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April 28, 2005

Under The Knife

April Depth Test

by Will Carroll

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I miss one day (thank you very little, Comcast) and everybody gets hurt. I'll take my reader-provided jolt of Jamaican Blue Mountain (thank you very much, Brian K.) and get right to the injuries. Like Shawn sings, it's gonna be another long one tonight.

  • David Wells showed up in Boston's clubhouse with a new boot. Not Ostrich, not bullhide, but one of those big plastic immobilizing boots--precisely the kind you don't want to see on a starter. Wells has been officially diagnosed with a sprained foot, but sources are conflicted as to whether or not this is an accurate but incomplete picture. One says the ankle is damaged while another says there's damage in the foot itself. We'll have to wait for this to play out. For now, John Halama will pick up Wells' starts until Wade Miller is ready. The signs are all negative for Wells. This DL stint is not likely to be short.

  • Curt Schilling has a bad ankle. This is not news. What is news is just how bad it is internally. Schilling was diagnosed with a bone bruise, one so severe that it's actually threatening the integrity of the bone. A break, especially in that location, high on the ankle, could cost Schilling the better portion of a year; it also has a notoriously risky healing process. The Sox are smart to be conservative and few teams do rehab as well.

  • It looked bad. It ended up being worse. (Oooh, can't you hear Don LaFontaine saying that?) Armando Benitez was just trying to cover first when his hamstring popped. Literally. "Two of three tendons tore away from the pelvis," Stan Conte told reporters. This is similar to but perhaps worse than the injury and treatment of Ken Griffey Jr. Expect four months to be the minimum, meaning that any chance that the Giants had to avoid last year's bullpen problems is gone. Injuries--and their connection to the age of the team--will continue to be a major topic in San Francisco.

  • Chad Fox says he heard a pop. Worse, his wife heard a pop, up in the stands. Fox will head to Birmingham to visit Jim Andrews, perhaps for his third run at Tommy John surgery. Fox's elbow is running out of room for scars and he's certainly out of the normal meaningless tendon used for the replacement. You've got to admire the resolve it takes to try and come back again. When Fox retires, he should become a surgeon or at least a physical therapist.

  • The Cardinals know that Jason Isringhausen is injury prone. Even when he's right, he's always seemingly just a moment away from injury, even more so than most players. Izzy heads to the DL with a mild abdominal strain on his pitching arm side. The team's bullpen depth (or lack thereof) forced the move; the Cards couldn't bring up Carmen Cali due to option rules unless someone went to the DL. Isringhausen will likely only be gone the minimum. In the meantime, LaRussa and Duncan will mix and match, playing matchups and hunches from their bullpen parts.

  • With seemingly every other closer spiraling down, the news on Eric Gagne is the only bright light. Gagne is throwing from a mound and reports are that his mechanics are back to "nearly normal." Details of what constitutes "nearly" are a bit harder to come by, though my source says that the knee seems fully healed. While Gagne isn't yet ready to head out for a rehab stint, he's getting very close. That move could come as early as this week and doesn't figure to be a long term detour.

  • It was a busy day for Bill Meyers on the groin repair assembly line. It's hardly like that, though performing two procedures on two star athletes back to back could certainly be interpreted that way. Meyers is an expert, a star in the field of groins and hernias, so just as with other star Docs like Jim Andrews, Neil El Attrache, or Tim Kremchek, he gets sought out. For Nomar Garciaparra, his groin was cleaned out and reinforced. (Okay, I cringed writing that.) For Magglio Ordonez, his "sports hernia" was repaired. Both have similar two month time frames for their optimistic returns.

  • The White Sox are fast becoming the team I most enjoy watching. My pal Scott Long, a comedian and White Sox fan, called me today to let me know what was going on. Unfortunately, no cable meant I couldn't watch the game or pull it up on MLB.tv. XM saved me and MLB.tv let me watch later. (If I sound like a commercial, fine.) Pablo Ozuna, Tadahito Iguchi, and Juan Uribe were all out with minor injuries, forcing Ozzie Guillen to get creative. The details are elsewhere, but you have to love the image of Jermaine Dye at shortstop. I was only hoping there was going to be a double play chance! Great job by Guillen, working through and not letting any book tell him what to do.

  • The Mets have done okay, working through injuries, once again proving that the proper plan and some relative depth can get teams through most injuries. Victor Diaz, Aaron Heilman and others have kept the team competitive while Kris Benson and Mike Cameron heal. Both are well on their way with signs--pitching from a mound and taking BP, respectively--portending a rehab stint in the near future. Benson may be the first back. Watch both closely over the next week for hints on their return timetables.

  • Grant Balfour was expected to be a key cog in the Twins divisional defense, anchoring the bullpen leading up to Joe Nathan. Instead, he'll spend the better part of 2005 on the DL, recovering from elbow surgery and wondering how he went from a sure thing to an expensive tweener in just over a season. Tim Kremchek opened up Balfour's elbow on Wednesday, though it's still unknown if Tommy John will be needed. (Note: this is a bit odd. Normally, there's already a decision in place when the elbow is opened. If the ligament needs replacing, it's done right then and there.) The elbow problems come less than a year after a labrum problem, so mechanical changes might be to blame.

  • Jamal Strong is the latest positive test under the new drug testing policy. Once again, it's not a big name. Instead, Strong is another injury-prone player with some speed, like Alex Sanchez. It's worth noting that because the substance isn't identified, we really have no idea if the use of a banned substance had anything to do with an attempt to recover from an injury. In last week's NFL draft, a player named Luis Castillo (no relation to the Marlin's Luis Castillo) was picked in the first round, actually ahead of where many had believed he would be selected, despite testing positive for steroids at the combine. Reports indicate that Castillo tested positive for androstenedione, the substance made famous/infamous by Mark McGwire. Andro has a very short half-life (detectable period), so I have some reservations about this report. Some message the NFL is sending. How much is a late first round pick worth these days in bonus money?

  • The Mariners have a lot of pitching prospects (if there is indeed such a thing). Unfortunately, they used to have a lot more. It says something about their scouting and even more about their development. The latest into the armshredder--and I mean that in the nicest way--is Chae Sung Baek, the young starter just back in Triple-A. His durability has always been a question, though now his pitching arm flexor is the more immediate problem. This is the same injury that ended Joel Pineiro's 2004 campaign. Reports are positive on Baek, meaning we'll likely see him back on the mound around the ASB. Bobby Madritsch is on the same timetable with some caveats. The shoulder may be pain free, but the doctors are very concerned that the ligament may not be healing in a way that would make it tenable for someone putting it under such stress. His season's likely done.

  • Sometimes, the best intentions or plans break down. Pitchers, too, sometimes break down. It often comes together like this, in the worst way, with pitchers on rehabs. Because the pitcher's arm is such an involved piece of human machinery, even a relatively simple joint like the elbow can break down unexpectedly or subtle things can be missed by the highest medical technologies. It's still a lot of art, this sport science. Frankie Francisco seemed close, if still off, during his rehab until his elbow snapped. He'll have Tommy John surgery on Friday, leaving a big hole in the Texas pen.

  • Quick Cuts: Lance Berkman looked pretty healthy, hitting two homers and playing solid defense in his first rehab game. Expect things to go quickly if he keeps this up Don't be surprised if Kerry Wood doesn't pitch Saturday. Watch the usage of Glendon Rusch for clues Naturally, I mention Angel Guzman and he hits this column negatively. Guzman is having more trouble with his forearm, possibly a cascade from his previous shoulder problems. He's been shut down indefinitely Pat Burrell is out until Friday with a sore groin Nick Johnson scared a lot of people when he left Tuesday's game with a reported knee injury. He merely took a foul ball off his leg. I guess it's a good sign that this year, it didn't shatter or just fall off Could Andy Sisco end up as the Royals closer before long? He's certainly responded to Guy Hansen and some slight mechanical changes Maicer Izturis sprained his MCL and will head to the DL for six weeks Josh Fogg moves from Friday to next Monday due to an ear infection.

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