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May 14, 2004

Under The Knife

A Day at the Races

by Will Carroll

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After another day at the races and a night of teaching kids how to avoid Tommy John surgery, it's nice to set my Nokia down and dig into the research for UTK. Really, it's a 24-hour process, but when I can sit and type this out, my thoughts, boiling all day, tend to get a bit clearer. During the day, it's turmoil in the best way, but with the iBook in my lap, everything comes together.

So, powered by Flexall 454 Quick Gel, let's get on to the injuries...

  • The news isn't bad on Kerry Wood, but it's not great either. An MRI of his triceps showed a mild strain, but that's about the best part. Larry Rothschild, the Cubs pitching coach, conjured up the ghost of Sandy Koufax pitching "two years with no elbow ligament." Other than this not being true, it doesn't show much of the proactive attitude one wants in a pitching coach. Quick correction--the start Wood will miss is actually against the Padres, not the Giants as I stated yesterday.

  • Mike Remlinger is headed to Iowa for a rehab assignment and should be back in the Cubs pen--where he's sorely needed--by next week. Remlinger is coming off shoulder surgery and will need to have his stamina watched. Things like day-after-night usage and even back-to-back appearances will need to be avoided until he is back at full strength, which could limit the situations in which the lefty is used.

  • With all the focus on Mark Prior, Ryan Dempster and Angel Guzman have been able to rehab without much notice. Dempster is making a remarkable recovery after Tommy John, due to new advances in rehab and the finding that a ligament can be better strengthened than repaired. That will go hand-in-hand with new imaging techniques. Dempster will pitch against Prior in a simulated game, and is on track to help the Cubs in June. Guzman is throwing in Single-A Daytona; he's also on track to be back to his normal slot in June. Whether that is Iowa or Chicago remains to be seen.

  • Speaking of miracle comebacks--which clearly aren't miracles, but I don't have a better term, and crediting the research of Kevin Wilk over and over gets redundant--A.J. Burnett may come back before Mark Prior. Now there's a bet I would have lost if offered during spring training. Burnett's role isn't determined yet and depends on how he deals with his controlled rehab starts. Burnett's results will determine his role, which certainly makes sense. The Marlins are hoping he can slot into their already solid rotation. Don't forget how talented he is just because he's been gone.

  • Quotes from Wade Miller indicate that his neck injury is similar to the one that put him on the DL in 2002, but of a lesser severity. The problem affects how Miller holds his pitching arm--the "arm slot." Pain causes him to keep the arm lower than normal in his "Flex T" position and leads to more stress on his shoulder. The feedback loop trends downward, and Miller was smart to come out of the game. Getting his arm back to a comfortable position is the key to whether Miller will miss a start.

  • The Phillies have been more or less without Billy Wagner for about a week now due to recurring back spasms. He was warming up on Wednesday, but was unable to loosen up and did not enter the game. Wagner's back is receiving daily treatment, but in the short term, Ryan Madson and Tim Worrell might pick up some save opportunities. Wagner's back is a big concern for any hope the Phillies have to re-establish themselves in the NL elite.

  • Al Leiter was once a victim of Dallas Green's old-school approach to pitcher abuse. He's feeling more soreness than normal in his shoulder, and Rick Peterson isn't taking any chances. Leiter will have an MRI on Friday and will likely miss his next scheduled start. (Oh boy! More James Baldwin!) While Leiter made a pretty good broadcaster last fall, he's one of today's pitchers who I really hope thinks about becoming a pitching coach.

  • The Mets also made a big move today (see Quick Cuts) which may lead to fewer appearances in this column, and more in, say, Prospectus Today or Breaking Balls. Getting Cliff Floyd back certainly helps their cause in 2004, but this isn't a team that's ready to win. I only hope Floyd isn't going to quickly return in this column, as he's spent too much time here already.

  • The Cards are still debating the worth of Edgar Renteria in the future--he's a free agent after this season and they've gone as far as asking the fans what they think he's worth--but he's a Mastercard moment for the Cards this season. You know, priceless. Renteria is dealing with some muscular back pain, and Thursday was the third time he's missed or left a game due to the same problem. This bears close watch.

  • The Angels will travel without Troy Glaus while he stays in Anaheim to get treatment on his shoulder and knee. I've never understood why this is even a big deal. In most situations, if the player isn't available and he's trying to get back to the point where he is available, is there any teammate that gives a guy grief over this? I think it's some sort of media "chemistry" reach. Sure, there's some continuity of care issues, but those are easily dealt with. Glaus' MCL strain will be treated aggressively and conservatively. This seeming oxymoron is just therapeutic jargon; the Angels will do everything they can to treat the injury ("aggressive") while not cutting him open ("conservative").

  • The Blue Jays might have among the fewest pitching arm injuries in baseball, but when they have one, it's a duesie. Top pitching prospect Dustin McGowan will undergo Tommy John surgery after tearing his UCL. McGowan was at Double-A Fisher Cats D.D.S. This pushes McGowan's arrival back at least a year, and now puts more attention on David Bush, Jason Arnold, and the Jays' last Tommy Johner, Francisco Rosario.

  • The Expos need all the help they can get, and soon. With Nick Johnson static in his rehab, Carl Everett becomes a bit more important to get back, torn labrum or not. Everett is yet to prove he can play a credible outfield, but he's swinging the bat well, according to several reports.

  • It may be low in the column, but this story is extremely important... and telling. Moving from the current labs to one that is WADA certified pushes baseball closer to adopting WADA standards, a much stricter set of testing requirements. Baseball has already agreed to WADA standards for the proposed World Cup, so this is the next small step. The move to a Canadian lab may also be a reaction to the recent seizure of samples and names by the U.S. Department of Justice.

  • Quick Cuts: The Mets made a smart move, hiring Vern Gambetta as Director of Strength and Conditioning. Gambetta was among the tops in his field when he was working with Herm Schneider and the White Sox. Good move.... Curt Schilling denies that his ankle was a problem despite needing a visit from the trainer. "I just didn't pitch well," he said... Austin Kearns will be back a bit later than expected, but it's not his healing arm that's holding him back. The Reds want him to find the stroke he lost in the first month of the season... Larry Walker will begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A next week. Preston Wilson is much farther off, like late June... It's not a Pizza Feed, but consider yourself invited to the Saving The Pitcher book release party. More information soon... Jeff Nelson will have knee surgery and should miss a month.

Have a great weekend and be sure to listen in to Allen Barra and Jeff Bagwell on this weekend's edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio.

Related Content:  Back,  Week In Quotes,  The Week In Quotes

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