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August 9, 2004

Under The Knife

Thoughts for Your Penny

by Will Carroll

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There's finally some evidence that the drug testing program is, if not working, at least extant. While the Olympics-BALCO connection is getting most of the public and media attention, but baseball is testing players throughout the majors and minors. There have been suspensions--some public, some not--just none yet at the major-league level. This is an ongoing story, but the facts tend to get lost in the breathless coverage by the media.

Baseball may not have led the way in perception, but it still has the opportunity to be the education leader when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. Why are there no PSAs or anti-doping messages? How about a commercial during the Olympics saying "drugs shouldn't be a problem in any sport. With proper testing, we'll keep the playing field level. Baseball is leading the way." Sure, it might be typical advertising pablum, but it would work! While baseball is firming up Bud Selig's extension, a baseball channel, and Virginia baseball, how about the owners discuss this in a substantive manner?

On to the injuries …

  • One of the best indications of the severity of an injury is the player's initial reaction. Dodgers fans were very worried when Brad Penny pulled up in the first inning yesterday, grabbing at his right bicep. After a quick talk with the assistant trainer and pitching coach, Penny threw another pitch, grabbed at his arm again and nearly ran from the field. Some reports have him screaming or groaning. It looked bad, and no, I'm not sure what the trainer was thinking by allowing him to throw.

    The diagnosis, to be confirmed today by an MRI, is a severe strain of the biceps. While the injury looked to be a shoulder injury or even a ruptured biceps tendon, the strain is not nearly that dire. The MRI and Penny's response to treatment will dictate his timeframe for return, but missing the rest of the season sounds likely. One of the more interesting aspects of the story is Penny's denial that a 2002 DL stint was biceps-related. Described as a "right biceps inflammation," it fits in the pattern of Penny, known for his toughness, denying any injury despite evidence to the contrary. This will surely affect how people perceive the recent Dodgers/Marlins trade, but any trade carries a measure of injury risk.

  • Paul DePodesta's trades really haven't been going the Dodgers' way so far. The game of baseball has its own interesting ways of making us remember that phrase about the best-laid plans. Steve Finley is dealing with his normal sore hamstrings, so the Dodgers are smartly giving him a chance to rest up as they have a nice cushion in the standings. There's little to be concerned about; in fact, the intelligent usage and rest actually improves his chances of being useful over the last two months of the season and into the playoffs.

  • I'm no student of history, but I know that those types like to talk about turning points--moments where it became clear where there was a change coming down and usually coming down hard. The 2004 Astros can look to one of two events as that turning point. My vote would go for the second time that Andy Pettitte grabbed at his elbow. Pettitte had previously, when faced with similar soreness, been able to come back to the rotation with only a short stint on the shelf. This year, it's been different. Pettitte was sore after his start this weekend, but not so much that he feels he will miss his next start. His effectiveness is still in question, as is the long-term value of testing a damaged pitching arm in a lost season. Worst of all, Pettitte's velocity was down significantly, maxing out at 86 according to my reports. He's scarcely able to transfer the energy through that elbow and is probably stressing his shoulder.

  • Others looking back at the Astros season might point to the final straw breaking when Adam Everett had his left wrist broken. It was déjà vu for the Astros, having lost Jose Vizcaino to a near-identical malady last season. Everett's likely course is surgical. He'll meet with doctors on Monday to finalize plans, but plating the bone would give him the best chance of full recovery. Everett would be out for the season, putting the final stake in the Astros playoff hopes and setting up a long off-season.

  • For as much as I talk about pitchers and fatigue, it is far from the most fatiguing position on the field. Catchers have a tendency not only to wear down, but to have more injuries in the second half. Despite attempts at better conditioning, the only thing that seems to work is resting a catcher more often., which is counterproductive in the short term. A study needs to be done on the optimal usage of catchers. (My guess: a platoon where the lefty hitter is the stronger player.) Mid-to-late August is the time when many catchers seem to hit the wall; several top catchers are dealing with injuries now.

    Jorge Posada has a bruised right thumb that can scarcely be blamed on fatigue, but the statistics show that fractures do increase slightly as the season goes on. Perhaps a tired player doesn't move or react as quickly, leading to the injury. Posada was given several days off after the injury, a luxury afforded to a player on a team with a 10 1/2-game lead. Posada should come back next time the Yanks take the field.

    I'll include Mike Piazza in this block because, as the theory went for moving him, he would be saved from this type of fatigue by taking off the gear. Instead, the move has not worked well as the change of position, even to the hard right of the defensive spectrum, has had unintended consequences. Piazza is currently out with soreness in his knees and left wrist, time off that coincides with a 4-for-30 slump, the breaking in of two new pitchers, and a shift back to catching. Reports have Piazza working on his hitting with coach Don Baylor, showing the reversion of focus to what Piazza does well and away from what he doesn't.

    Vance Wilson has been catching in Piazza's absence, but on Sunday, he left the field woozy. A backswing by Albert Pujols knocked Wilson a bit goofy and from the game. Wilson's return will be based on his post-concussive symptoms, but the injury doesn't appear to be serious. Pujols must be about the worst possible player to be hit by. I mean, where's Jason Tyner when you need him?

  • It's a scary end to the season of Aaron Cook. Anytime the question is "will he live normally?" instead of "when will he be back?", it puts the game back in perspective. Cook was diagnosed with blood clots in both lungs after leaving his last outing with dizziness and shortness of breath. An extensive course of treatment, including blood thinners, will put him out for the season and could call his spring training into question. He'll certainly be deconditioned. The cause is unknown, but my advisors tell me this likely has nothing to do with the altitude.

  • I got a load of e-mail after Kerry Wood came away from Sunday night's game without a strikeout. His velocity was just fine and yes, he's healthy. What many saw as the problem was Wood's attempt to recast himself slightly. He's been working on a sinker and used it to decent effect when his fastball lacked control and his curve lacked bite. Wood is hardly Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe, so don't expect him to completely change, but it does offer a third, slightly off-speed option for batters to consider. It might also be handy on those days that the flags all point to Murphy's.

  • Quick Cuts: Few details available, but sources are telling me that Kazuo Matsui may have some serious back problems. He'll be examined Monday and the DL is "assured," says one source … Armando Benitez threw from a mound without problem over the weekend. He's expected back in the closer role by Thursday … Horacio Ramirez begins a rehab assignment. He'll be back sometime early next week according to plan … Great article on one of my favorite stories, Koko the Gorilla. The pain chart they describe is actually scientifically accurate and a great tool, another one of my personal faves … Wily Mo Pena left Sunday's game after experiencing the symptoms of mild heat illness. He should be fine and suffer no lasting effects … Ricardo Rincon left Sunday's marathon game with a strained hamstring … Bobby Crosby also left the marathon. He was experiencing back spasms, but surely it had nothing to do with standing for hours on that turf, right? … Scott Williamson is being shut down after his forearm became sore and swollen. His rehab hasn't been successful. The pain and lack of velocity was apparent in his last appearance.

It was a great BPR this week and it will be up in the archive soon. Also, be sure to get registered for the Shea Stadium Feed this Friday. We'll close registration on Wednesday to get a final count.

Related Content:  Back,  Year Of The Injury

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