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May 18, 2005

Under The Knife

Forging Injuries

by Will Carroll

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I'm about two-thirds of the way through Forging Genius, sidetracked by a couple books I needed to read for BP Radio interviews. The book is typically Goldmanesque, which is a superlative that means, "I'm learning a ton." Baseball history is one of my massive blind spots, so Steven serves as something of an exasperated mentor to me. With this book, you can get the same treatment from him through Casey Stengel.

What struck me in the book was Stengel's references to his best pitchers, not as aces, but as "experts." Goldman says it wasn't a term of the time but rather a mild example of Stengelese. I love the term and will adopt it as my own. Wonder if we can make it catch on.

Powered by the smell of Gino's East, on to the injuries

  • Trot Nixon has a leg injury and a secret. Neither he, the Red Sox, nor anyone around seems to want to give it up, but are there enough known facts to come up with a reasonable, if speculative, diagnosis?

    We know the injury occurred just over a week ago, during the doubleheader with the Mariners. There are no clues in the available game stories. Terry Francona describes Nixon as "banged up," which could be an indication that there was some sort of trauma. It doesn't seem to affect him when batting and he limps slightly when running. Nixon denies that it's related to last year's problems. The biggest clue is that it seems to be expected to deteriorate, with Francona saying that he'll use Jay Payton more to keep Nixon from wearing down. My initial guess, myositis ossificans, isn't likely, given the aggressive treatment of Nixon's thigh injury and the fact that the condition normally doesn't need surgical intervention. A wearing down of his knee cartilage fits the profile best, but really, we'll just have to watch and see if more clues come out.

  • Every time I see Francisco Rodriguez throw one of those 91-mph sliders, it's both beautiful and terrible to me. I know that few people have ever had the ability to make major-league hitters look so bad and yet, especially when that slider was seemingly all he threw in some outings, I also knew there would be a price. For now a sore forearm, likely the result of some minor strain, seems a small price to pay. If this is an injury caught early and treated properly, Rodriguez should be back to his filthy ways soon. If it's the first sign of something more, however, then it's an all too common pattern. It's important to remember in any discussion of pitching injuries that relievers have just as many injuries as starters, though usually for different reasons.

  • The Cubs, for now, dodged a bullet. I had a long, involved discussion with a top orthpod today, asking how a pitcher like Carlos Zambrano could get lateral epicondylitis, the condition commonly referred to as "tennis elbow." Medial epicondylitis, the corresponding injury to the medial aspect of the elbow, is called "Little League elbow" and is sadly common, even at advanced levels. The ortho gave me a long, technical explanation of the mechanisms of injury that may have occurred, but in the end, he sighed and said "it's probably not a throwing injury." Zambrano is expected to make his next start, scheduled for Friday, though it will key off his normal bullpen session on Wednesday.

    Dusty Baker is probably taking too much criticism. While it's true that there are probably better usage patterns and workloads than what he doles out, Baker is hamstrung by his roster construction and the victim of accumulation. Dr. Glenn Fleisig recently compared pitcher workload abuse to handing cigarettes to a kid. You won't see the damage immediately, but I like to think that most of us wouldn't do it based on what we know.

  • The inner ear problem keeps recurring, continually pushing the return of Ben Sheets back. For a problem that is often described as "relatively minor," it's definitely becoming a long-term concern. Sheets' problem is not constant, and the latest dizzy spells reportedly came during some drills. The target is now back to late May, with more delays possible. This one's simply going to go away on its own time. We hope.

  • As the Pirates watch their Triple-A pitching staff do well, they have to look at their own staff and wonder. Sure, Josh Fogg has been good and David Williams has been fine, but the staff is just nothing special unless Oliver Perez does his best Johan Santana imitation at the top of the rotation. Perez has been working on getting his powerful, complex delivery back in sync, much in the way that Mark Prior was forced to do for much of last season.

  • Jim Thome isn't much of a runner. Seeing Thome jog in the outfield, however, was a sight for sore Philly eyes. Better, those sore eyes saw Thome jogging without pain and showing no ill effects afterwards. He'll start off coming back as a DH during interleague play this weekend and then head right back to first base. The staff knows they'll have to work to keep Thome's back in good condition, but the outlook is good. This is hardly the severity of back injury that we've seen Ivan Rodriguez or Trot Nixon come back from with almost no recurrence. A better comp is Todd Helton, whose back is an occasional annoyance rather than a chronic problem.

  • The Braves just don't like it easy. John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox must sit in the offices at Turner Field and think of new things to try while still winning. "Bet you I can win with Rafael Belliard on the roster all season," Cox says. "Make John Smoltz the closer and give Greg Maddux back to the Cubs," Schuerholz replies. Okay, I need better fantasies, but the injuries are mounting for the Braves. John Thomson is out for at least one start, probably longer, with a tendon problem in his hand. Brian Jordan is dealing with chronic knee problems, opening the door not only for Ryan Langerhans, but for Andy Marte and Jeff Francoeur.

    Chipper Jones has added oblique strain to his particular litany of aches and pains. They're still a game and a half up as Mazzone walks in and says, "how about we trade for a closer who doesn't strike anyone out?"

  • At least he was safe. Mark Loretta injured his glove-hand thumb while diving into first base. Without opening up the "dive or slide" can of worms, I'll just say that sliding into first seldom works, though it did in this case. Loretta had to leave the game and will be examined on Wednesday. Initial reports indicate that it's not likely to cause him to miss more than a few games.

  • Quick Cuts: Adrian Beltre has been fighting with a tight left hammy for about a week. He left Tuesday's game as a precaution after it tightened up Chin-Hui Tsao is likely to have nearly immediate shoulder surgery after his second opinion from Lew Yocum. Remember, much of his workload came from the '04 Olympics and qualifying tournaments. It's something to keep in mind as we discuss the Baseball World Classic David Wells returns from his sprained foot and will start on Wednesday Expect Mike Hampton to skip his start this weekend. Now, Cox and Mazzone will have to either slot him in or just wait until his turn comes back around Lots of questions about Paul Wilson and his loss of velocity. While I'm not doing the V-Loss Project anymore, I do see the radar around the league and it seems that most are more accurate. Of course, Wilson's loss has also been seen by some scouts, who are meticulous about keeping their radar guns synced up. As Tom House says, "when the pitcher is tired or losing his stuff, the batters will tell us."

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