high as 93. We'll know more after a couple more starts, but the Cards just got a lot better with one roster move. If Morris can gain stamina and keep his stuff, there's no reason St. Louis can't stay in this race to the very last game. The series with the Cubs will be huge this week, but if you have any questions why the Cubs are favored, just look at the pitching matchups.

  • The key to pitching injury management is fatigue. Teams can manage fatigue using any number of measures or ignore it at their own peril. Either way, though, fatigue is a many-headed monster that comes from all directions. There is in-game fatigue, short-term fatigue, recovery fatigue, long-term (or seasonal) fatigue, and external fatigue. They all get distilled into a current fatigue level--and that is impossible to measure. Add in things like newborn babies and common illnesses into the mix, and a pitching coach's job gets infinitely harder. Pedro Martinez was laid up with the infamous flu-like symptoms, but will be back on Monday for an afternoon start. Add in that Pedro might have a bit less stamina this time out to add to his normal assortment of aches and pains, and you'll know why pitching coaches all have gray hair.

  • The Orioles made a smart decision. With their season relatively meaningless at this point and place in the standings, they elected to give Melvin Mora another week of rest and treatment instead of bringing him back. The timetable moves back to Sept. 2 for a return, but that looks rock solid. Whether Mora will be able to play pain free is far from as clear.

  • The Reds are coming and going as the attempt to play out the string. Barry Larkin, in what should be a farewell tour for this once-great player, is back on the DL with a sprained finger and will be re-examined early this week to determine if he'll need surgery. Larkin has indicated he'd like to return next year. For Jose Acevedo, the news is a bit better. He'll likely be able to start throwing off a mound in a couple weeks and could return for the last few weeks of a season. I almost said "head out for a rehab assignment in a couple weeks" but I remembered that the minor league season is almost over and those rehab assignments vanish with the calendar.

  • Maybe the Angels knew something. Kevin Appier left his start with tenderness in his elbow and Royals sources sound very pessimistic. Appier was part of the "spare parts" rotation that the Royals have been using, and was hoped to be steady if not spectacular. But the curse on pitchers in St. Louis appears to be a more general Missouri situation. The Royals have been using Jeremy Affeldt as a closer recently, but I'll continue to say that he could be used as a starter with the proper limitations. Bob Boone talked about "reliever day" when the Reds briefly went to a four-man--a day where you'd use a series of relievers rather than a designated starter and normal bullpen--and I have to admit that I think the idea has some merit in some situations. The Royals might well be in one of those situations.

  • Bartolo Colon has passed the "ace" tag to Mark Buehrle as the season has gone on for the White Sox, but Colon's still a major part of the Sox hopes. His back problems continue to be a major worry, but just look at the guy. In the words of Ron Santo: "He's not big--he's fat!" If Colon continues to struggle with back spasms, the Sox will have to consider resting him some for a late September run.

  • More on fatigue: Keep your eye on the bullpens. Relievers have workloads that aren't gauged well by typical measures. They're up and down, they're warming up, they may throw 10 or 50 pitches in the pen, and then they get into games with odd rest patterns. Brad Lidge is an easy example. He's been worked hard, but not overused. He shows his fatigue quickly, losing velocity and command. He has a significant injury history. Still, like with every other important player in the NL Central, his availability and effectiveness could be the deciding factor in who plays in October. Watch him closely.

  • Quick Cuts: Brandon Lyon is doing well at Pawtucket and could be back with Boston in September. If Lyon pitches well, don't think Dave Littlefield won't take a hard look at his medical staff. I know he knows one guy he could hire...Trevor Hoffman looked solid in his first Class-A outing, going an inning while giving up a hit to Casey Kotchman. He'll have one more at Lake Elsinore, move to Mobile, and, if he has no setbacks, he'll be back with the Padres on Sept. 2...Jose Contreras had better velocity during his Sunday start than he had during any point since Spring Training. Yes, that's a good sign...Marlins sources deny that Dontrelle Willis is looking worn down, but his velocity numbers are coming down faster than normal, indicative of what I'm coming to call "seasonal fatigue"...Brendan Donnelly has had one of the great relief seasons in history and he's done it with bone spurs? Wow, what's he like healthy?...Fernando Vina should be back with the Cards by Wednesday, but don't expect him to be traded for anything short of a solid starter...Jacque Jones aggravated his groin injury and will be limited to DH duty for the next week. Ron Gardenhire will be forced to reconfigure his lineup again...Roy Oswalt threw 48 pitches in a bullpen session and came away positive. He'll go again on Tuesday and a determination on his return will be made shortly after...More surgery for Greg Colbrunn. His 2003 is over and is officially a lost year for him.

I already miss The Amazing Race and The Wire...and I look nothing like Sobotka. Back tomorrow.

Related Content:  Back,  Year Of The Injury,  Fatigue

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