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September 8, 2003

Under The Knife

No Rain

by Will Carroll

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If I hear Andy Roddick called "A-Rod" one more time, I'm probably going to puke, but it does bring forth an interesting question. Here's this up and coming tennis star, dating a singer/actress, and what's he get for marketing? The already-used nickname of an undermarketed baseball player. Roddick hasn't approached the popularity or consistency of Alex Rodriguez, so attaching himself to that image helps. I'll leave the baseball business stuff to Doug Pappas, but without the Lords of Baseball doing their anti-marketing, baseball--even on the day when the football freaks teed it up--is running a close second. Pennant races and good baseball create fans.

Powered by more of the fabulous Beringer White Merlot and my new kick-ass corkscrew, on to the injuries...

  • Suddenly, the acquisition of Eric Young is looking less like depth and more like insurance. Ray Durham has always been known as a "tough player"--one who would regularly overcome small injuries that might put other players on the bench or the DL--and that's fine, but one problem with that is that "tough" players tend to be tough to read. There's no sign that says "Playing 80%," so when 80% of Durham is better than any number of other, lesser 2B, it often goes by without notice.

    As Durham--or any player of this type--ages, they increase their healing time, just like everyone else, and often cannot rely on their physical talents alone. While Durham's conditioning and work ethic are advantages, he's exactly the type of player you want a better-than-replacement-level backup waiting on the bench for. Durham is having further problem with his hamstring which will increase the playing time for Young, increasing the workload on the Giants medical staff, and might result in something approaching a platoon for the players, based more on health and rest levels than seeking any advantage, for the rest of the season.

  • The Braves bullpen is still very questionable. I've had a lot of questions which, in concert with last week's Braves PTP, ask me to guess where the Braves bullpen will be for the playoffs. I'm neither Cox nor Mazzone and I'm certainly not Schuerholz, so I don't know. I do know that the Braves will likely go very shallow and count on their starters for more than most teams. With John Smoltz a couple weeks away and not certain to be 100%, the bullpen will likely slot up with another not-100%-guy--Darren Holmes and Ray King, with Kent Mercker the only other sure member. It's an area that is as close to a weakness as the team has. If Greg Maddux, Mike Hampton, and Russ Ortiz aren't able to go to the seventh inning in their starts, this team could be in trouble.

    The Braves are also short one of their major offensive cogs. Marcus Giles has dropped off while experiencing shoulder problems. Some trace this back to the massive collision he had with Mark Prior, but the Braves staff denies that. The diagnosis is simple tendinitis, but it doesn't sound that way from reports.

  • There's a theory I keep hearing that it's not pitches in one start that hurt, but a number of pitches over consecutive starts. The one I keep hearing about--loudly and annoyingly, usually--is 350 pitches over three starts. I've looked for a study backing this up or anything close and have yet to find it. I think this is just an easier, less accurate way of looking at Pitcher Abuse Points that misses the subtleties of PAP3. That Mark Prior has gone roughly 130 pitches in each of his last two outings tells us that, like Kerry Wood, Prior might be less effective in his next couple starts. Again, let's look at the replacement-level argument. I'm guessing a reduced-effectiveness Prior is better than some combination of Shawn Estes and a couple long relievers. While I'd like to see a more conservative usage for Prior, based on his age and the research done by Nate Silver, the only worrisome sign I see from him is in his velocity. I've written before about Prior's tendency to pitch below his peak velocity, then to "reach back" in later innings when necessary, or--more often--to simply not lose velocity over the course of a start. Prior has begun reaching back more and earlier, giving some pause as to his level of seasonal fatigue and to the potential for overextension and overexertion.

  • The Cubs also are quite concerned about the swelling to Moises Alou's knee. While the injury itself isn't considered particularly concerning, it is one of those things that Alou seems to have each season. The problem is the timing. Not only are the Cubs in the heat of a divisional chase, the rest that Alou needs to heal is tougher to come by at this time of year. The gap from Alou to Troy O'Leary or Tom Goodwin is a significant one, especially when Tony Womack is in the lineup. (OK, I'll admit it; I really like watching Randall Simon play. I've started calling him "Fat Boy" in a jovial way, such as "Wow, Fat Boy dove for that one," or "Go long, Fat Boy!")

  • The story of the Cardinals is written in UTK and on the disabled list. Looking back, the Cardinals will look at the injuries they suffered and almost overcame as the deciding factor in why they stayed home or didn't raise the...is there a name for the World Series trophy? While the Cardinals have lost far more than the difference in the standings to injury, they're once again dealing with injuries to their key players. Jason Isringhausen is experiencing more shoulder soreness and his availability is limited, forcing TLR to go to his...what's the polite term?...less than ideally constructed pen of castoffs and has-beens. The Cards are also still playing without Jim Edmonds. His injured knee should keep him out of the lineup until mid-week, at the earliest.

  • With Joe Mays escaping elbow surgery last year, it was probably just a matter of time before he was back visiting Jim Andrews. Rumors from outside the Twins organization have Mays headed for Tommy John surgery in the near future. As Mays heads out of the picture, Eric Milton is closer to being part of it. He'll pitch in the Double-A playoffs for New Britain and could be in the Twins rotation by next week. There are some open questions about his stamina, but his results, so far, have been pretty positive.

  • While George stews in his own juices and tries to figure out who's smarter than Theo Epstein, the Yankees are hanging on to their divisional lead despite injuries to two of their most visible players. While Jason Giambi continues to struggle after being hit on the hand in late August, Derek Jeter came on the field Sunday at the request of Joe Torre. Jeter's oblique will remain a mild concern, but the symbolism wasn't lost on the rest of the team and credit some of today's win to the Yanks old guard.

  • I won't blame Jeff Torborg for Tim Spooneybarger, frankly because I've loaded up on Torborg plenty of times in the past and because someone pointed out that he's found better uses for his time. Spooneybarger won't help the Fighting Fish down the stretch--he's headed for Tommy John surgery and a lost season in 2004. Spooneybarger's continued unavailability makes the acquisition of Ugueth Urbina look even better.

  • Octavio Dotel's butt is a serious problem for the Astros. As their bullpen tires under a heavy load placed on them by a failing rotation, fatigue is starting to break them down. Dotel has a strained left gluteal, forcing him off his landing foot prematurely and throwing off his mechanics. While the injury isn't serious enough to think of the DL (under normal circumstances--no one goes to the DL in September without serious cause), the Astros will keep him out for the upcoming Brewers series, giving him rest and treatment to ensure his availability for the important Cardinals weekend tilt.

  • Jose Lima was scheduled to throw a bullpen session Sunday, but at deadline, I wasn't able to get any information regarding it. Assuming the session came off and Lima didn't experience significant problems, he'll have one more session and slot back into the rotation next weekend. He'll probably take the slot of Jamey Wright, but when your team ace could well be Jose Lima, that's amazing and shows the power of freely-available talent surrounded by a well-constructed roster.

  • In the Hall of Lame (the fictional UTK version of Cooperstown for the injury-prone, injury-plagued, and injury-prevented), they're preparing a plaque for Matt Mantei. The Tommy John survivor never seems to be 100%, dazzling with crazy velocity and a closer's stuff, but again, as the D'backs hang on to postseason hopes, Mantei appears to be coming up lame again. His control has gone almost completely away despite decent velocity. Before invoking the name of Mark Wohlers, consider that--as hard as this is to believe--Mantei is approaching his career high in innings.

  • Quick cuts: Ryan Klesko had a successful surgery last week and should be ready to surf soon. Beyond that, he should be ready for spring training... Preston Wilson left Sunday's game with back spasms and yet refuses to acknowledge that he's hurting his team by refusing rest. Clint Hurdle needs to exercise control and keep him on the bench. The Rockies need Wilson healthy and meeting his potential in 2004...The Reds have yet another name on the list of injured Redlegs--Danny Graves is experiencing shoulder pain that he says is the result of "bad mechanics"...The Indians are worried about Ryan Ludwick. A simple knee injury has him listed as out for the season and with his injury history, one has to wonder if they're being overcautious or under-reporting. The Tribe will also be without Omar Vizquel for September. He's having the expected second knee surgery.
Back again tomorrow, folks.

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