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March 30, 2006

Under The Knife

Early Worries

by Will Carroll

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One of my favorite readers asked a question about pitching yesterday that touched on a subject I've often wondered about. In golf, you'll often hear about a golfer taking some time off to rebuild his swing. Even Tiger Woods, the top golfer of this era, had a long period where he worked with his coach and didn't play in tournaments. In contrast, in baseball pitchers don't get that luxury. They're expected to pitch--and pitch well--while trying to retool their motion, and while listening to various coaches inside and outside the game. Are they as effective when rebuilding their mechanics on the fly? Are they doing damage to their arms? Taking time off and retooling worked in the one case I can find, Roy Halladay. I'm not saying that it should become standard, but I am saying that there's probably a lot to learn from Tiger Woods and Butch Harmon. I like that kind of "out of the box" thinking, but in this case, with my game, maybe it's "out of the sandtrap" thinking.

Powered by Starbucks Rwanda Blue Bourbon coffee, on to the injuries:

  • Everything's connected. Rafael Furcal has been rehabbing from "minor" knee surgery and was behind schedule. Whether his gait changed or he rushed back, he's now dealing with a disc problem in his lower back. Called an "annular strain," the injury is minor, unpredictable, and the first sign of degenerative disc disease. Furcal's pain tolerance and response to treatment will determine when he returns, though this is definitely an injury that will need to be watched and managed for the rest of the year, and beyond that, for the rest of his career. Back injuries are perhaps the most unpredictable injuries to baseball players. This is definitely a major concern for the Dodgers.

  • On the other side of the coin and the country, another speedy middle infielder is looking like one of the great medical stories of our time. Brian Roberts had one of the most devastating injuries I've seen in any sport, one that ranked with those of Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, and Jason Kendall. (All of them are still a notch below Reggie Brown, a man that would have died if not for the athletic trainers.) Roberts has had almost no problems coming back from extensive arm surgery. I'll admit that I doubted when Tim Kremchek told me in January that Roberts would be back by Opening Day. Red light or not, Roberts will have the chance to put his career back on track. The power might be off slightly, but nothing else seems to be.

  • It's no surprise that A.J. Burnett is heading to the DL to start the season. It's a bit more surprising that he's headed to the DL for the period that the Jays stated. Instead of the expected retro move, Burnett is now on track to miss two or three starts before making his Jays debut. Sources close to Burnett say that he's experienced no setbacks, and that the Jays are simply being conservative. I'm not entirely convinced. Burnett has often needed reassurance that he's healthy. His new setting, even with a familiar coach around, may be shaking his confidence.

  • Fingers represent an interesting injury problem, one that's becoming more frequent in pitchers. Billy Wagner has had some problems this spring, though not nearly of the severity of Adam Eaton. The new Ranger is dealing with a recurrence of the injury that cost him a couple of months last year, and definitely has Texas worried about their rotation. One team doctor I spoke to speculated that fingers might be the "weak link" in the kinetic chain for some pitchers, leading to a breakdown. It's an interesting theory to keep in mind. Eaton came back from the injury last season, but was terrible after that return. He's headed for the DL with no timeframe for his return.

  • Pedro Martinez continues to make slow, steady progress towards a start. The toe that roared is responding well to the program that Rick Peterson and Ray Ramirez have devised, and there have been no setbacks. His innings are sure to be limited whenever that first start comes due to his lack of buildup in spring training. Add in concerns that the Mets might push that start back, depending on the weather. The Mets will spend the first two and a half weeks in the Northeast, so not only will you need to check the wires, you'll need to check the weatherman. Keep expectations low through April for Martinez. The Mets need him more in September anyway.

  • The White Sox bullpen is in shambles right now, placing a big load of worry and work on the doorstep of Don Cooper. One thing that they can count on is not having Dustin Hermanson. Hermanson is out until at least mid-season, and sources indicate that even that is optimistic. Hermanson's continued back problems are not improving, while Hermanson himself thinks that retirement is his next best option if rest and treatment don't work. Brandon McCarthy now becomes a key contributor, whether he's a closer, starter, or trade fodder to fill in the blanks for an otherwise solid White Sox roster. The team is also considering starting the season with Scott Podsednik on the DL. Podsednik was diagnosed with a strained groin, and the team expects to be very conservative with their speed merchant.

  • John Thomson figures to follow Leo Mazzone out of Atlanta, but an injury has held up his departure. Two teams thought they had the inside line on Thomson, but both the Pirates and Mariners pulled back when Thomson's elbow came up lame. The Braves now expect Thomson to miss the first week, staying back in Orlando when the team heads north. His first scheduled start comes early in Week Two, so keep an eye on his extended spring training work to determine if he'll be back on time, Atlanta or not.

  • Is it karma that Jason Kubel may be pushed onto the Twins roster by an injury? If so, it's sad that the injury to Michael Cuddyer is what it took. Kubel has had a great spring, showing that his knee is healthy enough to play again and that the year off didn't hurt his swing. Cuddyer, on the other hand, continues to be held back by an inability to stay healthy. Whether it's his radio-induced hamstring injury or a recurrent oblique strain, Cuddyer is a tantalizing talent that could be used as a superutility player by a more creative manager. The Twins haven't yet made a decision about Cuddyer and the DL, and will wait until the last minute to do so.

  • Quick Cuts: I love this time of year. How do you pronounce Sendy Rleal? (It's RAY-al, with a silent "l.") Who the heck is Emiliano Fruto? Wasn't he a villain in Buckaroo Bonzai? Byung-Hyun Kim starts the season on the DL with a bad hammy. Dave Williams will start the season in extended spring training to stay on schedule, not because of an injury. It's an interesting move by the Reds. Some are saying that David Bell is so frustrated that he's considering walking away from the game. Expect Ryan Klesko to lose playing time and end up as trade bait by mid-season. Injuries have increasingly reduced his ability to stay in the lineup. The A's are hinting that Bobby Kielty won't start the year on the DL, despite missing significant time with a recurrent oblique strain. Looking for end-game fantasy pitchers? If you're patient, Octavio Dotel and Randy Wolf could reward you with solid partial seasons.
Related Content:  Back,  Unpredictable,  Year Of The Injury

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