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July 19, 2004

Under The Knife

Monday Maladies

by Will Carroll

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There's more and more attention being paid to injuries, pitching, and alternate approaches. The Arlington Daily Herald had an article featuring Dr. Mike Marshall, the controversial former Cy Young winner. I have my issues with Dr. Marshall and vice-versa, but it's interesting reading. When we have more writers like Lindsey Wilhite digging for good info and asking great questions, we'll get the game moving forward.

So, powered by my new BamBooBat, on to the injuries...

  • While Dr. Marshall is diagnosing Mark Prior from a couple states away, the Cubs team doctors were diagnosing Prior using the best imaging in modern medicine. According to the team--and confirmed through multiple sources, in order to prove to the many skeptics that there's no smokescreen--Prior has no problems with his UCL or ulnar nerve. Instead, a bone scan showed an inflammation near the elbow. In essence, Prior has shin splints in his elbow area. The technical term is periostitis, but let's stick with something we can all say.

    Prior will not go to the DL, and based on his lack of soreness Monday after a bullpen session on Sunday, he could start on Tuesday, his regular turn. It's much more likely that the Cubs will be cautious and let Glendon Rusch take the start. So what does this mean for Prior and the Cubs? I simply don't know. None of my best sources had seen this type of injury before, and more than one questioned the diagnosis. Simply put, we're in uncharted territory, and the best guide will be Mark Prior himself. Many are already questioning his toughness, but that's the same wrong-headed locker room machismo that's cost the game so many players in the past.

  • Things are not looking good for Twins catchers. Joe Mauer is headed back to Minnesota for a consultation with team doctors. Mauer's surgically repaired knee is once again swollen and painful. As I noted after Mauer's early-season surgery, the removal of a meniscus portended bad things, but I didn't anticipate it would happen this quickly. If Mauer has bone-on-bone, it's possible that he would need further surgery or even start a Synvisc regimen. Staying at catcher is only going to do more damage and will have to be dealt with in the near future. This isn't a problem that Twins expected at the start of the season. Worse, Matt LeCroy is also dealing with knee pain of his own; Ron Gardenhire will likely have to keep him at DH or first to ease the strain on LeCroy.

  • The Blue' Jays hopes for 2004 long since dashed, every move is now focused on 2005 and beyond. With Roy Halladay hurting, the Jays are smartly shutting him down and sending him to Jim Andrews. The early speculation is that Halladay has a muscular problem in his shoulder, perhaps as serious as a tear. If it takes significant rest or even surgery for Halladay, it has to be done now before more damage is done. What will be interesting is seeing if this recent mini-spate of arm injuries is flukish or indicative of some change in the Jays organization. Halladay is still an anchor, but even for a pitcher with good mechanics and efficient game management, there are still limits, probabilities, and dangers involved. Halladay is not yet on the DL or even off the Wednesday probable list, but don't count on him staying active.

  • It comes as no surprise that Mike Mussina is headed to the DL with a retro move. The Yankees wanted to bring Brad Halsey back up for a couple starts. Mussina's elbow is sore, but there appears to be no structural damage. It's the shoulder that remains the biggest concern. With Kevin Brown also on the DL but expected to make a rehab start this week, the Yankees' rotation should once again slide by, for now. Meanwhile the team is looking hard for another, more consistent starter.

  • Last week on Baseball Prospectus Radio, Susan Slusser floated the idea that the A's might use Tim Hudson as a closer. While it sounded outrageous, it is becoming a possibility in the near-term. With the A's bullpen still shaky and Hudson's oblique still balky, the A's are discussing moving him into a relief role, hoping to extract maximum value while letting him ease back into pitching. It's an interesting idea and it will be a big test for pitching coach Curt Young if the A's choose to go this route. Keep your eye on this.

  • How do you get a knuckleballer off the mound? A pitch count won't work, but a rocket liner through the box might. Tim Wakefield took a hard shot off his shoulder. X-rays were negative, but he's going to have one heck of a bruise. How he responds to treatment will determine when he gets back on the mound for the Sox, but this isn't serious in anything more than the very short term.

  • "Strained flexor tendon" has gotten strangely popular as an injury this season. Perhaps pitchers are seeing the success Jason Schmidt has had and are willing to try anything. More likely, better diagnostic techniques are giving us more specific diagnoses than in the past. The latest to come up with a strained flexor tendon is Edwin Jackson, the young Dodgers pitcher. Jackson will go on the DL and be monitored closely to make sure the damage is minimized and confined. Jackson is a big part of the Dodgers' future, so they will be extremely cautious.

  • Luis Gonzalez has been planning to shut things down in August to have Tommy John surgery, but it appears that the surgery will come sooner than expected. As reported here last week, the Diamondbacks have made a series of surgical possibilities available. Gonzalez has needed the surgery since spring training, but fought through the injury. By having the surgery now, he'll be ready for spring training 2005. Using other position player examples--including Tony Womack this year--as a guide, Gonzalez should have almost no aftereffects.

  • Raul Mondesi's strange season continues. After his Pittsburgh shenanigans, he signed with the Angels only to tear a quad. While he was expected to be lost for the season, Mondesi said he'd be ready in late June. Instead, he was sent on a rehab assignment last week and has suffered a setback. He'll be checked by team doctors, but once again, it looks like Mondesi's 2004 is over.

  • The Reds normally let Dr. Tim Kremchek be the conduit for medical information to the public, but the organization is handling Ken Griffey Jr. a bit differently. Junior had been talking to the press about his frustration and condition, so the Reds slapped him with a "gag order", much like the one Jim Bowden received two seasons ago. It changes nothing about Griffey's hamstring, which should keep him out to mid-August. I did get a good look today at the recently returned John Vander Wal. He's wearing a bulky brace, but he hit a homer off the right-field pole and had no problems in the field.

  • Justin Morneau is hitting for power at the major league level, but Doug Mientkiewicz will come off the DL later this week, with the Twins expected to send Morneau down again. The Canadian Olympic team's needs continue to overshadow the likelihood of Morneau sticking with the big club, though General Manager Terry Ryan has hinted that Morneau could use more minor league seasoning anyway. Mientkiewicz is still having some pain in his injured wrist, but he's responding well to treatment and should be able to play at an acceptable level. Wrist injuries usually sap power, but that isn't Mientkiewicz's game anyway, so he should look the same out of the box.

  • Jeff Nelson will help the Rangers if he can get back in the bullpen. He'll start what is expected to be a short rehab assignment this week in the hopes of returning to action by the weekend. Nelson had no trouble coming back quickly from elbow surgery two seasons ago, and this could be a similar situation. On the other hand, Jeff Zimmerman joined an exclusive club when he had his second Tommy John surgery last week. It's not a club anyone wants to be in, and it may be time for Zimmerman to move on.

  • Quick Cuts: Alex Gonzalez should be back for the Cubs this week. He'll be on the spot immediately, with the Cubs in the market for an upgrade...David Segui is ready to head for a rehab assignment. If you can figure out where he fits once healthy, let me know...Phil Nevin may be back before August. He's telling people that he's ready for a rehab assignment now...I'm sure the Mets were thrilled to hear that Jose Reyes has given up on the techniques they paid good money to help him with. Without some changes, Reyes is not going to be able to keep his back and hamstrings healthy long...Melvin Mora returned to the Orioles lineup over the weekend. It's hard to find positives in any injury, but David Newhan has been a positive for the Orioles. Newhan's also part of an exclusive club, filled with greats and also-rans alike...Vernon Wells is back in the Jays lineup, but they're being exceedingly cautious with him. Expect early exits and regular off-days...Cortisone shot in the groin? Ouch, but it may get Frank Catalanotto in the lineup, as he's being showcased for a trade.
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