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August 31, 2005

Under The Knife

The National Distraction

by Will Carroll

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We can look now and see August and everything after. Even with some incredible pennant races, it's hard to focus on baseball. My father escaped the worst of Katrina, but so many people didn't. I saw places that I walked just a few years ago with Joe Sheehan and Nate Silver underwater. The hotel where the winter meetings were held in 2003 is a shell. The casinos that took so much of my money one summer off the Mississippi coast are very simply gone. Baseball is just a small part of the world, but because of its place in the American consciousness it continues, becoming not just the national pastime but, in the best sense, the national distraction. We remember in the patterns of the game that nothing is forever, that time moves slowly, and that life moves on.

Powered by the work of charities and a request to donate what you can to your favorite, on to the injuries:

  • If you were on the UCLA campus on Tuesday and heard thunder, don't worry. It was just the thunderclap of Barry Bonds swinging a bat again. For those of you who haven't had the chance to see Bonds hit, or to watch the spectacle of Bonds during BP, you just can't imagine it. My pal Rob Miller and I stood about 30 feet from him on the field of SBC Park and, at one point, a ball hit off the netting--not the frame, but the net--in front of the pitcher so hard that it ricocheted back to me. Bonds is taking live BP inside the cage at UCLA and could be back quickly. Here's an interesting thought: the Giants have a couple minor-league teams in the playoff chase. Bonds could do his rehab during their playoffs. That hardly seems fair, but I'd want to watch.

    At the other end of the spectrum, at least age-wise, is Matt Cain. The Giants have a lot of hopes for this latest pitching phenom and we got our first look at him Monday night. His mechanics were very smooth, if a touch inconsistent. He had a nice delivery, two plus pitches, and only a bit of "reachback" in his delivery stood out as problematic. He's a keeper, in every sense of the word.

  • It seems so long ago that Mike Piazza was a Dodger that the memories of him in L.A. are almost sepia-toned. He's made that shift, I think, to where the general public would put a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. Sadly, he may have played his last game wearing that cap. His wrist is slow-healing and he's unlikely to be re-signed, pushing him towards the AL and the comfort of the DH slot. As long as the Mets stay in the playoff race, Piazza could come back. It's just less and less likely as each day goes by without significant progress. Small bones like the ones in the wrist respond less readily to the newer treatments that are helping fractures heal so quickly.

  • Sometimes, proximity counts. Rich Harden is in Anaheim for the big A's/Angels series, so he'll take the chance to visit with Angels team doctor and consulting surgeon Lewis Yocum. I've noticed over the past two years that teams really do take opportunities to work with some of the elite doctors like Yocum, Altchek and Kremcheck when they happen to be in the town where they're based. The A's need Rich Harden, both now and in the long term, if they're going to contend, so it's a fine line that the team will walk to get him back from his lat strain. Unlike Ben Sheets, who was quickly and conservatively shut down with a similar injury, Harden will have to be managed. The A's haven't given any indication on the severity of the strain, so we have to envision multiple scenarios. The best has Harden back on Thursday, and the worst has him done for the season. The truth is somewhere in between.

    The A's lost Mark Kotsay for the series. The center fielder headed back to Oakland to see a back specialist. He's likely to start a series of epidural injections to quiet the back spasms and to keep him available, period. Even if he's able to avoid significant downtime, he's always lost power in times around his back problems.

  • Mike Mussina will miss one start, perhaps more, after his elbow started barking. Not literally, though that would be a much better story. Mussina has had some inflammation on the inside (lateral) aspect of his elbow all season long, not uncommon for someone throwing a splitter. Usually, this is controlled with the normal pre- and post-start treatments. It's not expected to go beyond the one start and Mussina won't go on the DL, so Aaron Small will likely take the missed start, though Chien-Ming Wang is a possibility if there's some juggling. The more interesting question is whether Mussina has to give up a pitch to protect his elbow in the future.

    The Yanks also pushed Carl Pavano to the 60-day DL, officially ending his season and perhaps his Yankee career.

  • The Braves have seemed to have as many injuries as any team in baseball, though it's actually not even close. They don't have the clustering or the long rehab times, and they've always had someone ready to step in, no matter the position. Rafael Furcal is dealing with a swollen knee, something he picked up last week and has been able to play through. He missed Tuesday's game, trying to give it a break and keep him available. Expect Furcal to slow down slightly on the base paths over the next couple weeks.

  • Mike Sweeney seems to have his back problems around the time his team is trying to trade him. I'm not saying it's intentional or untoward; it's just interesting. The Royals have talked to a couple teams about dealing their first baseman and, sure enough, his back is acting up again. Sweeney reported that he woke up with a "twinge" and that he'll only be out a couple days. The Royals tend to report Sweeney's injuries a bit optimistically, so watch for him to miss much of the week, losing some power and contact when he returns. The Royals also aren't expecting David DeJesus back this season, though they'll give him the chance to return.

  • Quick Cuts: Frank Thomas in October? That's a possibility, though he would be severely limited and Ozzie Guillen doesn't like playing shorthanded It would surprise me almost as much as the Rafael Palmeiro scandal did if the Rangers were cheating. Buck Showalter may not have much of a sense of humor, but he and Orel Hershiser exemplify integrity Earplugs. Seriously, there should be a rule against that Shawn Estes comes back for the Diamondbacks on Monday. Yes, this is a positive for them If a Willie Bloomquist pulls his hamstring in the forest and no one cares, do I write about it in quick cuts? Is Carlos Beltran in September the most dangerous player in the game?

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