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August 10, 2004

Under The Knife

The Dead Zone

by Will Carroll

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It's a dead zone. Fatigue has set in across the baseball landscape with the races shaking out, teams coming to terms with their destinies, and the long marathon season breaking down even finely-tuned athletes. Add in heat, humidity and an inability to do much in the way of conditioning work, and it is no wonder players break down. It's a testament to their work ethic and the medical staffs that more don't fall by the wayside. August is the month in which the second-highest number of injuries happen (behind April), so I'll try not to let fatigue set in here either.

Powered by WD-40 and DMSO, on to the injuries

  • Cardinals fans shuddered like someone walked over their grave when news came out that Albert Pujols was facing surgery. It's OK...allow a sense of calmness to come over you. Pujols is, in fact, dealing with a bone spur on his heel. It's a painful, but not debilitating, condition and should not be confused with the much more serious plantar fasciitis. Pujols has many options including new shoes, special padding, orthotic inserts, medication and even local anesthetic. He isn't likely to be running, anyway, and needs only the minimum mobility at first. Even if Pujols were to become, say, a pillar of salt, as long as he continues to hit and can move around the bases at a faster-than-glacier pace, he would probably still be valuable. Tony La Russa has experience with a similar situation, spotting Mark McGwire creatively during the worst of his knee problems. Pujols' problem isn't as bad and the surgery is relatively minor and near foolproof.

  • Cue Groucho. For Phillies fans, it's more bad news. Pat Burrell is done for 2004 after finding out on Monday that he would need surgery on his wrist. One of the tendons (the flexor carpi ulnaris) is swollen and painful, so surgeons will transpose it to an area where it will have less irritation. Burrell should be back for spring training, but wrist injuries tend to be a bit slow in healing. More interestingly, Burrell was quoted on Phillies.com as saying there was also ligament damage in the wrist. His statistics certainly showed when this injury occurred. We'll have to revisit this one come spring training, when Burrell will have to prove he's well, what is Burrell? He's certainly not the superstar many of us thought he would be.

    Bad news part II isn't actually that bad on the surface. The Phillies were able to pick up Cory Lidle from the Reds to solidify their rotation. While Lidle initially displaces Paul Abbott, this also sends a signal that Kevin Millwood isn't going to be back any time soon. Giving up a couple mediocre prospects for a replacement-level rental isn't quite desperation, but the scents are similar. Millwood is currently on anti-inflammatories and his response to those will determine if he comes back this season. As usual, the circumstances of the team will also factor in, but so will his impending free agency. According to the data, a player about to hit the market tends to get injured more trying to fight through and pretend they're healthy.

  • The Mets are hoping that an injection will help keep the back spasms that forced Kazuo Matsui from Sunday's game from forcing him to the DL. Matsui told Newsday that he has had back problems before (side note: more teams in Japan are on turf. Just sayin'.) and that he feels this is an injury he incurred by compensating for his injured left ankle. It's another data point for cascade injuries, for allowing near-full healing, and for better interpreters. It's been a rough week for the Mets and I wish those close to Bob Murphy our best wishes.

  • The Dodgers got the best possible news in relation to yesterday's injury to Brad Penny. It also helps put into context much of yesterday's action. Penny had an MRI that showed no serious structural damage to the muscles or tendons in his upper arm. Instead, it appears that Penny stretched one of the nerves that comes through the shoulder. This injury is intensely painful, if not debilitating, and certainly explains Penny's reactions. The lack of palpable defect also helps explain why the trainer allowed Penny to throw another pitch. Like umpires, trainers are almost always right, but they don't get the benefit of hindsight. They have to do their job on million-dollar athletes in front of fifty thousand fans. Penny may only miss one start, but this does bear watching. There are no good comparables for which to judge a recovery.

  • Mike Mussina has had his rehab schedule altered slightly. Even the Yankees cannot buy good weather, forcing Mussina to wave off his planned Tuesday start at Tampa in the Florida State League. Instead, he'll fly up to scenic Ohio for a Wednesday start against the hapless Indianapolis Indians. Mussina's plan has also changed slightly in that this will be his only rehab start, putting him on track for a return on either Sunday or Tuesday of the following week. Mussina shouldn't have much problem making these goals. The question now is how deconditioned he is. The Yankees are getting worried about the stress they've put on the back end of the bullpen.

  • Friend of UTK Robert Henslee got the exclusive on Adam Everett. The intrepid reporter from KTRH in Houston interviewed Everett yesterday, finding out that Everett will not have surgery on his fractured ulna. This does leave open the possibility that Everett could return sometime in late September, but as with most medium-term injuries from this point forward, the team's place in the chase will determine if there is an actual return. One of the challenges of injury analysis is not just tracking the actual returns, but figuring out when a player could have returned in situations where non-injury factors entered into the decision.

  • Things aren't going according to plan for Todd Hollandsworth. While he's able to run, the nerve damage exacerbated by a recent foul ball off his shin looks to keep him out for the remainder of the season. The Cubs may have a touted farm system, but there's not much in the way of immediate hitting help there, leaving the Cubs to mix and match such names as Jose Macias and Tom Goodwin when Moises Alou or Sammy Sosa needs a day off. Roster management is going to be a key for the Cubs coming down the stretch. They're the wild-card favorites, but don't want to run out of gas just getting there.

  • Quick Cuts: Anything I say in this space about Edgar Martinez would just pale next to what Derek Zumsteg wrote. I like to think I'd have written similar things about Ryne Sandberg had I been writing back then. I think they both deserve Cooperstown Manny Ramirez is out of the lineup again. It's flu, but he seems to get sick every August Grant Balfour is about a week away from a return. His pitching shoulder is nearly healed and he'll be on a mound later this week Chad Bradford hits the DL with a back injury. Jairo Garcia, a youngster being compared to Francisco Rodriguez, will replace him. I got a look at Garcia today in his debut and while he might be the next K-Rod, he's most like him in a bad way. Both have just brutal mechanics.

The lineup for the Shea Stadium Feed is firming up. Steven Goldman and Chris Kahrl will shore up the author side, while Allen Barra and Neil DeMause will be the featured guests. There may be others, but be sure you're there by reserving your tickets today. We've also shifted the time back slightly; the event will start at 5:30 p.m.

Related Content:  Brad Penny

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