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September 13, 2004

Under The Knife

Going Long

by Will Carroll

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I've seen my stuff quoted on all kinds of Web sites, but one of the weirder moments was when a USA Today music critic cribbed a line I'd used to start a chat session. He gave me and BP full credit, and it was actually pretty darn cool. Now, Tyson chicken is basing a whole campaign on "Powered by"! Who said there aren't baseball fans everywhere you look?

So, medheads everywhere, powered by my favorite adult beverage, on to the injuries…

  • There are just two things that can beat the Cardinals at this stage: the Cards themselves, and injury. Two of their key players are dealing with injuries and both seem to be worse than the team is letting on. Matt Morris, coming off a poor outing Wednesday against the Padres, will meet with team physician George Paletta on Tuesday. What brought on the visit is not so much the performance--Morris has been up and down all season--but the pain and mechanics he exhibited on the mound in that start. Morris has likely pitched with the problem all year, able to go for a string of decent-to-good starts with rest. The shoulder problem, whatever it may be, reduced Morris' velocity significantly last week. Although that usually indicates a rotator cuff problem, there are several other possibilities. With the rotation already one of few weak spots, the Cardinals can ill afford to lose Morris.

    Worse still would be the loss of Scott Rolen. His shoulder injury was a death blow to the Cardinals postseason hopes in 2002, so the negative signs surrounding his knee/shin injury have to have Cards fans a bit on edge. The information on Rolen's injury is a bit confusing. He fouled a ball off his shin, yet the injury is a strained calf (gastrocnemus, if you really want the technical stuff.) According to Cards trainer Barry Weinberg, Rolen injured the muscle because the nerve sensation was lessened, forcing him to have an awkward gait. Rolen certainly has time to rest and return from a simple strain, even if it is a Grade II--moderate--strain. At this stage, the symptoms aren't matching up directly with the injuries. It's impossible to tell if this is double-talk, smoke screens, or whether we simply don't have enough information to make a clear analysis. This is one I'll be following closely.

  • Just a week after undergoing surgery on his broken hand, Kevin Brown is trying to keep his promise. Brown threw from a mound on Saturday, proving that he could pitch if allowed to do so. Sadly, none of my sources nor any published reports revealed whether Brown had a glove on or was receiving throws from his catcher. Brown is intent on pitching well before the three-week prognosis, so an early return should not surprise anyone. Some whispers that he could be ready for the upcoming Red Sox series seem optimistic, though not impossible.

  • In a good news/bad news way, Jose Capellan's fine debut start was more than just the Braves' first look at this interesting young pitcher. It might just be their look at the replacement for Mike Hampton down the stretch. While Capellan likely will not be a playoff starter, someone will have to take the starts Hampton is going to miss after injuring his left knee on Saturday. Hampton will have an MRI on Monday, assuming the swelling has gone down enough for him to do so. Hampton reported a "pop," which may or may not be significant. While many hold this up as an extreme negative, a "pop" is seldom a good indicator of the severity of any injury. The MRI will be the bearer of good or bad tidings. If Hampton is done for the season, the Braves look weaker come October.

  • In college football, teams can lose a game early and still come back in the polls to win a championship. Or half of one, anyway. In baseball, there's a similar principle that applies. Depending on the injury, a player can come back, get some cuts or innings in and get ready for the playoffs. It's unclear, however, what it takes for someone to be ready in general, and quite unclear what specific players need to be ready. And the rules change when the player's team is in tight playoff chase. What might sit a player down or even DL him in May might just lead to reduced performance in September. We've seen Troy Glaus get back on the field, doing what he can for the Angels, and now Jose Guillen is pushing himself. Against medical advice, Guillen was on the field Sunday with a sore neck. The nerve problem was enough to have the doctors say he could not play. Still, one would imagine Mike Scioscia believed he wasn't placing Guillen at risk in either the short or long term. Guillen could use rest, but likely won't get it, leaving it to the trainers to keep him as effective as possible.

    It won't help the Angels make the playoffs now, but Tim Salmon is looking to next year by using the technology of tomorrow. Salmon had knee surgery to replace his damaged meniscus. While there are several ways to accomplish this, it is unclear what type of replacement was used on Salmon. As far as I can tell, Salmon would be the first major-league player to have this type of surgery. It's a step beyond current techniques and, if successful, could make a significant difference in the career paths of some players. I'm sure Harold Baines--and Twins fans--are watching this and wondering.

    In a final Angels note, Darin Erstad left Sunday's game with mild back spasms. It is not thought to be serious, but the team pulled him as a precaution. Given his injury history, it was a smart move. The next step will come today when Erstad's back either returns to normal or continues to have spasms and pain.

  • The Cubs were lucky to escape with a split in their series with the Marlins this weekend. While they now head to Pittsburgh to face a weak team playing youngsters, they do so without some key players. Sammy Sosa continues to feel the effects of an earlier back injury. The referred pain in his hip and upper leg is really limiting his power. Matt Clement missed a start on Sunday. Glendon Rusch didn't impress, making Clement's quick return even more important. He's listed as the starter for Tuesday, but the Cubs have Ryan Dempster ready to step in if the neck problems show up again. Nomar Garciaparra has a bit of a cascade injury. His groin problem is certainly affected by the change in gait his heel injury causes when it flares, as it has for nearly a week. He won't start for a couple days, staying available as a pinch-hitter in critical situations. The Cubs also have LaTroy Hawkins using what looks like a slider, a new pitch for him. Striking out the side on nine pitches makes that offering look pretty good.

  • With Erubiel Durazo playing through an oblique strain, we see more than ever just how significant the September roster rules are. Durazo would likely be on the DL and Jermaine Dye definitely would be. Instead, Durazo will be using a brace to support the muscle, one that has proved effective with others. His power should be affected and his risk of exacerbating the injury is extremely high. Dye is still struggling to find a way to play with his injured thumb. He took batting practice on Sunday with a new brace, but reports from Oakland have the results as mixed. This could be due to Dye adjusting to the brace or the brace's ineffectiveness. Most have already factored Dye out of the remainder of the season. The A's still have hope--and a two-game lead over the Angels.

  • The Phillies are looking more like a contender than they have for weeks. Pat Burrell has fought back, hitting well despite his wrist injury. On the pitching side, there's a give and take. Randy Wolf is officially done for the year--no surprise--while Kevin Millwood was activated from the DL. Millwood's role is still unclear. He is not yet listed as a probable starter on most charts, and he is unlikely to serve as a reliever in any capacity. Millwood is expected to continue to throw on the side, hopeful that he can return for some period of time, knowing that he likely will be shut down if and when the Phillies are eliminated.

  • The Astros will get Morgan Ensberg more playing time now that a cortisone injection cleared up the back spasms that have plagued him for weeks. Still, it appears that Mike Lamb has Phil Garner on his side, leaving Ensberg as a caddy and pinch-hitter. Ensberg's health appears to have little to do with his playing time down the stretch, showing that you can lose your job to an injury in Houston.

  • Brad Penny continues to be an injury enigma. Sources tell me that he looks good on the mound, considering his layoff and the injury. Still, the Dodgers continue to insist that there is no plan to have him back in the rotation. With just a few weeks left until the playoffs, no public plan may be just some of the Oakland Way creeping down to L.A. with Paul DePodesta. Clearly, this is a team that knows more than they are letting on. My best sources are left scratching their heads, guessing that the Dodgers have a "trigger," meaning Penny will get serious when they reach a given date or when the Dodgers' lead shrinks to a certain margin.

  • Some might question the toughness and determination of Darren Dreifort, but I don't know of many people who could pitch with what was described to me as a "three-inch jagged bone spur." That's what was removed from Dreifort's hip during surgery last week. That spur undoubtedly contributed to Dreifort's knee injury, which will be corrected by yet another surgery. Dreifort gets blamed for the injuries, yet at some level, the player is the biggest victim. He never chooses to be injured while teams get to select which players get the lion's share of both treasure and expectation. Dreifort will be out well into 2005, yet he insists he will make another comeback.

  • The Mets lost Vance Wilson to surgery on his hand, and now may be forced to risk Mike Piazza. Just weeks after a return from an injured left knee, Piazza has not caught much, but the Wilson surgery may force the Mets to make a tough call: will Piazza catch both sides of a doubleheader Monday or, with Jason Phillips unavailable, will they use Todd Zeile behind the plate for the first time since 1990? Piazza still prefers and feels more comfortable behind the plate, but the Mets have not decided where they intend to play Piazza next season.

  • It's a sour end to a sweet season for Carlos Guillen. A sprained knee is going to keep the AL MVP candidate out for at least a week. This sounds optimistic, because it sounds like the week will only get Guillen's knee to a stage where an MRI can be used to accurately diagnose the injury. With the severe swelling, it would be surprising to have little or no damage inside the knee. Add in that the Tigers have little to gain in allowing Guillen back out on the field for relatively meaningless games and it looks like he is done. I'll give a tip of the cap to him for a fine season, one for him and his team to build on next year.

  • Quick Cuts: Roy Halladay went 25 pitches in a simulated came. He's scheduled to come back against the Yankees on September 21 … Those of you with deep keeper lists or Canadian roots might be interested in the Orioles' Adam Loewen. He's ended his season with a torn labrum, darkening his bright future. He's headed to the same doctor that treated Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon … Rick Ankiel is pitching only from the stretch. I'm not sure why or if he'll stick with this when he starts Monday … Mike Sweeney should be back later this week after cortisone injections in his back took effect. The Royals don't expect to get Benito Santiago back this season, though … The Twins will not use Grant Balfour for at least another week. He will have surgery on his pitching shoulder after the season. For now, Jesse Crain is handling the innings Balfour once did … Erik Bedard has been shut down for the season. The Orioles were concerned about signs of fatigue … The Devil Rays have shut down Jesus Colome due to a mild shoulder injury. They want to work with him this winter on altering his arm angle … Jason Giambi is in the playoffs...the Triple-A playoffs. He'll stay with the Columbus Clippers through their run, and he will be back with the Yankees before the end of the season … Jung Bong had surgery Friday to clean up the labrum in his pitching shoulder. That's never good … The Indians have shut down Kazuhito Tadano. Back problems are the official cause, but the Indians have high hopes for the import next season … Ellis Burks will come off the DL in time for this weekend's Yankees series. He's not expected to get much playing time, serving only as another dangerous bat off the bench … I still think Randy Johnson is the NL Cy Young Award winner, but if Oliver Perez doesn't get a lot of votes as well, the voters should be questioned by the 372nd Military Police Company.

We'll keep our eye on Jim Cantore and Hurricane Pudge this week as the storm continues to mess with baseball's attempts to predict the weather. We'll also have more details on BPR's playoff correspondents later this week.

Related Content:  Injury,  Back,  Surgery,  Darren Dreifort,  Year Of The Injury

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