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October 14, 2004

Under The Knife

The World's Most Famous Ankle

by Will Carroll

All hail split-screen. My JVC got a workout last night, with the third Kerry-Bush debate on the left, the second Yankees-Red Sox tilt on the right, and MLB's Gameday telling me when to flip over to the Astros-Cardinals opener. It was a night for America: debate and politics on the one hand, the national pastime on the other. While I feel for those people without the benefit of modern necessities like HDTV, digital cable and TiVo, I'm not sure that there was a better solution for scheduling the telecasts.

Powered by the only thing keeping me going until mid-November, on to the injuries…

  • The big news concerns Curt Schilling and his injured ankle. The injury has now progressed from tendonitis to a torn tendon sheath, a much more serious condition. It appears that it tore during his September 21 start against the Orioles. The tear pushes one of the two affected tendons out of the normal groove and may be impinging nerves. Schilling, of course, can't feel this under the nerve block injection, but he was able to feel the tear increasing--the "popping" that has been widely reported. This brings us to a few good questions:

    • Should Schilling have been pitching on this damaged ankle?
    • Will Schilling be able to pitch in his next scheduled start?
    • If Schilling was so bad, why was he sent back to the mound in the second?

    There can be no definitive answer to the first question. There are clear pressures on highly-skilled, highly-paid athletes to perform. Schilling was able to deal with the condition for the better part of the season. The exacerbation that happened to it late in the season could have happened at any point, so the management of the injury appears to have been successful up to that point. There's always some grey area for teams, but there is little that suggests that Schilling was anything less than a willing, even demanding, patient.

    As for question two, that remains to be seen. The medical staff will be very aggressive with the ankle, attempting to find some means of bracing or taping that will both allow Schilling to push off, to keep the ankle stable, and to allow him freedom to move. Schilling discarded the brace he was expected to wear during Game One, though it's unknown when that decision was made. Schilling has been treated aggressively between starts already, so it is unclear what more can be done, especially with the worsening of the condition. A decision will likely be made by Friday, though it will not likely be announced publicly. We may be able to discern the Sox leanings by their bullpen usage. Derek Lowe is the most likely candidate to go in Game Five, though Pedro Martinez could be accelerated if Game Five is an elimination game. From the information available, I would say that there is a one-in-four chance of Schilling starting Game Five.

    On the final question...multiple sources tell me that the decision was left in the hands of Schilling himself. He denied he was having great difficulty, saying on the bench that he "just needed to get loose." One of the criticisms of Terry Francona has been his willingness to defer to players, especially veterans. This appears to have been one of those cases. How important that decision was to the series remains to be seen.

  • The workload carried by Martinez last night gives us some clues about the upcoming Red Sox rotation. Martinez went 113 pitches in Game Two, all while listening to questions about his paternity. It would be nearly impossible for Martinez to come back on short rest after going over 100 pitches. No, this isn't a case of the pitch-count police, it's simple physiology. Martinez normally takes a longer time to rest between starts than the average pitcher. Of course, this isn't a normal time so in the playoffs, with Martinez about to hit free agency, he may show for the game if the Sox are facing elimination. Even so, he would be under severe limitations and likely would then be unavailable for Game Six and perhaps Game Seven in a desperation outing.

  • Jon Lieber looked great last night, making the Yankees decision to sign him prior to a season he would miss completely look even better. The Yankees may not hold this edge long, as other teams are beginning to see the value in deals that cover a Tommy John rehab. They still are the only team with Mark Littlefield, so they have that going for them. Give the Yankees Tampa rehab staff some credit for last night's win.

  • Tom Gordon told the press before Game Two that the black spots he was seeing after the champagne-cork incident had cleared up. Gordon was able to pitch effectively in both games, so it doesn't appear that his lack of safety eyewear will have any negative impact on the series. Gordon is, however, short-arming his famous curveball, leaving it more of a slider/slurve than the feared hammer.

  • As the ALCS heads into an off day, the Yankees will take the opportunity to decide on a Game Four starter. Orlando Hernandez made the roster based on a promising side session. He'll get a chance to pencil his name in if he can repeat the performance on Thursday. The Yankees are reportedly leaning towards Hernandez.

  • I had the sound off--or rather, I had the sound of the debate on--so I'm unsure what the announcers said, but Fox showed Scott Rolen limping noticeably on a couple of plays during Game One. The symptoms indicate that Rolen's knee injury involves his ACL; he's having difficulty with lateral motion and stopping. A quick series win helps the Cardinals more than the other teams since they have a few more injury problems than the others. On the other hand, their rotation is completely interchangeable.

  • I so seriously discounted reports that Jim Edmonds was going to be hobbled that I left them out of the LCS Health Reports. Edmonds fouled a ball off his shin during Game Three of the Division Series and made it out for Game Four. Edmonds showed no signs of problems last night, but reports from the clubhouse indicate that Edmonds was getting regular "cold sprays"--a shot of extremely cold chemical that deadens the surface for a brief period of time--between innings. If such superficial treatment allows Edmonds to play, I'm less worried about the injury than before.

  • My best Houston source tells me that there was never a consideration of using Roger Clemens or Roy Oswalt in Game Two. "[We] have to win all three at home. That's just the deal," he said. "Getting the horses in there, then [Brandon] Backe who's been nails, is the best shot." The same source is unsure if Clemens would return for Game Six unless it's an elimination game. Watch for both Clemens and Oswalt to have low pitch counts in their starts if possible, leaving a Game Six/Seven return open.

  • The Cubs fired both their head and assistant trainers on Wednesday. It was surprising, given that Dave Groeschner was in his first season as the Cubs trainer. The Cubs injuries can hardly be laid at Groeschner's feet on the whole, though there are certainly reasons beyond them that the Cubs may have. The Cubs were only slightly above average in days lost to the DL. Still, one year is too short a time frame to make any judgment about Groeschner's programs. The Cubs now need to make an organizational commitment to team health in the way that the Blue Jays, A's and Devil Rays have done. (I'll have complete DL reports when we announce the Medical Staff of the Year award soon.)

  • Quick Cuts: It's the season for off-season surgery since it is, um, the off-season. Quick Cuts will be full of these for the next couple weeks. There's usually not much to it; there's surgery, it was "successful" and there's a prognosis. Don't make much more of it than there is … Barry Bonds had minor knee surgery. It's much like what he had in 1999 … Ben Sheets had minor back surgery: a microdiscectomy. It surprised many that Sheets needed the surgery given his results, and surgeons were surprised he was able to finish the season. He should be fine by spring training … Adam Kennedy underwent knee surgery to repair his ACL. He's expected back in the spring, but not by spring training … Jason Grimsley underwent Tommy John surgery this week, making Allard Baird's trade of him look even better … Forgive me if I sound a bit political when I say that Mariano Rivera should adopt President Bush's line about "Need Some Wood?" No pitcher in recent memory breaks more bats than the Yankees amazing closer. When he retires, he may not make the Hall of Fame (though I think he makes a good case), but he'll probably get some lifetime achievement award from the timber industry.

Will's free tip to front offices: Daisuke Matsuzaka won't break down in his first year over here. If he doesn't win 12 games and Rookie of the Year, I'll come bat against Rob Dibble without the benefit of a batting helmet between innings of your first home game in 2006.

Back as necessary during the LCS. I'm working on an interesting story about Ken Griffey Jr. that I think you'll enjoy.

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