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September 3, 2004

Under The Knife

Pennant Pain

by Will Carroll

I don't want to sound flippant--I have family and friends in the path of Hurricane Frances--but this is the first natural disaster that I can remember affecting a playoff hunt. With the cancellation of the Cubs/Marlins game on Friday, and Saturday's tilt looking iffy, the Cubs stand to get a rest exactly when they needed it coming off of the turf in Montreal. Makeup doubleheaders could negate some of the advantage, but Nomar Garciaparra and Aramis Ramirez need all the healing time they can get, while older players can use rest anytime it presents itself. It will be interesting if this does have any material effect on the wild-card race. It's just another time we can watch the game of baseball for years, yet still be surprised by something new.

On to the injuries...

  • The Dodgers got the first positive report on Brad Penny in a while. Penny had another mound session, this time with little or none of the neurological symptoms he's shown, nor the lack of command that had marred his sessions. Penny will need to show a bit more before he's ready to get back in the rotation, but there's enough optimism based on his recent progress to aim for mid-month. That's definite progress and something the Dodgers can use. With any nerve injury, there's a definite risk of recurrence, so keep that in mind.

  • You'll see Trot Nixon coming in time to activate him. Nixon headed out for a rehab stint on Thursday, going 0-for-3 in a PawSox win, but a looming three-game suspension may necessitate some roster shenanigans. This won't be the normal three-card monte, but instead, Nixon may be activated slightly before the Sox had hoped in order to have him back at the same time. What's that, you say? Instead of playing through Saturday, as expected, Nixon may only play Friday, get activated on Saturday, serving his suspension and being ready for the Oakland series. The Sox can make this move due to their outfield depth. Even healthy, Nixon is likely to share time with Kevin Millar and Dave Roberts.

  • For once, the Red Sox feel the Yankees pain. More specifically, David Ortiz is feeling Gary Sheffield's pain. Ortiz will have an MRI of his right shoulder on Friday to confirm the team doctor's opinion. Early symptoms point to the bursitis Sheffield suffered through for most of the season. It's something of a positive since sources were whispering that Ortiz had torn his rotator cuff earlier in the day. Like Sheffield, Ortiz will likely need some cortisone injections to make it through. Like Sheffield, he'll likely see little effect on his game.

  • The Red Sox also think that Scott Williamson will be able to return. An aggressive, closely-monitored throwing program along with some clearly defined limits have Williamson coming back, despite likely still needing Tommy John surgery. The big test will come Friday when Williamson starts throwing breaking balls. If he can pass that and a couple more checks, he could be activated as soon as Monday. This is a big "buyer beware" sign; Williamson is known damaged goods likely to be placed in high-stress situations. If it works, great. There's a better than average chance that Williamson goes down again.

  • The Yanks can't let Boston have all the good news. Jason Giambi is making progress again, once all the side issues of health had been put aside. My Tampa sources tell me that he's hitting well and just days away from starting a rehab assignment. The Yankees brass hopes that Giambi can get his swing back in time for the last full week of the season. That week would be something of a tryout for Giambi, letting Joe Torre work his mojo on the playoff roster. Some teams are concerned that even a limited Giambi could have some psychological effect if he's on a roster, functioning as a "secret weapon" that a team can't plan for in a short series. If my sources are to be trusted--and they're usually very good--Giambi will be, at the very least, better than we saw this season.

  • In the end, the body fails most of us. Tim Salmon has pushed his harder and farther than most ever will before age and wear caught up. The left shoulder surgery is not just problematic, it's going to be massive. Salmon has three "large" tears in his rotator cuff, some nearly full thickness. There's no player at any age that has come back from such damage, let alone one in his mid-30s. Salmon's position and player type may help, though it's much more likely that we've seen the last of Salmon on the field. He was a good one.

  • I've been working on a project that's not quite ready for prime time, attempting to measure "injury cost" - what the loss of a player really takes away from a team. It's obvious that some players are more valuable than others, just as some teams have depth in certain areas. However, one of the more interesting effects is the occasional situation where an injury appears to help a team.

    David Newhan is becoming the poster boy for this phenomenon. Few would have expected Rod Barajas to be alongside him. Barajas' performance didn't have the "holy cow!" factor that Newhan's numbers did, but he was not just an adequate replacement the Rangers hoped for when Gerald Laird went down. Even when Laird came back, he slumped while Barajas stayed hot. Hot, of course, is relative, as it's hard to call a .263 OBP hot. It's only in comparison that Barajas is a positive. All that said, Barajas has some back pain, forcing Laird back into a squat.

  • There's more addition by subtraction in Minnesota. While Luis Rivas rehabs an injured left big toe. With Mike Cuddyer stepping in, his MLVr points to an improved Twins offense. Granted, there's some defensive dropoff when Cuddyer is at second base, right? Probably not as much as you'd think. The miracle of the daily-updated DT cards shows us that Cuddyer has a Rate2 of 110 at 2B, Rivas is only slightly better at 116. Ron Gardenhire will have a very flexible bench come playoff time.

  • Ouch. Apparently Saving The Pitcher hasn't been translated into Japanese yet, although I know one team has a copy or two lying around. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese Olympic ace, came back to Seibu and promptly struck out 16. It took him an unfortunate 149 pitches to accomplish this, and I'm guessing that even with his extra rest, he wasn't given the same advantages Jason Schmidt had when he went long in a couple starts earlier this season. Matsuzaka is expected to come to the U.S. next season. Let's hope he has an arm left to show off.

  • Quick Cuts: The White Sox have pushed Freddy Garcia back once again. If you're waiting on him, your team is probably having the same problem as the White Sox... The Pirates may publicly hold out hope, but Sean Burnett is done for the season. They'll go with younger options in hopes that next year isn't another year like this one, or last year, or the year before that... Travis Blackley is going to be shut down rather than called up, the latest damaged Mariners pitching prospect... Kerry Ligtenberg and Josh Towers are both likely done for the season. Roy Halladay may be back in two weeks, just to make a cameo.

Have a great weekend, listen in for our last two-hour Baseball Prospectus Radio of the year, and if you're in the path of Frances, please be safe.

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