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June 3, 2005

Under The Knife

No Excuses

by Will Carroll

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I'm many things--an amateur at almost all of them--but one thing I'm not is a psychologist. I'm beginning to think that a UTK-type column focused on the mental side of the game might be a great niche. Karl Kuehl's book Mental Toughness is a nice starting point, one well worth picking up. Still, I'd just like to have someone who can field this question regularly: "What the heck is (fill in the blank) thinking?"

Powered by what's going to be a great BP Radio show tomorrow, on to the injuries:

  • Many athletes go through a good portion of the season in pain. Of course, people like you and me have aches and pains ourselves, though we're less likely to tolerate it or get the type of constant treatment and pain management that a professional athlete gets. Pain is what brought Octavio Dotel to the doorsteps of four different doctors before finally asking James Andrews to perform Tommy John surgery. All four doctors, including Andrews, Lewis Yocum, and team doctors, advised Dotel to try rehabbing the injury before having the surgery, something Dotel was unwilling to do. The success of TJ surgery and the seemingly routine positive results from it has caused some of this, especially at lower levels. Not a week goes by when someone--a reader, a parent, a team--asks whether Tommy John should be routine or whether it should be done on a healthy elbow, usually because "guys come back better and faster."

    This simply isn't true. TJ, at best, returns an athlete to full capacity. That athlete might have been below capacity for so long that being healthy again makes it seem as if he gained velocity, but the potential had to be there at some point for it to happen. More interesting is that Dotel appears to have been injured when he came to the A's, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and that the standing problem of tendon calcification will not be surgically addressed. Instead, the hope is that fixing the UCL alone will be enough to take some of the stress off the problematic tendon, a risky proposition at best. A's trainer Larry Davis said "he didn't want to talk anyone out of surgery," a surprising statement likely made out of frustration. Dotel's desire for a new ligament is one that is sadly common, one fostered by the miracle tag placed on surgeries performed by some of the world's best surgeons. What he'll soon learn is that rehab is long, painful, and hard. Dotel will likely be ready to throw again in late 2006; where he'll pitch remains to be seen.

  • The Cardinals are a bit dinged up, but their big lead in the division will give them plenty of time between now and October to heal up. Jim Edmonds is still dealing with the effects of his ankle sprain and was lifted from Thursday's game as it got sore. The move was more of a precaution than a re-injury. Yadier Molina is also dealing with a sore ankle, having sprained it on the basepaths on Wednesday. Any time a player is replaced by Einar Diaz as a pinch-runner, it's a good indication that something's wrong. Molina's injury shouldn't keep him out much longer than the one game he missed Thursday.

  • Fatigue is a dangerous thing. Long series and extra-inning games put players at an increased risk for injuries. The Twins got the win last night, but it cost them, after Justin Morneau was hit on the elbow. X-rays were negative, but Morneau will likely miss at least one game with pain and swelling. More tests will be necessary once the swelling goes down. Meanwhile Joe Mauer re-injured his groin, which could force him to the DL. The Twins have been conservative with Mauer and reluctant to disable him, but they are deep at catcher. At best, Mauer will be on the bench more often than not over the next several days. Nick Punto may have gotten the worst of it, straining a hamstring and hitting the DL. This should push Luis Rivas back into the starting role, though there's some discussion that Michael Cuddyer could shift.

  • The excuse didn't work for Ashlee Simpson. For Nick Johnson, a bad case of acid reflux and a bit of panic forced him out of Thursday's game. Late in the game, Johnson felt severe chest pain and had trouble taking deep breaths. The early diagnosis was reflux, though he was taken to the hospital for observation and tests. Reflux is a serious problem for many and can be quite painful. Johnson's notorious brittleness doesn't appear to be related to this at all, though stomach problems are often a result of pain medication such as ibuprofen.

  • Jeremy Affeldt should return to the Royals this weekend after a long rehab assignment at Triple-A Omaha. The biggest question has been where Affeldt would slot once he returned. New, win-impaired manager Buddy Bell has indicated that Affeldt will be in the pen, though not in the closer role. That likely makes Affeldt, if he can stay healthy, a prime trade candidate.

  • The DL might be getting Frank Thomas back. Not because his hip flexor injury is any worse, but because interleague play is about to send the White Sox to places where the DH doesn't get to play (Orlando Hernandez is about to come off the DL too). Thomas' hip could be a convenient way to make the roster work out, even though his pinch-hit appearance on Wednesday will make a retro move tougher. A decision will be made on Friday.

  • Quick Cuts: Johnny Damon got a day off due to his lingering headaches. Damon hit the metal railing rather than the wall on Tuesday, a danger that the Red Sox should fix... Nice article in my local paper about Indiana native Clint Barmes... Old pal Derek Zumsteg did some nice research regarding the insane number of pitching injuries in the Mariner organization. It's bothersome to see that Derek seems to care a lot more about finding the solution to the problem than the M's do... Cal Eldred is getting close to a rehab assignment. His recovery from a viral infection has been slow but steady... Kevin Millwood will be back in the Indians rotation next week. His groin is healing well, say team sources.

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