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June 6, 2005

Under The Knife

Interleague Effects

by Will Carroll

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One of the things I do around BP is ask questions. Sometimes it goes nowhere, sometimes it goes somewhere, and occasionally, James Click knocks it out of the ballpark. For some reason, there's a noticeable uptick in injuries in mid-June over the last five years. It could be just the point in the season where those nagging injuries get disabling, but it also could be interleague play. Not only are there some unknown stadiums and positional shifts, but talking to some trainers today, they're not sure that players try as hard. "It's one thing to play the Yankees or Cubs and get up for it. When the Pirates or Devil Rays come to town, it's an exhibition mindset, even if it counts," according to one AL trainer. It's something to think about.

Powered by Ben Murphy and his tireless work behind the scenes, on to the injuries:

  • Being carried off the field never looks good. For Braves fans, there are few worse sights than Chipper Jones being helped to the dugout. Jones collapsed coming out of the batter's box and didn't appear to even make a step on the play. His left foot, the one he injured back in April and which appears to be the start of his month-long injury cascade, simply "collapsed." The initial diagnosis of stone bruise is starting to look a bit suspect; the recent downgrade on Curt Schilling's ankle comes to mind. Jones is likely headed to the DL, giving him time to heal his various maladies while Cox and Schuerholz are likely to be looking harder for another outfielder (see below) and thinking about Andy Marte.

  • Someone's going to look at what Johnny Damon's line is at the end of the season, think about the marketing appeal, and sign him to a contract they'll hate shortly thereafter. It's not that Damon is a bad player; far from it. His .348/.397/.455 line is not only solid, it's exceptionally valuable in a market that has no viable leadoff men. Where Damon will cause problems is in his eventual need to move out of center field due to injuries and age. Damon dove his way into another injury, this time a mild strain of his rotator cuff. Unlike a pitching injury, this was the injury algebra of odd-arm-angle times body-weight-diving force. Damon won't need the DL, but he'll probably need a couple days off and a few more third-base coaches might test his arm when he returns.

  • Beyond the red eyes, Brian Roberts isn't getting nearly the attention he deserves. In our steroid-fueled society, everyone tries to hedge their bets and point to the contacts or his creatine rather than admitting that, sometimes, players simply work hard and get better. That improvement factor--the nature or nurture argument within sabermetrics--is difficult to gauge because it seemingly just happens. For Roberts' fairy tale to continue, he will have to avoid injury. His shoulder problem is focused in the back and could keep him off second base for a while, but isn't as serious as the shoulder problem that kept him out for two weeks during spring training. There's a slight concern that these two injuries are related, pointing to a chronic problem. The O's can't afford to lose Roberts now, though their depth is getting a bit better with Luis Matos and Erik Bedard closing in on returns. They'll both start rehab assignments in the next ten days.

  • A number of you, including friend of UTK Aaron Gleeman, wrote to ask me about last Friday's note on Justin Morneau. "He wasn't hit by a pitch!" many of you said. Now, I never said he was. I said that he was hit on the elbow, which was an exact quote from my source. Reports indicating that Morneau did it either in the Thursday game or even before it, while hitting off a tee, can't be discounted either. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a confirmation or denial from the Twins, and whether or not Morneau's elbow injury was exacerbated by swings or a mishap in the batting cage is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the Twins had an MRI on that swollen, painful elbow rather than let him have the planned cortisone injection. The result--and the diagnosis of the underlying injury--is important. The DL is possible, though with Morneau, almost anything is possible short of Ebola.

  • Four bullpen sessions down and Kerry Wood has not only had no setbacks, he's moving aggressively towards a return. The question is not so much how the sessions have gone, but what was seen during the sessions. Wood's mechanics, I'm told, look "the same. There's nothing really discernable." If the mechanics are the same, with the same follow-through, then it becomes more of a countdown to the next injury than a return to the mound. That noted, Wood appears to still be on track for a mid-month return only if he jumps right back into the rotation without a rehab assignment. That's possible, if unlikely. The next step is a simulated game, likely on Tuesday, the results of which will determine Wood's return date.

  • A leg injury to a speed merchant usually means he has nothing left to sell. Players that get the "speed" tag placed on them usually have nothing else; if they do, like Carl Crawford or Carlos Beltran, they usually have more skills and people will reach for the "five tool" tag. Willy Taveras is a "speed" guy, so the reports of a strained hamstring were worrisome. He told reporters after the game that he'd felt it tighten before the game. Okay, Willy--it's better to tell the trainer before than the reporters after, got that? Taveras isn't expected to miss any time, but let's watch to see if he's limping or even stealing some bases before calling this one clear.

  • Troy Percival came off the DL to throw a perfect ninth. The only downside was that Ivan Rodriguez wasn't there to catch him. Percival will probably see Pudge next time he throws, so don't worry too much. With Rodriguez fighting to stay in the lineup despite a fracture on his throwing hand, Alan Trammell will try to spot him some extra rest when he can. The Tigers may even use Rodriguez as a DH some in the next few weeks, getting creative to keep their best player in the lineup. (I say "best player" in the broad sense, so don't get too up in arms.) It's also important to note that Percival is also likely to be used creatively by Trammell, at least while the right-hander is adjusting to being back on the mound.

  • In Oakland, Larry Davis is getting more face time than Billy Beane, and that's not part of the plan. The A's are as much a story of injuries trashing a master plan as they are that master plan falling apart. For every Joe Blanton with ineffectiveness, there's a Rich Harden, fighting to come back from an oblique strain and just getting back on the mound. For every Eric Byrnes, there's a Mark Kotsay, struggling with back problems because there's not been the depth available to give him his normal rest. For every Huston Street, there's a Kiko Calero dealing with elbow pain that's likely similar to the one that has Octavio Dotel looking at Oakland in his rear-view mirror. Even the plusses, like the good first impression by Dan Johnson, come because Erubiel Durazo is slow coming back from the DL. Maybe the sequel to Moneyball will be co-written by Jim Andrews.

  • Wily Mo Pena is done with his time in Louisville and will be activated on Tuesday. He's reportedly been at 100 percent during his time there. His return will ratchet up rumors about Austin Kearns, including one that the Braves offered up a full buffet of prospects for him. Given the injury history and current doghouse status of this outfield, it will be tough--but not impossible--to make any significant changes. A healthy Jason Romano, recovering from similar hamstring surgery to that undergone by Ken Griffey, Jr., could alter the landscape a bit.

  • Quick Cuts: I received a lot of questions about Curt Schilling and Athletes' Performance last week. Yes, this is the same facility where Schilling (and others) trained in the off-season. For more information about the facility and their programs--which I recommend highly--check out their Web site Woody Williams looked solid in his first start back from the DL. Unfortunately, the Cubs made him take the loss for his fine effort Guillermo Mota is simply off. Velocity, mechanics, you name it. He seems to have come back from the DL too quickly Damian Miller left Sunday's game with a groin problem. No word on how much time he'll miss

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