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September 20, 2004

Under The Knife

The Luxury of Time

by Will Carroll

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Just two full weeks remain in the baseball season. The National League wild-card race is as close as it could be, the Red Sox still have a shot at the Yankees, and the snake is still hissing in Texas. The AL West looks to be the A's division to lose, though scheduling will keep this interesting for a while longer. Teams will be fighting not to win divisions, but to stay healthy and set up for the playoffs. Keeping players healthy becomes job one for Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and the rest of the managers whose teams have already locked up berths. Luck--good or bad--often rears its head around this time. There's a reason why the trainers and doctors get paid playoff shares. Now is the time when they earn it.

Powered by Skype, on to the injuries…

  • Chris Carpenter has been nothing short of an ace for the price of a mop-up man. Credit Walt Jocketty, Dave Duncan, and the Cards' medical staff; this was a risk from day one. If Carpenter were to do nothing more in a Cards uniform, he'd still be a good signing, but his absence from the postseason would hurt the Cards significantly. Carpenter has left two of his last three starts early with pain. His latest exit, Saturday against the Diamondbacks, came due to a mild strain of his biceps. He was removed before significant damage was done, yet the injury gives us more clues that he may be fatigued enough to show a breakdown in his mechanics. Honestly, I watched his last three starts (the miracle of MLB.tv) and I didn't see much different. I'm hardly a high-speed camera, so I could be missing something. Watch Carpenter closely; the Cards are, knowing his value comes in early October, not late September.

    The Cards hope to have Steve Kline and Scott Rolen back on the lineup card this week. Kline feels ready to get back in the bullpen after rehabbing his torn groin. They split the difference in expectations, so Kline isn't likely to have a recurrence. Rolen fought to come back last week and lost. There's no value in risking his health with the division in hand. Despite the careful handling, the lack of a solid diagnosis of Rolen's injury worries me some.

  • There are conflicting reports from nearly every source regarding Alfonso Soriano. The injury is variously described, by people with knowledge of the situation, as a torn hamstring tendon, a strained hamstring, or a small avulsion near the hamstring's origin. Let's discount the latter and focus on the others, which are likely to be describing the same injury in differing terms.

    I expect that the injury is going to be looked at by Lewis Yocum. If the tendon is torn, it is correctable by surgery. Edgar Martinez and Doug Glanville are about as different types of players as you'll find, yet both had this type of surgery and returned relatively quickly. Of course, it wouldn't be that quickly, so Soriano would be lost as the Rangers fight for the playoffs. Soriano thinks he can play, assuming the pain stays away, but normally this isn't an injury that is painful, but rather one that saps power and explosiveness, two keys to Soriano's game. This one should be decided soon, one way or the other.

    One other note on this, likely interesting only to a select few: the surgeries on Martinez and Glanville were performed and pioneered by former Rangers physician John Conway, replaced this off-season.

  • This was about the time I expected to see Brad Penny back. Once the real story about his injury came out--or at least enough of one to provide some real analysis--it became clear that Penny would come back when the Dodgers absolutely needed him, or just in time to tune up a couple times before the playoffs. The Giants have moved to within hailing distance, so Penny looks to be coming back in time to make two or maybe three starts. Penny has had no problems with his biceps or nerve irritation over the last two weeks of throwing, both flat and mound-based, which bodes extremely well. His command has returned, according to team sources, but he will be on a pitch count and "quick hook," said one team official. Penny re-enters the rotation as Jose Lima skips a start with a small fracture of his right thumb. Lima is probable to come back later this week, perhaps in the Giants series.

  • Pitching is like a first date; it's really the morning after that's most important. A.J. Burnett made it through a side session with no reported pain, but the following morning, the pain and swelling had returned to his repaired pitching elbow. Remember that "repaired" means that about 18 months ago, he was laying on a table, filleted open and having holes drilled in his bones. It's not an easy or painless process, even as common as it's become. There are often problems, ranging from infection to adhesions. No matter how good the surgeon or the surgery, these things simply sometimes happen. Usually, they are minor and they pass. For Burnett and the Marlins, it's incumbent on them not to look at the standings and rush him out, making a simple complication into a major injury. The Fish are also without Billy Koch for the remainder of the season, though it was not injury, but personal reasons, that have ended his season and likely his stay in Miami.

  • Last season, he pitched through a torn groin. This season, he's popping painkillers before every start. If there were an award for tough guys, Roy Oswalt would top my ballot. He never keeps his injuries secret, works with the training staff, and somehow gets out on the mound when almost no one else will. There's value to that. His oblique strain will bother him all season, while Oswalt hopes it bothers him into the playoffs. Without his starts, the Astros wouldn't have much chance of making it that far.

  • The Braves have luxuries the Astros do not. One of them is a cushion heading into the last couple weeks; one of them is not starting-pitching depth. Mike Hampton is reporting good results from the Synvisc injection, meaning he could start as early as Tuesday. That doesn't make much long-term sense. It's much more likely that Bobby Cox will keep him out until Saturday--long enough to get him more rest and with enough time left in the season to tinker if need be.

  • There's something of a curse to being a breakout team. The Indians have gone further than most expected in yet another rebuilding year, but building for the future only works if everyone can come back next year. Jody Gerut will have a severe test this off-season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. The surgery is common, but the rehab is around nine months. The Indians have made noise that he'll be back for spring training, though unfortunately that's unlikely. He'll come back at full strength, just not in that short period of time.

    The news was better for C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia had been injured much of the season, avoiding serious injuries by having a number of smaller ones. For a young player--and Sabathia is still young, just 24--this isn't a negative. Counterintuitive, but not negative. His hamstring injury may keep him out for the remainder of the season; there's little value in his making one more start.

  • Jermaine Dye returned to the A's lineup on Saturday, going 2-for-5 with a double. This is another positive for the A's playoff hopes. The same doctor that helped Jose Guillen come back last season helped Dye's thumb, a nice secret weapon for the A's to have. Temper expectations for Dye, but the double looked good. The A's also called up Joe Blanton, but few expect him to pitch at all.

  • Quick Cuts: It seems like people have forgotten Edgar Martinez this season. Was it one season too long or is it just that the Mariners suck? Martinez will miss some time with an injured toe. Hopefully, he'll get a suitable sendoff in Seattle … Sean Burroughs had knee surgery on Friday to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. He'll be ready for spring training, but actually could play around the New Year. It's injuries like this that make it difficult in assessing injury times and recoveries. I'm not blaming Burroughs … Derek Lowe is fine after taking a liner off his leg. His pitching seemed broken last outing … Dave Burba fell covering first base, separating his left (non-pitching) shoulder. It's unlikely he'll be back this season … Expect Bill Mueller to stay in the lineup for the remainder of the season. He's expected to get "normal rest."

Hopefully I'll see many of you at my chat today. Those of you miss it can catch the summary and come back for tomorrow's column...

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