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February 20, 2006

Under The Knife

It Happens Every Spring

by Will Carroll

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Everybody's watching their weight these days, even me. Unlike last year, the early spring stories of players losing weight (Adrian Beltre down 15, Phil Nevin down 20, Armando Benitez down 20, Carlos Zambrano down 20) or putting it on (Andruw Jones up 20 and looking buff, Jack Wilson up 20 and looking more distant from an appendectomy, Ivan Rodriguez up 10 after last year's "shrinking," Cory Sullivan up 22) aren't immediately generating steroid rumors. Last year's inevitable mention of steroids hasn't happened this year, the best sign that the new policy is working, at least from a public relations standpoint. We don't know what weight gain or loss means in the long- or short-term, but we do know that players have long had dramatic swings on either side of the scale. It's another fact that's worth knowing, but hard to interpret without a lot more context.

  • You can't have spring training anymore without pitcher problems or at least rumors of said problems. Those usually start with the Cubs, and this year is no different. Reliable sources--the same ones that tipped us early to Mark Prior's Achilles problem--now tell us that Prior is having shoulder problems. The Cubs deny this and point to Prior's work on the mound. Prior was doing towel drills on Saturday, but this is the same type of work he was doing last year when there was a problem. According to our best sources in Mesa, Prior looks "weak and sick." Until he throws, we just won't know, though I'd like to believe Larry Rothschild.

    News is better for Kerry Wood, on track to get back in the rotation by May. The Cubs have depth in the rotation and a favorable early schedule to give them time, even if Wood has a small setback. Wood will return to the rotation. If he's ever a bullpen guy, it won't be for the Cubs.

  • Bartolo Colon has made good progress since not being able to use his Cy Young mystique in the post-season. Colon tore his latissimus dorsi tendon which sounds serious, but isn't. The tendon isn't necessarily reattached, due to the unusual nature of the muscle's insertion. In fact, the lat is often harvested for use in other places after accidents. The body adjusts and there's seldom loss of function. This isn't a normal person, however; this is a pitcher. There's not much in the way of previous cases, so this is something to watch.

  • Pedro Martinez finally got his magic shoe, only to find there's not much magic in it. Martinez is still having pain in his push leg's big toe despite the custom, hand-made shoe. The likely next move in this footwear drama is Martinez pulling out of the World Baseball Classic, something the Mets had quietly hoped for.

  • Can it be a good thing when two of your top pitchers, in this case the Braves' John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, say they're going to work out less? That's an interesting question and one I'd like to see more information on. (Atlanta beat writers, here are your follow-up questions.) Is this an offshoot of Roger McDowell's less strict off-day regimen? Is this really just a way for two pitchers that have had health problems interrupting great years to drop some workload? Smoltz's elbow is a known quantity, able to handle 229 innings last year without a steep dropoff that portends bad things. Hudson's obliques are the same, a problem year after year that he's learned to live with. His mechanics cause the problem and the skinny frame he sports simply can't handle the stress he generates with his nasty stuff. A change in their routines--for Hudson, the second in two years--will be interesting to watch.

  • In a good sign for A's fans, Rich Harden had his first couple of workouts go extremely well. He's coming back from a labrum tear on his non-throwing shoulder that altered his mechanics. Trust me, the front arm is almost as important as the throwing arm. Harden is getting questioned about his physique, but more than anything, it's the mechanical problems that are starting to wear him down. Curt Young coached at an off-season fantasy camp and made a point of saying he'll only make mechanical suggestions as a last resort. We're seeing more of this with new coaches like Ron Guidry and Rick Honeycutt, a reversal of a trend towards pitching engineers.

  • Dallas McPherson is another player who reported to camp down some weight. He lost 15 pounds for a very good reason. After surgery on his hip last year, McPherson needs to do anything he can to keep that hip--something that can derail a career--from being stressed. With Brandon Wood coming up quickly, the window for McPherson to live up to his promise is closing. The Angels will move McPherson around, in something like a Chone Figgins role, in order to find him some at bats and keep him healthy.

  • Troy Percival could be a big addition to the Tigers' pen this year if he can stay healthy. He's not likely to be the closer, though that could be an interesting mix they have with Todd Jones, Franklyn German and others. Percival is getting it up in the 90s already and is working on dropping down to get a bit more movement on his pitches. The best-case scenario is that he gets to the point where he can go every other day and is used in the situations where the closer isn't any more, but a good pitcher should be. Whether Jim Leyland can do that remains to be seen.

    It was a scary situation for Tigers reliever Craig Dingman. He was discovered to have an arterial tear in his pitching arm just before reporting to camp. The Tigers are investigating all possible treatments and, for now, Dingman is shut down to protect his health. This isn't a situation like several pitchers have had with an aneurysm; this is an incomplete tear of the blood vessel. While it can be repaired, no one has any idea how this will affect his pitching. We can just be glad that it didn't get to a point where there was an effect due to loss of blood, such as necrotization or even amputation.

  • Jose Guillen is making progress after having off-season shoulder surgery. He isn't a pitcher, so a repaired labrum is hardly the problem it might be for someone who made their living on the mound. Guillen might not have the feared outfield arm that once got compared to those of Roberto Clemente and Vladimir Guerrero, and looking at his outfield assists shows that this might be a problem that's been affecting him for a while. The bigger question is whether it will affect his swing at all. It's far less of a concern for Guillen than for someone like Scott Rolen, and I'm not that worried about Rolen.

  • So did he or didn't he? Jose Castillo didn't, according to the Pirates. Didn't have knee surgery that is, despite some confusion. Castillo did rupture his MCL, did wear a brace, and did fall behind in his rehab. While reports from mini-camp were positive, there are some big questions as to how Castillo will hold up. All the statements made in his recent THR comment hold true whether or not the surgery happened. He's still running around on a damaged knee and the questions trailing him are eventually going to catch up to him.

    The Pirates' injury woes don't end there. Chris Duffy is trying to use a new stride to get past his still aching hamstring, with Nate McLouth or even Jason Bay taking his spot. John Van Benschoten continues the run of cursed "B" pitchers in Pittsburgh, heading for another shoulder surgery, following Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett and Bryan Bullington to the MASH unit.

  • Jason Kubel has been cleared for baseball activities, a good sign if there ever was one. We still don't know how he'll run, how that repaired knee will hold up, or what effect it will have on his career. It's just good to see that it's more and more likely that he'll have a career at all. Kubel will likely start the year in Triple-A, more for performance than health reasons, but watch him closely. He's still a very risky pick in fantasy leagues due to the uncertainty surrounding the knee.

  • Quick Cuts: We've been covering a lot of World Baseball Classic stuff on BP Radio recently. One interesting side effect of the WBC is with the top-quality players leaving camp to play, someone will have to play the spring training games. That will give opportunities for several younger players to showcase what they can do and could go a long way in helping us get an early read on some prospects Report to camp overweight and you're gone. Jerry Narron is setting the tone for the so-called "new Reds." Maybe Aaron Gleeman could have helped Josh Hancock Here's a shocker: Carl Pavano is still having back problems. He won't pitch in Tampa for another couple weeks It took two years for Chris Carpenter to make it back from shoulder problems. That time frame might work for Wade Miller if he didn't do more damage internally last year Mark Buehrle is denying rumors his arm was hurt during last year's World Series. I was there; he looked healthy Jayson Werth will start the season on the DL. That's no shock with his chronic wrist problem not getting better with rest Yhency Brazoban's "arm problem"? Just an excuse to get him out of winter ball Homer Bailey, meet Dr. Kremchek. Reserve your OR table now.

Back throughout spring training as necessary!

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