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April 25, 2005

Under The Knife

Look Deeper

by Will Carroll

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Sometimes, things are right there in front of us. When Mark Mulder put together a 101-pitch, 10-inning outing on Saturday, even the most casual of baseball fans recognized that something came back together for the big lefty. For at least one afternoon, he was better than one of the best of all-time, no small feat considering how good Roger Clemens was himself. Those days are great to have as part of baseball. If we look a little bit below the surface, putting things together that are right there in front of us but just a bit hidden, we'll realize that we can learn a lot from small details. There's just so much we don't know, despite all the work we've done in the past.

On to the injuries ...

  • Power pitchers sometimes have a hard time coming back from injuries. The ones who rely on walking to the mound with dominant stuff or blistering heat sometimes don't know the craft well enough to get by with less than their best. Brad Penny, though, didn't appear to have much of a problem, despite less than ideal conditions. His first start back after seven months of rehab came at Coors Field and in frigid weather, yet he beat the Rockies as if he'd never been gone. Penny looked like he was throwing free and easy--or as free as one can be while bundled up and shivering.

  • Leaving aside the history of injuries and the debate over beatification for Leo Mazzone, everyone knew that Jaret Wright brought risks to New York. His shoulder bears the scars--and the ground bone--from past procedures. As he bent over, clutching his shoulder in pain just in front of the Yankee Stadium mound, I couldn't help but wonder if his past labrum problems were causing a Penny-like problem. There's one theory that the nerve that both Penny and Chris Carpenter had problems with is impacted by anatomical changes in the labrum and shoulder capsule.

    As luck would have it, Wright merely pulled loose scar tissue inside his shoulder. "Merely" is nonetheless painful and worrisome, but about the best case. It's not known what the scar was connecting, which makes analyzing this very difficult, so there's no way to counter the Yankees own estimate of six weeks, which sounds conservative. Wright will certainly need some rehab work, so we'll see his return coming. Chien-Ming Wang will take his starts.

  • As the media tries to figure out how to deal with a blogging slugger, Barry Bonds is simply going about his workout. The Giants have done a masterful job of keeping everything under wraps--even from me!--since the weepy press conference Bonds had in Scottsdale. Draining fluid from the repaired knee is really no big deal, and Bonds' crutches are indicative of the conservative approach that is being used. Pictures from Bonds' Web site indicate he's working out hard, though there's no way to tell when the pictures were taken. That's good public relations and likely good sports medicine.

  • Good things sometimes come from bad things. Kerry Wood had some "tightness" in the bullpen. Instead of sending him out for his normal Nolan Ryan-in-extra-innings style workload, Dusty Baker saw fit to let him leave, eligible for the win, after just five innings and 75 pitches. It's not good that Wood is having a recurrence of the bicipital tendonitis that cost him much of spring training, but giving him the occasional short outing isn't a bad idea.

  • It is pretty clear at this stage that the season is over for Nomar Garciaparra. The question is, will it be quick, with surgery ending his season and giving hope for next or will it be the long, drawn-out DNGGU (Daily Nomar Garciaparra's Groin Update) that will have us groaning all summer long? There's no indication from the Cubs yet, and certainly none from Garciaparra himself, but every trainer and surgeon I've spoken to in the last couple days has said the same thing. Well, first they say "Oh man, that looked like it HURT!" Then they say, "There's no realistic way he's coming back without surgery."

  • Astros fans have to be glad that they can actually see Lance Berkman on the horizon. The team is just off a sweep by the Cardinals and looking rough outside of Clemens and a rejuvenated Craig Biggio. (No, I can't explain it either.) Some reports were more fan that fact, wishing that Berkman would ride in on some sort of Kinsellian palomino and make everyone forget that Carlos Beltran isn't wearing brick red anymore. Berkman is heading to extended spring training and could be in Triple-A by the end of the week. He'll need at-bats that he didn't get in spring training, and more of a test for the knee than he can get in the batting cages. That doesn't mean that it's not the best news the Astros have received since mid-October or so.

  • Relief is sometimes something you get when the starters are able to hold up their end of the bargain. For the Angels, they need to have a very defined rotation to have success in the difficult AL West. They know where each of their pitchers are supposed to be and how well they're supposed to play and, while ace seldom matches up with ace, there's a defined role that baseball players find comforting. Without Kelvim Escobar, there's been a disquietude in Anaheim or wherever that his presence should return. The team has played well through injury early in the season, a very positive sign for their playoff prospects.

  • I've always liked what I saw when Josh Fogg was on the mound. He looks good out there, he has electric stuff, and he seems to have an idea of how to pitch, something the stuff guys often don't have. While he's never lived up to the expectations or appearance, he's one of the better pitchers the Pirates have. He missed his Sunday start while emulating Ben Sheets' ear infection. The Bucs anticipate that he'll "come hungry" for his next start, slotting in where Dave Williams absented to take Fogg's place.

  • Sometimes, no progress tells us more than progress does. With Jose Cruz Jr., the Diamondbacks haven't been saying anything and, yet, no progress. Whispers that Cruz might need surgery don't mesh with the silence; visits to surgeons are nearly impossible to keep quiet. Instead, this seems like nothing more than slow healing for Cruz, something different from his previous rehabs. Sources in Phoenix are saying that the Diamondbacks are being quiet more out of frustration than secrecy.

  • Maybe we've been too hard on Ozzie Guillen. Something he's doing is working on the south side of Chicago. We often discount the vagaries of luck around these parts because over a larger sample size, luck usually evens out. I may not even believe in luck, but I'll call the statistical fog I don't understand by its common name.

    Part of luck is keeping your best team on the field. If Guillen could start Mark Buehrle every day, he would. As for Jose Contreras, he's likely better than the next option, meaning the tight hamstring does mean something to a winning team. Sure, Brandon McCarthy is waiting in the wings, but it's well known that you never mess with a streak. The Sox hope Contreras will make it back for his next start.

  • Certainly, no team has as much of a dropoff from their ace to their #2 as the Brewers. Doug Davis is a fine pitcher, sure, but there's simply no one that can do a Gansian pass at Ben Sheets. Sheets is likely to miss the entire week as he recovers from his ear infection, meaning that it's unclear not only when he'll slot back into the rotation, but how. Sheets will be fine in the long term. The Brewers are underachieving, and there are some guys at Nashville ready to take their chances, if not their places.

  • Keeping everyone wondering seems to be Wade Miller's job right now. Sure, he's passed every test, coming back quicker than anyone expected, and the guys at Sons of Sam Horn have anointed him the second coming of Johnny Damon or something, but there are a lot of unknowns. The weather is one unknown that hadn't really been factored in. Two consecutive rainouts in Portland, Maine have pushed his rehab schedule off. Miller will head back for a side session in Boston, with his next start to be determined. There's still time on his rehab clock and no real reason to rush.

  • Quick Cuts: Freddy Guzman will undergo more elbow surgery in hopes that the Padres OF can find the root cause of his throwing problems. Tommy John surgery is a possibility when they look around next week Stan McNeal at The Sporting News does a great job explaining the new MaxSight contacts, something I've been trying to find more on after an avalanche of e-mails. I'd love to get a list of players who are wearing them so I can ask if there's that much difference in day/night or even pre-/post-fitting I'm not one to make fun of anyone for their obsessions, but the "Star Wars" convention this week in Indy gives me a quick one I have to share. I stood at a urinal next to a wookie. I mean, seriously! Cal Eldred is just ahappy to be out of the hospital. He's weak, according to reports from MLB.com's intrepid Matthew Leach, which is to be expected. No timetable officially, but off the record, June 1 might not be out of the question Did someone just make up the name Ambiorix Burgos? Come on, how do you get the name of a Belgian tribal leader?

I'll be on Sportsbloggers Live, a radio show available to AOL subscribers, tomorrow at 7 p.m. Eastern. Hope you'll check it out.

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