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March 6, 2006

Under The Knife

The Swallows of Vero Beach

by Will Carroll

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As the Team Health Reports roll on, baseball is actually underway, both in Classic and classic styles. We've started our Season Previews on BP Radio, starting in the West and working our way eastward. Add in the fantasy leagues, media insanity, and the continued saga in Chicago and it's been a busy couple of weeks without even mentioning the impending March Madness. Damn, I love this time of the year. I'll take a break from reading BP2006 to take a look around the leagues. Powered by my hopes that the Sidekick III hits the streets before the battery on my beloved Sidekick II drains any more, on to the injuries:

  • It's a good thing we have this World Baseball Classic. Instead of letting star players muck around in meaningless exhibition games where who knows what might happen, we have them in a controlled environment with pitch counts where they are under tight scrutiny by team, country and media. How many players are going to have to be hurt before we question Spring Training games where we gain nothing more than marketing and some extra money for the owners? How many more times are we going to allow what happened to Jose Guillen? All kidding aside, Guillen's wrist is a big blow and potentially a cascade injury from his damaged shoulder. A second opinion wasn't quite so bad, so Guillen will take a couple weeks off and see how the wrist feels. Nationals sources are a bit confused right now, but they're hoping for the best.

  • When it comes to surgery on a pitcher, it's rarely considered minor, particularly when Kerry Wood is the pitcher. As the Cubs continue to take heat on Wood and Mark Prior--pitchers that Jay Mariotti is now calling "Blue Cross" and "Blue Shield"--Wood is headed for what is accurately called minor knee surgery. The consequences, however, are not minor. Wood will have a small piece of his torn medial meniscus taken out of his push knee by Dr. Lewis Yocum. The rehab period for this is very short, perhaps as little as ten days, but this will set Wood back by as much as a month. The Cubs will have him throwing as often as possible--he was on a mound the day before surgery, echoing what he did before shoulder surgery last fall--hoping to have him back as close to May 1 as possible. Prior, on the other hand, continues to progress slowly. Whether he's injured or not remains to be seen, but the Cubs are certainly treating him as if he is. Results are all that count and we're weeks away from getting a definitive view on Prior's status.

  • The Angels win when they're healthy and don't when they're not. It's not the players or coaches who are the most important here; it might just be Ned Bergert and his staff. They keep busy holding things together. Tim Salmon is back in camp and trying to remind everyone just how good he used to be. He could be an interesting wild card for a lot of teams, but the Angels seem committed to youth, making Salmon little more than a stopgap who could be easily cut. Dallas McPherson is back after hip surgery and still looks tentative. His window is closing to establish himself before Brandon Wood arrives. Most importantly, John Lackey has looked good in camp but admitted that he had some shoulder problems down the stretch last season. Keep an eye on Lackey, especially if he piles up more innings this season. His velocity is key to his results.

  • First Rudy Jaramillo, now Vern Ruhle, the Reds pitching coach. Both coaches have been diagnosed with cancer during spring training and our best wishes go out to each of them. Ruhle's diagnosis sounds more serious, though there were few details given. Ruhle is going to stay with the team as much as possible during treatment, with longtime bullpen coach Tom Hume taking over his duties. Hume has never been a pitching coach, but don't expect this to be a big problem with both Ruhle and Mack Jenkins available in Sarasota.

  • Everyone's watching Pedro Martinez and his problematic toe. We got the best look at it yesterday during ESPN's coverage of the Mets versus Puerto Rico game. (On that note, Brian Kenny needs to do more games. Between Kenny and Jon Sciambi calling the Classic's Japan pool games, I'm beginning to watch ESPN again.) The Mets have been extremely conservative with Martinez's treatment, trying to stay external with things like the special shoe, gel cushioning, and the like. There are far more aggressive things they can try that will allow Martinez to pitch effectively, if not for as long or as often. The Mets may need to get creative with Martinez's usage, getting him extra rest. I'd love to see them use him for short but more frequent outings, in a pseudo-four-man rotation.

  • The Sox have few injury problems coming into camp, a refreshing change from the past. Curt Schilling looks healthy and has some velocity back. David Wells is doing well with his knee and his weight seems relatively under control. The team is a little worried about Keith Foulke, though even this is minor. Foulke had surgery on both knees in the past year and is now taking Synvisc injections in at least one of them. These are the same type of lubricating injections that have helped Randy Johnson over the last couple years (and I suspect a few others are using it, too). The Sox are also cautious about Dustin Pedroia. The prospect injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder on a swing, immediately recalling the injury to J.J. Hardy just a few years ago, one of the more painful injuries I've seen. Pedroia's doesn't appear nearly as serious and he's expected to miss just a couple weeks. He'll have an extremely conservative timetable, making it less likely he'll break camp to go quite as far north. Pawtucket's nice this time of year, right?

  • In Vero Beach, it's an annual event, like the return of the swallows to San Capistrano. My fencewatchers return, hoping to get a glimpse of the blue-hatted gimpy Drew. J.D. Drew is no longer actually a bird since leaving the Cards and yes, his hat has changed from red to blue, but the injury problems remain some of the fencewatchers' most consistent duties in Florida. One of my favorite fencewatchers reported on Drew's first game: "He played in RF but didn't have a chance. He warmed up with some decent tosses and I didn't see many changes or cringes. He ran fine, so maybe the year off was good for his knees. His swing is the same and the wrist doesn't appear to be a problem at all. I was surprised at his bat speed. I don't know if the shoulder is affecting it."

  • Every time I hear about David Bell, my mind instantly turns to Derek Bell. There's no real connection between the two other than the name, but it's one of those weird things your brain does. It's David Bell's back that has gone on Operation Shutdown now, threatening his season. Bell has already started with the cortisone injections, a bad sign for his longer-term durability. The Phils anticipated this and brought in Alex Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez as insurance. They'll need it since there's no help on the immediate horizon from the minors, meaning Pat Gillick's going to have some mid-season work to do.

  • Insurance executives cheered the sight of Jeff Bagwell taking cuts in an exhibition game. While the claim is not completely dead, you don't have to be able to quote The Princess Bride to know it's mostly dead. The question now is what the Astros are going to be able to get out of Jeff Bagwell and, more importantly, whether the relationship between the team and the face of the team can be saved. The Astros are a well-run and loyal organization, things that can cut both ways in baseball. If everyone ignores the money and focuses on figuring out how Bagwell can add value to the team, on and off the field, everyone will come out okay. Our Houston sources tell us that Bagwell is not interested in being traded to the AL. He wants to end his career in Houston, one way or the other.

  • Quick Cuts: Our thoughts and prayers are with Kirby Puckett, now in critical condition after a stroke How many times have you heard someone say a pitcher is in "midseason form" during spring training? And how many times has that same person complained about pitchers in the Classic not having enough time to prepare? I've had at least three people tell me the Pirates' Chris Duffy looks terrible in camp, looking down and trying to say the right things. With his shoulder and hamstring taking away the strengths of his game, it's going to be tough for him to hold onto CF, the position where the Bucs might be the strongest with Nate McLouth and Rajai Davis coming fast Rafael Furcal is still unable to play and some who've seen him recently think the one week target for getting him on the field is too aggressive Who's seen a report in their local paper about a pitcher with a new pitch? Or one who's working on something? If so, email me. Jamey Newberg has a new project up at Rangers.com. With T.R. Sullivan on board as well, the Rangers coverage might be the best in MLB's universe of sites... Frank Francisco and Coco Cordero, the alliterative bullpen for the Rangers, are on schedule and looking good early in spring training. Francisco's elbow and Cordero's shoulders are keys to the Rangers season Gil Meche strained an oblique last week and is out for an undetermined time. This should surprise roughly no one Adam Dunn in left field? Who's headed out of Cincinnati?
My dog could use some prayers and happy thoughts. Back as needed throughout spring training and the World Baseball Classic.
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