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July 8, 2004

Under The Knife

Health Inertia

by Will Carroll

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At the halfway point of the season, it's hard to find a player who isn't sore and fatigued, a pitcher who doesn't have some problem, or a team that isn't affected by its health. One of the more interesting questions I've been asked was by a national baseball writer who asked if teams have "health inertia"--do teams that have been healthy tend to stay healthy or is there a regression to the mean? With only limited data to work with, there doesn't appear to be much of a pattern. Over three-year periods, "luck" tends to even out, but over the course of a season, it follows a pattern that looks more like roulette than anything else. There are patterns, but they're not usually meaningful. Instead, it appears that a focus on prevention and risk management is the way to minimize the loss of playing time.

On to the injuries....

  • The Yankees always are a bit different. There's now some discussion that George Steinbrenner would rather not see his players taking part in the All-Star Game unless they're fully healthy, but with Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi, that definitely isn't the case. Sheffield has been playing with a damaged shoulder, while Giambi has been dealing with a plethora of problems, including parasites. I'm still confused why Giambi was selected for the Home Run Derby, but don't be surprised to see pressure on them to play. That said, the Yankees don't normally succumb to pressure, even from the Office of the Commissioner. It's hard to argue that any player, especially one dealing with injuries, wouldn't be better served with extra rest.

  • With the White Sox sliding out of first, an injury to Frank Thomas could be a problem as they try to regroup. Thomas had a cortisone injection in his left ankle on Wednesday, which will keep him out until at least Friday. The ASB will help him grab some rest, but the injury shouldn't affect the DH much. The good news for the Sox is that they will soon get their best player back on the field. Magglio Ordonez will take a quick, low-minor rehab assignment during the ASB and is expected back when the team begins playing again.

  • Just when Twins fans were convinced that Luis Rivas wouldn't have an important hit all year, he smoked one off Doug Mientkiewicz in batting practice. The ball struck Minky in his problematic wrist, forcing him out of the lineup Wednesday. While the injury doesn't appear serious and X-rays were negative, it certainly won't help Minky get past the problems he's had.

  • The Rockies were forced to pull Joe Kennedy from a start after he came up with a sore shoulder during warm-ups. Kennedy has been quite successful at altitude, but his severe motion, altered to help the sinking, boring action on his pitches, also can be problematic. If Kennedy has been forced to put more on his pitches to make them work in Colorado (something that's hard to see in a sinkerballer's delivery), it would put more stress on his shoulder. No word on the how bad this is yet, but the fact that the Rockies put Kennedy on the DL doesn't bode well.

  • The MRI on Juan Encarnacion showed that he needs surgery to repair a torn labrum and an impingement in his left shoulder. Now, the question is when he'll have that surgery. Encarnacion will play through the pain, hoping to stay productive and have the shoulder fixed in the off-season. With the Dodgers in contention but short on power, this is a tough decision for the team. Watch how he's used and if his power numbers suffer.

  • I've been doing UTK for several years now and have yet to do a mailbag column. I'm not sure I can be considered a serious columnist until I do, so I'll get to work on that. Since I get enough email to cause my ISP to question if I'm a spammer, that should be easy. For now, I'll answer Brian's question: "Will Mike Piazza have more injury risk if he catches more? Wasn't the idea of moving him to keep him healthy?" Good question, Brian. The big sell to Piazza was that it would take stress off his knees and allow him to avoid the nicks and collisions endemic to catchers. What moving didn't do was make Piazza comfortable. Comfort is intangible, but talking to players makes it clear how important that is to them. The Mets will use Piazza more at catcher, but he'll still be protected.

  • Quick Cuts: The Cubs have "TBA" listed as their starter on Sunday. That's pronounced "Kerry Wood"...The Cubs also hope to get Mike Remlinger back for the upcoming Cards series. Dusty Baker is beating the proverbial drum for bullpen help, but Remlinger is all he'll get in the short term...Mike Sweeney had more back spasms and is out until at least the ASB...Jose Vidro is having knee problems. Playing his home games on hard turf in both Montreal and San Juan doesn't help.
This week's BPR theme could be "We Got The Beat." I'll have to dig up a Go-Go's MP3 (or not) as we talk with three beat writers: Drew Olson (Brewers), Bernie Miklasz (Cards), and Susan Slusser (A's). We'll also talk with Dr. Barry Goldberg, the Chair of USA Baseball's Medical Advisory Committee. If that's not enough media for you, I'll be on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" next Tuesday talking about Saving The Pitcher.

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