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March 11, 2004

Under The Knife

Sheff Catches a Break

by Will Carroll

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Taking a quick break from the Team Health Reports, it's time to take a look around the camps. It's been a relatively quiet spring training so far, but there's always a number of injuries that can put seasons into question, even this early. While keeping players healthy should always be one of the top priorities for any manager, it's paramount in the pre-season. The biggest of names are not only under increasing (and often ridiculous) public scrutiny for performance-enhancing substances as MLB gets the treatment that should be first focused on the NFL, they're also dealing with injuries. Powered by wheatgrass, let's go...

  • Welcome to the Bronx, Gary--or should we say, welcome to Gary's World, Yankees? Gary Sheffield has torn--not ruptured--ligaments in his thumb. It's a very similar injury to that suffered by Derek Jeter last season and extremely similar to that of NBA star Ron Artest recently. Jeter skipped surgery, while Artest had surgery and missed only five games. While the thumb is certainly a concern, I side with Sheffield on this one. The injury seems to have been blown out of proportion.

  • It could have been much worse for Jim Thome. His fracture nearly required the insertion of pins. That would have put him out well into April. Instead he should be back near Opening Day. Thome's power stroke might be a bit rusty, but he's already working on non-contact drills while in a soft cast. The rust might cost him a few hits and homers, but he remains an elite hitter. Remember that fluke fractures tend to not be long-term problems.

  • Barry Bonds had some soreness in his back during batting practice Wednesday, but it's not a big deal according to team trainer Stan Conte, quoted on CNNSI. The more surprising name in the article to me was Barney Nugent, the long-time former assistant trainer. In camp on something of a "farewell tour," Barney wasted no time in getting some ink.

  • No premonition this year, but Phil Nevin's first awkward dive has damaged his shoulder yet again. The estimate now is four to six weeks, but the shoulder is now demonstrably weaker than normal. Shoulders are an odd fix--Jeter doesn't have surgery but he's fine (if at risk), while Nevin does and reinjures himself. Nevin loses spring ABs, then comes back riskier than before.

  • Randy Johnson's knee is pain free and his release point is closer to the plate, increasing his apparent velocity. But the key to his season may be that he's pitching angry, trying to re-establish himself as one of the top pitchers in the game.

  • It was just a small setback for A.J. Burnett and may serve him well. The scar tissue breaking up is normal, but scared him back to Jim Andrews' offices. Burnett is easing up slightly, putting himself on a much more realistic timetable, rather than pushing for Opening Day--and not having anyone force him to dial it back. You may have heard Dr. Andrews defend Burnett during his Baseball Prospectus Radio interview, but Burnett is going to need to take better care of himself if he hopes to stay effective.

  • If you want to have some fun at a fantasy draft, just talk up the Rich Harden shoulder injury. You'll see immediately who's done their homework (and read UTK) and who hasn't. Sure, Harden has some inflammation that's kept him out, but it's his non-throwing shoulder. Harden should compete with Carlos Zambrano for the honor of being the best fifth starter in baseball.

  • One of the more ridiculous things I've seen this spring was the sight of Jeffrey Hammonds yelling and pointing at the Brewers bench after a pitch hit him. Chris Capuano's pitch came high and inside, but pitchers seldom flinch and make faces when they throw purpose pitches. Hammonds' broken thumb will keep him out six weeks and opens a door for Dustan Mohr.

  • It's always scary when a pitcher takes a batted ball off their face or head. Brendan Donnelly came out pretty well, all things considered. He broke his nose, but he'll miss minimal time and continue in his setup role. His Oakleys, I'm told, helped prevent further damage. One of the real travesties in the game is the haphazard nature of safety equipment.

  • The Rockies don't seem terribly concerned about the continued inflammation in the knee of Preston Wilson. Wilson is still limited to the dreaded 'non-baseball activities', but is expected to get enough at-bats to be ready for Opening Day. There is some discussion about moving him to left, allowing either Rene Reyes or Jeromy Burnitz to play center field (yikes). Both have done it, but I don't think anyone will mistake them for Dwayne Murphy.

  • The Pirates have enough problems without injuries. Jason Bay is making progress and could play as a DH now. Of course, the Pirates play in the NL, so that ceases to be an option when the Bucs go north. Bay should be OK, but expect the Pirates to spot him early and consider running Jack Wilson out into shallow left to help with throws. On the mound, Kris Benson has had no problems with his shoulder so far. He's also added a cut fastball (really a very minor adjustment to his extant slider) in hopes that it will help his effectiveness.

  • Quick Cuts: Bo Hart's real name is Bodhi? How many times do his teammates scream "I am an F - B - I agent!!!" at him?...Ted Lilly's wrist has held up his work this spring, but he should be throwing soon and be ready for the season. The only worry he'll have is getting the stamina up...A bone scan is a big deal for the Orioles' Luis Matos. Expected to start in center, Matos could miss months if he shows a stress fracture in his shin...Kevin Appier is ahead of schedule as he returns from elbow surgery. Expect him in the rotation by early May...Jason Schmidt is making good progress in his return. I'll have more on him tomorrow in the Giants THR...Orlando Hernandez will be back with the Yankees by mid-season, but his rehab team continues to insist he could pitch now if need be. It's not need be with the Yanks, so they've added to their depth and helped Jose Contreras in one move...Is anyone else vaguely disturbed seeing Dick Vitale in a Hooters ad?...Ryan Ludwick is still not ready to get into games, so it's likely he'll see scenic Buffalo this April. Tendinitis is difficult to deal with, especially with a deep Tribe outfield pulling ahead of him...Shane Nance was expected to be the power lefty in the D-Back pen, but synovitis of his pitching elbow will keep the little guy--really, he's maybe 5'7--on the shelf for a while.

Would one of the MLB pitchers reading this--and you know who you are--please contact me? Thanks. Back tomorrow with the latest THR, plus more UTKs as necessary this spring.

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