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May 24, 2004

Under The Knife

Long-Awaited Comebacks

by Will Carroll

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It's been a long weekend and I'm still without words. Still, the games must go on and I'm here to do a job. Let's get right into the injuries...

  • A severe ankle sprain is never a good thing, but for Jason Giambi, it could be a net positive. The injury itself should heal normally and he'll be back. What will help him most is 15 days of rest. That time off will help his back, his knees, and the 10 other maladies Giambi seems to be dealing with. The biggest concern in the short-term is the back injury. Normal therapy hasn't provided much relief for the soreness that involves his hip. The knee, of course, is a long-term concern with the shadow of the end of Mark McGwire's career hanging over him.

  • Shoulder injuries simply don't heal quickly. I'm sure many of you saw my recent Slate.com piece on labrums, but the fact is that the shoulder is simply a more complicated piece of human machinery than any other joint. This explains why the orthopedists are behind on in that field. This lesson was driven home for Richie Sexson, as another check-swing forced his shoulder out of socket (subluxation) and the pain was simply intolerable. Sexson was rushing back, and this setback restarts the clock. It's unclear if there was more damage to the shoulder capsule or labrum, but seeing Sexson back in June seems unlikely.

  • In what was to be a last test before getting back into the normal pre-start routine, Kerry Wood threw batting practice before Sunday's game. At least that was the plan. Instead, Wood pulled himself after only eight pitches, citing tightness in the same area of the triceps that initially landed him on the DL. He'll go for a precautionary bone scan on Monday and will likely miss his planned Friday start. No word on when the new target may be, but don't get too concerned if you hear the words "bone spur."

  • We have a Nick Johnson sighting! So often, even the slightest Johnson news seems almost too cruel with a legion of people that drafted him high (myself included) hoping against hope that they'll see some return--not to mention the team that traded for him in real life. Johnson is finally making progress, but again, I'm not going to say that he couldn't blink wrong and end up starting the rehab process again. Still, a 3-5 day with a homer is a major positive. If all goes well this week, he could make his Montreal debut near Memorial Day.

  • Jose Reyes is also making progress in extended spring training. (Jeez, if both Reyes and Johnson make it back in June, what will I write about?) Reyes has had good results in back-to-back extended spring training games, hitting and running well. There's still some room for improvement, but it appears that the changes made in his rehab program are paying off. If all goes well, Reyes will likely make a quick rehab stop in the minors and could be back in the Mets lineup by the first week of June.

  • Kevin Mench made a great play, throwing a runner out at the plate, but there may be a severe cost to that play. Mench appears to have strained his oblique yet again. The injury is at that "recurrent, becoming chronic" stage where there's some question if the muscle will ever be able to withstand the strain of a major league game. A determination on a DL stint will be made on Monday. The Rangers' rotation of outfielders is pretty banged up, but put no stock in the Mark Teixeira to the outfield rumors just yet.

  • Billy Wagner had a setback in his return from a groin strain. While throwing in the bullpen, Wagner felt the groin "grab"--not a pretty description--and thinks he'll be out around two more weeks. Wagner's been very bad at predicting his own timetables, and the Phillies have one of the better medical staffs in the game, so I'll wait for their more authoritative word on the topic. In any case, the struggles of the bullpen in Wagner's absence certainly make his return important to the Phillies.

  • The Red Sox have dealt with injuries all season without skipping a beat, so a few more shouldn't be too costly. Scott Williamson heads to the DL with elbow tendinitis. It's not a complicated case, but Williamson and the Sox staff felt it was a good time to shut him down and make sure he was healthy. Once he returns, he'll be babied a little bit, but there's enough depth to protect him without affecting the team too much. Trot Nixon is also making progress in his extended rehab from back and leg problems. Nixon was able to play the outfield and reported no problems afterwards. Bill Mueller is the last of the hurting Sox. He'll have a second opinion after the Sox found that his knee problem was only patellar tendinitis. Second opinions are getting more common. With Mueller, he's still recalling his season-ending knee injury of a few years ago.

  • J.T. Snow will have an MRI to determine the extent of damage inside his knee. He's been playing through pain since spring training, but since late last week, he's had more swelling and soreness. Most indicators point to a meniscus tear. If so, it's simple surgery and he should be out a few weeks. Granted, that was the diagnosis for Preston Wilson, who's still not in sight of returning. Let's hope Snow stays more to the schedule if he does need surgery.

  • A.J. Burnett's second rehab start went extremely well. He focused on his command, mostly eschewing his breaking balls. Again, his velocity was in the mid-90s, so it appears that he has every chance to be the dominating pitcher he was just a few years ago. His next start will likely be late this week at Double- or Triple-A, with him then moving back into the Marlins rotation in early June.

  • Quick Cuts: The extra two days of rest that Jason Schmidt will get because of a rainout sure helps, despite no reports of soreness beyond the normal...No final decision yet, but Nomar Garciaparra could make a visit to Pawtucket very soon...Kyle Lohse has what was described as a "massive bruise" on his throwing shoulder after being hit by a foul ball Saturday. His next start is on Tuesday, but the Twins are unsure if he'll be able to start...Rob Stratton is a free agent and there are teams he could really help. Indianapolis is one...Rafael Furcal returned to the starting lineup, but his finger is still a major concern. It won't heal during the season, so it's a matter of managing the pain...Mike Cameron may not be on the DL yet (wrist ligament), but that's why they invented retro DL moves...Junior Spivey returned to the Brewers' lineup after a couple weeks off due to a hamstring strain. He's not at 100%, but Bill Hall has been a tolerable fill-in. The Brewers' pre-season plan to deal off Spivey and Craig Counsell for prospects is gone now.

Kudos to John Erardi for an amazing series of articles in the Cincy Enquirer about pitching injuries. Tim Kremchek is already one of the top surgeons in the game, and only his mentor, Jim Andrews, matches his commitment to youth baseball. We need more articles like this, getting the message out because...

...there's so much resistance to logical, prudent usage out there. Rob Neyer recently did an article on a kid from Carmel, Indiana, who tore up his arm so badly that he may never live up to the promise he had. Just a few miles away in Brownsburg, Coach Pat O'Neil evidently didn't get the memo. He's doing his best to destroy another promising Hoosier Hurler, letting his ace go 189 pitches. I'm working to get one of them on Baseball Prospectus Radio in an upcoming show. Remember--it's your duty to baseball to point out the people destroying our pitchers and to remove those that don't understand the basic principles of sports medicine and reasonable usage from positions of responsibility.

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