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May 4, 2005

Under The Knife

Another Pitcher in the Spotlight

by Will Carroll

You can imagine my surprise when the headlines appeared on Tuesday morning heralding news of another player admitting use of steroids. It was another Juan Rincon type, a middle reliever with middling stuff. The difference was it was a reliever from the past--Tom House. House, the former pitcher, pitching coach, and now head of the National Pitching Association, admitted use in an interview that first ran at the San Francisco Chronicle.

I spoke with Tom on Tuesday. "It's only half the story," he told me. "Sure, we used it but it was a different time. We'd take anything if we thought it would help. That's not an option today. The only level playing field is a legal playing field."

I've had the chance to watch House lecture both at the ASMI Conference and at a clinic just outside Chicago. With a hundred kids under the age of 18 watching and fidgeting, House spent half an hour talking about the need for good nutrition, healthy supplementation using nothing stronger than Alpha Lipoic Acid, and the absolute need to stay away from performance enhancers. House is actually promoting some nutritional products on his site. Steroids and performance enhancers are diametrically opposed to his organization's philosophy. "I look every one of my pitchers in the eye. I'll work for them if they'll work for me. It has to be honest and trusting and on the level," he said. While I'm hardly a disinterested observer in this case--I'm lucky enough to consider Tom a friend and mentor--I believe him.

If nothing else, this gives us another chance to discuss the issue and to try and get the facts out. Instead of myths and legends, we need research and education. It also takes some of the mythical polish off the "integrity of the game" argument leveled at the players of today and the recent past. Steroids have been around the game since the 1960s and now we have to adjust our views. Jose Canseco wasn't first and Hank Aaron had teammates using steroids. Let's see the Veterans Committee spin that.

Better, we'll have the chance to let House tell the whole story this week on BP Radio. House will speak exclusively, uncut, about this story and the state of pitching in today's game.

Now, powered by nothing more powerful than a Monster XXL, on to the injuries:

  • I've often said that I'm only as good as my sources. Occasionally the information I get is either misinterpreted or incorrect. In the case of A's outfielder Nick Swisher, it was a matter of degree. The A's finally confirmed that Swisher suffered a Grade 1 clavicle sprain rather than the Grade 2 my source mentioned. The difference? Swisher should be back in three to four weeks rather than the ten I suggested. It's certainly a much more optimistic forecast. I'm always working to get the most accurate information, and some teams make it easier than others (hint, cough).

    I'm getting lots of requests for Bobby Crosby updates. At last report, Crosby was expected to start "baseball activities" in mid-May, so a return around the end of the month is the current thinking. Without more info, I can't do more than guess and keep digging.

  • The Phillies are extremely concerned about Jim Thome after tests on his injured back came back much more negatively than expected. (Negative, in this case, is bad.) Thome is expected to have more imaging done tomorrow when he consults with more specialists. While it doesn't appear to be something that is heading towards surgery, the specter of a chronic bad back and reduced power attached to an untradeable megadeal can't be good for Ed Wade's acid reflux. It does explain the miserable April Thome suffered.

    The injury affords the Phillies a quick look at Ryan Howard, who's either trade bait or the first baseman of the future, depending on who you speak with and the position of Saturn. Kenny Lofton was also sent to the DL in order to get Charlie Manuel some bodies to work with.

  • When an injury is slow to heal, there's usually a good reason for it. The Braves' medical staff is beginning to think there's more of a problem for Chipper Jones' foot than just a severe bruise. The current theory is that there's some ligament damage, similar to what we've seen with David Wells recently. It's a painful, though not terribly serious, injury over the long term. Jones is still fighting to stay off the DL, though this seems a good time to get a look at Andy Marte.

  • Now arriving at Gate B, returning from rehab are: Lance Berkman, who had a mild setback but is still on track to return Friday; Mike Cameron, playing well at Triple-A and Kris Benson, ready to get a start, both on Thursday; and Wade Miller, with more velocity and less control in his last Pawtucket outing, probably Sunday. Khalil Greene isn't on this flight, but we expect him next week.

  • Luis Castillo left Tuesday's game after missing several previous games with a hip flexor injury. It sure looked like a recurrence of the problem, but at deadline, there was no confirmation from the team. Because Castillo was back in the lineup, one would assume that the leg was progressing and they didn't think they'd need to preserve a retro possibility. So much for that. We'll have more on this as soon as there's more info.

  • The Cardinals are allowing Scott Rolen to essentially handle his return to the lineup, though they're encouraging him to be conservative, given the recurrent nature of his upper back problems. He's not likely to return before Wednesday. A run through the game logs of the past couple seasons shows that Rolen is both a quick healer and someone who seems to have a high pain tolerance. Even when he's playing hurt, there's little statistical evidence of a problem. There's a slight dip in power, but not much else. This information should be enough to project that once Rolen is back in the St. Louis lineup, you'll want him in yours.

  • Ever get players confused in your head, somehow connected in the strange ways that our minds work? For me, I always manage to confuse Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez, to the point of saying that Alvarez had retired at one point this spring. I can't explain it. I'm not sure where Fernandez is, but I am sure that Alvarez will be back in Chavez Ravine, playing the old-school role of swingman in the Dodger rotation. It's an interesting role, one that I think could be a nice stepping stone back to the four-man rotation (along with the tandem system in the minors) and adding flexibility for smart managers in the short term.

  • The news sounds bad, but really isn't. For a player not named Barry Bonds, it probably wouldn't even be called surgery. Technically, any intrusion into the body for a medical procedure is surgery, so the arthroscope-aided irrigation and antibiotic injection does qualify. It's hardly the equivalent of the other surgeries that he's had on the knee. Still, this does set back Bonds a matter of weeks, meaning an optimistic timeframe is now June rather than May. Assuming the procedure worked, the fluid buildup should stop, Bonds should be more comfortable, and he can get back to concentrating on getting back on the field. New target? Interleague play in early June as a DH.

  • The Angels are happy to get Adam Kennedy back into the lineup, both for his contributions at second base and the flexibility that Chone Figgins gives the team in the superutility role. Figgins will keep his regular at-bats, but the same may not be true for Dallas McPherson or even Kennedy. Figgins will spot nearly everyone at some point, but Kennedy and McPherson have struggled due to injury, something that Mike Scioscia takes special note of in-season. It's another reason he's perhaps the top manager in the game right now.

  • Quick Cuts: There has been a lot of flu and the infamous flu-like symptoms around the league. No, it's nothing unusual; it's simply players from different places being stuck in close quarters. When one player gets it, it's hard to keep it from spreading Larry Walker is dealing with a sore groin and while it isn't serious, the fragile Walker is being held out as a precaution. There's some talk about a Cards/A's trade in the works, but no one with any credibility has scared anything up John Danks for Danys Baez? I'm sure John Hart took at least a picosecond to think about that before declining Terrmel Sledge, the original Alex Sanchez, heads to the DL with a strained hamstring.

It's the Month of May in Indianapolis, so I'll be spending some time out at the track. If you're there, drop me a line. I'll be watching the ESPN950 Panther/Byrd car run and, well, keeping my eye on my favorite racer, too.

Related Content:  Performance Enhancers,  Back,  The Who

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