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May 16, 2005

Under The Knife

Chicago Concern

by Will Carroll

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There's too much information to get to for me to take much time with an introduction, but I would like to thank Eric Karabell at ESPN Radio's Fantasy Focus, Jeff Erickson and Phil Wood at XM, and the crew at ESPNews' "The Pulse" for having me on this weekend. Now, powered by "Gimme Fiction," on to the injuries:

  • The Cubs' pitchers continue to be tested by the management team. Add in the cumulative effects of workload, their relative youth, and the cascading roster effects of injuries, and you'd think OSHA might be stopping by Wrigley Field soon. The Cubs continue to ignore the best evidence, hoping that by throwing pitchers out there for 120 pitches at a time, they'll figure out which pitchers can handle the workload. Joe Sheehan compared this to dunking women to figure out if they were witches. If teams--and it's hardly the Cubs that are the lone guilty party--continue doing this, we'll see the same results.

    Carlos Zambrano, just off his 136-pitch outing--and don't oversimplify and just blame that--is headed for an MRI. The early diagnosis is lateral epicondylitis or "tennis elbow," an explanation that seems a bit weak given the situation. There are a lot of forearm problems going around, it seems, but Zambrano clearly has been dealing with the problem on and off all season. The MRI on Monday will tell a lot, but color me pessimistic.

  • Mike Hampton also left his start on Saturday with forearm problems. TBS got a graphic shot of Hampton pointing to the inside (lateral) aspect of his arm, just below the elbow. It appeared to be cramplike, but more serious. Quotes from Bobby Cox that it was "hard as a rock" have to be worrisome. Hampton said on Sunday that he'd try to make his start, but that will depend on how his arm responds to treatment and how he deals with a side session on Monday. Don't be surprised if he's pushed back a day or even skipped.

  • I was as surprised as anyone when I got word on Jeff Bagwell. All information up to this point indicated that he'd been suffering for years with arthritis, a condition that is painful, degenerative and doesn't respond well to surgical treatment. Instead, it appears that at least part of the problem was adhesive capsulitis. This condition, also known as "frozen shoulder", changes things. Bagwell will undergo arthroscopic surgery under the supervision of Dr. Richard Hawkins, one of the top orthos in the world. Current medical literature shows that not only is the procedure normally successful, there's very little risk of any post-surgical complications. It's important to note that these studies are seldom done on a population that resembles major league ballplayers. Bagwell goes in short order from someone on the edge to someone facing a low-risk procedure that figures to give him a new range of motion. That's the miracle of modern sports medicine.

  • "The Big Hurt" sounds like a nickname that would come from being in UTK too much. We all know that's not the case, but the name has been all too appropriate over the last couple years for Frank Thomas. After a slow, halting rehab process that included shock therapy and ultrasound treatments--similar to Magglio Ordonez's knee treatment--Thomas is finally ready to start a rehab assignment. Expect Thomas' bat to determine the length of the assignment. He'll be up quickly once it's determined that the knee isn't affecting his hitting.

  • So Jody Gerut is there in Triple-A, hammering the ball all over the field while the big-league Indians are struggling for offense. What could keep him down on the farm? Gerut is still looking a step or two slow in the field, according to some sources, and is getting a "soft exit" from the box after hits. That's to be expected after ACL surgery. The Indians don't think Gerut is an option at DH, so they're hoping another ten days in the minors will get Gerut closer to what they need in the field. (Juan Gonzalez? Has someone put out an Amber Alert on him yet?)

  • Eric Gagne, suspension aside, was back in the bullpen for the Dodgers. Yhency Brazoban fans will note that Gagne looked, well, awful in his first appearance. The more worrisome fact is that his velocity was off despite normal readings in Las Vegas. I don't have a very good explanation for this beyond nerves. We'll have to watch Gagne closely his next few times out to get a better read on where he truly is in comparison to major-league hitters. Remember, we should always treat rehab assignments with trepidation; it's inferior competition in small sample sizes.

    The Dodgers are also waiting to see what the status of Odalis Perez will be. An MRI will be taken Monday to see if the "pinching" in his shoulder is related to the tendonitis he had in spring training.

  • The Cardinals are beginning to look as flexible as the Red Sox were last season. Knowing how to extract the best value from players like John Mabry, Einar Diaz and Larry Walker is what makes Tony La Russa one of the more intriguing managers in the game. One player he can't afford to lose, however, is Jim Edmonds. Edmonds has a mild strain, very low on his ankle. It doesn't appear to be serious now, though he'll need more rest than normal, forcing La Russa to make the right moves to protect the offense while Scott Rolen is out. Rolen's shoulder surgery went well; he's going to be right into treatment with the target of six weeks for a return, a bit longer if he needs much of a rehab stint. I'd speculated about his knee getting fixed at the same time, but it appears the fix for it would be much more complex, potentially ending his season. He'll battle that even after he's back.

  • Someday we'll have the data that shows this type of thing. For now, I'll go out on a limb and just say that David Wells has the right combination of genetics, pain tolerance and insanity to get him back on the field well before most ballplayers could return. Wells is expected to come back from plantar fasciitis in just over the minimum, slotting back into the rotation this week. Before the injury, Wells appeared to be putting things together, so it will be interesting to see if it takes him a couple starts to get back in sync.

  • How far ahead of schedule is Steve Trachsel? The Mets are starting to pencil him in for a return in late July with his rehab starting around the All-Star break. Given the back surgery, this is an incredibly aggressive schedule and one that it wouldn't surprise me to see pushed back. If it does work out per the current plan, Trachsel would certainly solidify the bottom of the Mets rotation. It will get more solid if Aaron Heilman really has been fixed by dropping back down to the three-quarters delivery that made him successful at Notre Dame.

  • We finally have a bit of evidence that Livan Hernandez is not totally indestructible. Perhaps he isn't a robot from the future, sent to protect the Nationals franchise, which is what I was beginning to suspect. Hernandez will have tests on his right (push) knee after swelling and pain forced him out late in his last start. While things don't appear serious, the Nats will learn the lesson of Gagne's spring, watching to make sure small changes in his delivery don't cause large problems in the mechanics and health.

  • It was back and forth for Rich Harden. Early reports had "torn oblique" in them; by the following day, Harden was saying he felt good and thought he'd avoid the DL. He didn't, as the A's took the smart, conservative route, hoping to keep this stint shorter than Tim Hudson's last year with a similar, more serious injury. It was nice to see Larry Davis, the team's athletic trainer, actually taking the ball out of his pitcher's hand. Harden will be replaced by Seth Etherton and hopes to be back by the end of the month.

    The A's are also dealing with a shoulder situation--not injury, I'm told--with newly acquired Dan Meyer. Meyer has a fatigued shoulder that will require physical therapy. The "medieval" description that Davis gave seems a bit dramatic, but it's not the easiest thing to go through either. If the shoulder problem was caught early and with no talk of tears or sprains, as appears the case, then Meyer should be able to come back and return to form.

    The A's are also being very careful with Bobby Kielty. His sore side could be a mild oblique strain and the team is already painfully short of outfielders.

  • I feel for Rob Bell. As many of you know, I suffered panic attacks for a couple years. Those attacks, a painful, debilitating condition that I'm happy seems to be in my past, should never be downplayed or doubted. Mental conditions have too much stigma and I admire Bell for admitting to the problems and seeking help. I hope the Devil Rays will handle this properly. Bell's control is the least concern at this point. Good luck, Rob.

  • Further evidence of TNSTAAPP Corrollary 1: There's really no such thing as a pitching prospect at Coors Field. Chin-Hui Tsao will leave the team this week for Southern California. He has a visit scheduled with Lew Yocum to determine if his troublesome shoulder will need surgery. There's a number of possibilities and options, but all look bad for Tsao and the Rox.

  • Quick Cuts: Mike Sweeney is expected to return Tuesday after missing nearly a week with a mild oblique strain Ian Snell threw a no-hitter yesterday in Indianapolis, the first since cousin Tommy did it 30 years ago. He'll be in Pittsburgh soon Tino Martinez is leading the league in homers? Um, wow Luis Ugueto, he of Nate Silver's "Ugueto Effect," was busted under the new drug policy. I'll have more on this and the policy soon I was recently asked if I would make Kerry Wood a closer. Simple answer: no. Starting pitching is too valuable and too hard to find. I would have him dump the slider and learn a splitter. Think Roger Clemens would be willing to teach it? Ken Rosenthal points out in his latest article that the Brewers don't use advance scouts, instead relying on video. Is that beer or tacos? Looking for the next big thing? Ervin Santana would probably get votes. He'll start Tuesday for the Angels, replacing Kelvim Escobar Joel Pineiro was sent down to work on mechanics. That seems odd, given this franchise's success rate with young pitchers. Felix Hernandez can't be far off Wiki Gonzalez heads to the DL with a leg strain, tossing the M's catcher job back up for grabs.

Be sure to check out BP Radio from this weekend and I'll see you tomorrow.

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

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