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February 6, 2004

Under The Knife

Over the Hills and Far Away

by Will Carroll

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I was honored last week to find myself up on a panel with Tom House, Bill Thurston, and Glenn Fleisig at the ASMI Injuries in Baseball Conference. Put on each year by Dr. Jim Andrews and his staff, it's a collection of the best minds in baseball and medicine working to, in essence, put themselves out of business. If you didn't get a chance to hear this week's BPR (and it will be in the archives soon), Andrews is very passionate about stopping the epidemic of injuries.

This conference is amazing: I can't begin to tell you what I learned, but the scope was both broad and deep. I watched Dr. Koco Eaton of the Devil Rays dissect an elbow; I heard Kevin Wilk discuss Tommy John rehabilitation; and I talked with Glenn Fleisig after he presented a landmark study on pitching kinetics. At one point, Andrews asked why the press wasn't there, learning to discuss injuries more accurately. I was proud to be there, and what I learned will make this and future columns better.

Powered by substances only considered legal under baseball's drug testing protocols, on to the injuries...

  • Lots of sound and fury surrounding Stan Conte's comments on Robb Nen. I spoke with Stan while in Orlando, where he was a speaker. He was very clear on one thing: he expects Nen to play, but he's not willing to get optimistic until he sees him out on the mound. I think this is an excellent position for a trainer to take. While I'll often resort to educated guesswork here when that's the best available information, a trainer shouldn't be in the business of raising or lowering expectations without solid evidence. The more we can remove anything not backed by data or evidence, the better injury analysis will get.

  • Roger Clemens has confirmed that he'll have some longer rest this season as he adjusts his schedule to be home more to see his sons grow up. This was expected, but initially denied. A quick look at game logs shows Clemens is deadly on long rest (six days or more), so some teams may be in for some games where people come up with suddenly sore hamstrings or food poisoning.

  • Aaron Boone will have exploratory knee surgery next Tuesday to determine how serious the tear of his ACL is. MRIs are notoriously difficult to read, so it makes perfect sense for Lewis Yocum to peek around before deciding what course to take. This does let us know that the tear is likely not complete, a definite positive for Boone's assertions that he will be back in August. Tyler Kepner also reminds us that Boone had the same surgery in 2000 and made a full recovery.

  • Scott Erickson is back, and reports from his workouts--public and private--are reasonably positive. No one is predicting that he'll be a top starter, but he's recovered sufficiently from a series of surgeries on his pitching arm to make a contribution at the back of the rotation. His stamina is going to be more of an issue than his stuff, especially early in the season. At least Mets fans can look forward to some Lisa Guerrero sightings this season.

  • The Mets are also hoping that Cliff Floyd will be sufficiently recovered from late season Achilles tendon surgery to be a force in the middle of the lineup. Early signs are very positive. Mets team sources indicate that Floyd is running at full speed and will be ready for spring training. Floyd may be injury-prone, but the tendonitis should be in his past.

  • I'm not trying to be cryptic, but I'm getting a lot of odd, nearly conflicting information on Jason Bay. A big part of the Brian Giles deal, Bay had shoulder surgery to correct a small SLAP tear in his throwing arm. Without going into specifics, I have yet to be able to confirm Bay's recovery--reports just haven't added up, or followed the normal labrum surgery timeframe. I'm following this one closely and would love for the Pirates to explain what's going on more clearly.

  • The Dodgers seem willing to let Darren Dreifort take as much time as needed to recover from experimental knee surgery. With someone as fragile/unlucky as Dreifort, planning for not having him is probably wise. A return as a reliever seems likely, despite Dreifort's protests that the stress on his arm is greater coming out of the pen. At this stage, I'm not sure he's worth a late round sleeper, but he was good before the knee gave out.

  • Quick Cuts: The annual "Ken Griffey is working hard this winter" article is out...Alex Cora had a metal plate inserted in his forearm to help with healing. You can insert your own joke here...Worried about Jon Lieber? Quit worrying. He's already in Tampa, throwing from a mound with velocity and control...If Jermaine Dye hits more like what the A's expected when they gave him the big money deal he's playing on, much of the credit will need to go to Mark Verstagen. Dye is reported to have taken off weight in order to keep his knee healthy...That gasp you just heard was National League hitters after hearing that Mark Prior has added a couple extra MPH to his fastball this winter.

The Team Health Report marathon has started, and to answer many questions: yes, there will be both an explanatory and retrospective article. While I'd hoped to run it first, the honest reason it didn't is because I don't have the statistical chops to accurately portray how the system worked last season. Friend of BP Tom Wylie has stepped up to help, so that article is on the way. Remember, if you write about a team or do radio, I'm willing to take questions after each THR comes out. The full schedule should be up shortly. Contact me for more information.

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