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April 18, 2005

Under The Knife

New Week, New Pains

by Will Carroll

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I can't go eight seconds without a new drug story popping up. This time, it's an old favorite, ephedra, coming back to market courtesy of a Utah company's lawsuit. Nutraceuticals, a large herbal and vitamin company, successfully challenged the FDA ban on ephedra. That means that quite possibly, Xenadrine, Stacker and the literally hundreds of truck-stop "stay awake" pills will have "classic" formulas, ones that many say were more effective. There were problems and even deaths, most famously Steve Bechler and Korey Stringer.

I'll leave these types of decisions to the professionals and note that for baseball, it doesn't matter. Baseball's banned substances list includes ephedra and as far as I can tell, the recent ruling will not change that, despite the pegging of the banned list to the government's drug schedules. Of course, since amphetamines aren't banned, why bother with a bit of mua huang?

On to the injuries

  • One of the key parts of the Ben Sheets negotiations didn't happen between the Brewers and Sheets' agent--it happened between the Brewers and their insurer. The franchise-record contract is "significantly insured" according to quotes from Assistant GM Gord Ash. This is smart, not only for a team that really can't accept much risk--even with a loaded new owner--but for any team when it's available. It's expensive, it's tough to get, yet there are few cases where it's not worth it. Even given Sheets' back injury last season, he's a special pitcher who is likely to be the team's ace for the better part of the 2000s.

  • The return of big C.C. Sabathia was an all-around success for the Indians and the lefty himself. He threw extremely well, giving up just one run to the rival Twins and going 94 pitches with good velocity, solid command and no problems. His mechanics...well, they weren't any worse and I guess that's something. Sabathia will continue on his pitch count until he has full stamina, and everyone from the medical and field staff will watch him closely. His health is a big key for the Indians' hopes of beating the Twins not just in one game, but in the standings come October.

  • Khalil Greene will heal from a broken right ring finger and come back. The questions now are how fast he'll be able to do so, and what effect his absence will have on the Padres. With shaky backups at shortstop, there's a chance that the Pads could use this time to get a bit creative. Dave Roberts technically takes Greene's roster spot. His speed could allow the team to push Xavier Nady into a superutility role, maybe using Nady at 2B and 3B while pushing Mark Loretta over to shortstop. Sean Burroughs has played short in the past as well. Of course, all these machinations would create defensive liabilities, but I'll leave it to Clay Davenport to tell me just how many runs he would expect to lose over the course of 10-20 games. Injuries are opportunities just as they're obstacles. As for Greene, expect him back towards the 20-day mark and subtract a little power for a couple weeks after that.

  • Hernia surgery is not a small procedure. The need for it certainly explains some of the pain and nausea experienced by Magglio Ordonez. Ordonez has had nearly everything go wrong short of locusts and boils. Tigers fans will remember that Dmitri Young had similar surgery a few years back and missed nearly the entire season. The Tigers are saying that Ordonez will be back in six weeks, but be flexible and have a plan B if he's on your fantasy team. If there's a positive, Ordonez will have plenty of time to build strength and rest his knee.

  • The Diamondbacks were patient, but they eventually had to put Jose Cruz on the DL. They retroed the move back to April 9, meaning he'll be eligible to return in just over a week. The problem is an irritation of a nerve in his lower back that's leading to muscle tightness and cramping in his legs. He's having more problems with flights and with getting loose. The D'backs are counting on him being able to play center field, though if this problem lingers, they may have to consider allowing him to stay on the DL for a while. With Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green flanking him, there's no way to shift players around.

  • The Angels are prepping for the return of Dallas McPherson. The slugger spent the better part of the spring dealing with a lower back injury that everyone believes is caused by his high torque swing. It's a known quantity now so it can be watched and treated, much as with Todd Helton or Mike Sweeney. I think Sweeney is an interesting comp; imagine McPherson as Sweeney with more power and less contact and you're on to something.

  • The Cubs may be getting a hot streak from Sluggin' Neifi Perez; it doesn't mean they don't want Todd Walker back as fast as possible. Walker is making progress and increasing the range of motion in his damaged knee. He's even been quoted, on Cubs.com, as saying that he thinks he'll be back in "a couple weeks." While I think Walker is the style of player who probably can come back quicker than the top end of the range, he's also likely to be compromised further defensively, therefore yielding some at-bats to Perez and Jerry Hairston Jr. even after his return.

  • Timing recovery from back surgery is an inexact science, at best. Worse, you never want to take the word of a player, either positive or negative, since while they do know their body, they seldom know their limits in rehab. Steve Trachsel is saying all the right things, creating hope that he could be back near the All-Star break. At worst, he becomes the equivalent of a deadline acquisition and makes some of the Mets back-of-rotation/long relievers like Aaron Heilman and Jae Seo tradeable. Omar Minaya is many things as a GM; quiet is not one of them.

  • I've received lots of e-mails this week on a topic that tells me that many of you are really paying attention. The Pirates have sat Tike Redman, pushing Jason Bay over to center field. The e-mails ask if an in-season position switch is riskier than a normal position switch. As I've said, switching positions is a short-term negative and an in-season move is no different. Bay has played the position before, so it's not totally new, and the risk increase isn't great. This does increase Bay's value slightly; I still think he has the chance to be the type of player as the guy he was traded for (Brian Giles). (Pittsburgh fans--and everyone else--should check out this week's BPR with Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic as well as Dan Shaughnessy. It was a fun show, even when I hit the wrong buttons!)

  • Frying pan, meet fire. Mark Hendrickson of the Devil Rays is going to have his start pushed back a day due to some tightness in his shoulder. According to the irreplaceable Brown brothers at Rotowire, that means he'll face Randy Johnson instead of Curt Schilling. The Devil Rays starter doesn't figure to have much problem with this. The delay is mostly precautionary.

  • I'm not pointing any fingers here. Still, it's odd to have a situation where two pitchers on the same team might not be able to make the trip across the border to Toronto due to legal problems. Both Eric DuBose and the suddenly rowdy Sir Sidney Ponson may have trouble leaving the country, forcing the Orioles to plan for some creative pitching moves. It could be time for one of my favorite managerial tricks, the "reliever day!" While on the subject of pitching tricks, someone tell me why this might not work: start your reliever and treat the first, second and third, like the sixth, seventh, and eighth, bringing the "starter" in in the fourth. The closer's still there, as are some other relievers just in case. I love things like this.

  • One of the reasons I think Rich Harden will be among the best AL starters this season were reports that he was working on a change-up. He unveiled it in his last start and it's pretty good. Paired with his heat, even a 50 (on a scouting scale of 20-80) change-up can tie some guys up in knots. New pitches are one indicator that I think throws off some predictions and leads to Esteban Loaiza-style jumps. I wish we knew which pitchers had done this during the offseason or spring. E-mail me if you've seen some.

  • The Reds put Ramon Ortiz back on the DL, again with a continuing groin strain. Matt Belisle will take his rotation spot initially after a nice emergency start. Ortiz will be brought along very conservatively in hopes that he'll be a part of the team in the long term rather than risking reinjury to stay in the race early. The Reds are reportedly still on the prowl for pitching. Sources say that both Tampa and the Mets are inquiring about Wily Mo Pena, whose 500-foot bomb probably raised his price a bit.

  • I'm not sure if we can credit Forteo, genetics, or soy milk for the quick healing of Joe Borowski. He's already throwing long toss and seems poised to get on the mound. Once he makes that final step, he could be back in the closer mix, presumably, very soon. Expect him to have a short rehab stint and be on track to be in Wrigley when we flip the calendar next.

  • Quick Cuts: One reason Brad Penny might be making an extra rehab start this week could be to avoid Colorado. Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts pointed out the scheduling quirk ... Kevin Brown looked healthy and reported no problems after his outing. That was the good news; his pitching looked awful I'll be doing a chat on The Newberg Report this Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central Jeremy Affeldt heads to the DL with a groin strain. He didn't look happy coming out the other night and I'm not sure it was pain Mike Cameron is falling behind in his timetable for return from the DL. He's still at least 10 days away from baseball activities The Nationals could get Tony Armas back in the near future. He had a decent rehab start and showed no problem with his groin. He'll have one more in New Orleans before coming back to D.C. Holy Water? Okay, now I've seen everything Dusty has in his little green bag.

Back tomorrow with all the news that hurts to print.

Related Content:  Back,  Week In Quotes,  The Week In Quotes

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