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May 1, 2006

Under The Knife

May Day

by Will Carroll

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May? Already? Time flies and, small sample size or not, flipping the calendar over to Miss May--I mean, May--is a landmark that we all seem to notice. We have records based on a month that are impressive (14 homers?!) but relatively meaningless. One good week or month means nothing for stats and wins, but one bad week for injuries can mean a lot. Make it a month and we have a trend, something I endeavor to find when it pertains to team health. We have plenty of them so far this year, and with the newfound mediocrity parity in the league, losing a win or two to injury is going to be more serious than ever. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Dick Martin Award go to a first place team this year.

Powered by a late-evening cocktail of Cellucor C5 and diet Sprite, on to the injuries:

  • If you're an A's fan, you can take solace in the fact that everything has gone wrong and the team is still in first place. Then again, first place is .500 and, despite the normal pattern of the A's being slow in the first third of the year, the injury problems aren't usually a part of it. Rich Harden is the biggest problem. His back strain will keep him out about a month given its severity, but his continued health troubles point to something structural--either he's doing something wrong or simply cannot hold up under a normal physical workload. Milton Bradley is having leg problems--knee and hip--that are classic cascades from his knee issues. The small changes often lead to problems, especially when exacerbated by the normal traumas of the sport. At least Huston Street is close to coming back. His side sessions have gone well and the conservative course is leading to a return to the closer role early this week, assuming the "big changes" afoot in Oakland aren't that big.

  • Kerry Wood is a Lugnut. The plan is for him to be a Lugnut for a day, making his rehab start at Single-A on May 7th. He'll follow that with an outing at Triple-A Iowa. Lansing gets Wood based more on schedule than anything; the team will be at home while the Cubs' other lower affiliates are on the road. Wood is expected to go between 60 and 75 pitches in this outing, and he'll throw all his pitches. It'd be interesting to know how teams fare in rehab starts. Does the team with the rehabber get the talent boost or does it throw their rotation/lineup off? Does the opponent step it up for the big leaguer (and scouts) or do they get blown away? We'll have some sources in Lansing watching closely.

  • Eric Gagne is throwing. That much I understand. It will be played as a major positive by the Dodgers organization--why wouldn't it be? Gagne, however, is still a major unknown. The second surgery, a minor nerve excision, is making people forget that he never really came back from the 2005 elbow surgery. The minor complication is overshadowing the fact that we don't know what type of pitcher Gagne will be when he comes back. His velocity was down, he was experimenting with new pitches, and looked hittable. Ten innings isn't much to go on, especially when bracketed by time lost to injury, but don't forget that we've seen Gagne pitch and that the nerve problem shouldn't distract you from what you really want to know--is the Game Over guy done? We'll know soon, but dominance is too much to expect.

  • Seeing the Gary Sheffield-Shea Hillenbrand collision brought up a lot of Derrek Lee memories for many. Luckily for all concerned, the injuries suffered were nowhere near as serious. Hillenbrand was knocked a bit goofy, though he was back in the lineup the next day. Sheffield's wrist is still slightly swollen and sore, though x-rays were negative. He's uncomfortable, but Sheffield should be back in the lineup quickly; any residual effects as he heals would be more pronounced for him, given his reliance on those powerful wrists.

  • It looks like a much better week for Todd Helton. Helton is working out with the team, building back towards "baseball activities," a far cry from where he was last week. With illnesses like this or with other non-baseball illnesses--like Scott Rolen and his lingering weakness from bronchitis--the timeline has more to do with strength and stamina than any skill deficit. Just as you or I feel less than 100% a week or more after an illness, so do these ballplayers. Expecting them to be more than human is a mistake.

  • The Orioles are one of the teams that has some talent at the top and nothing underneath it. Losing a David Newhan is something most teams can survive, at least if they have the most passing acquaintance with the concept of replacement level. Losing Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez or Brian Roberts is an entirely different thing. Even for teams with exceptional benches or adequate minor league options, the talent drop is a major hit even with minor injuries. Lopez's loss is somewhat offset by the presence of Ramon Hernandez; it's easier to replace a 1B/DH type than anything else. Roberts is harder. His skill set of speed, average, and solid defense at a high-skill position can't just be found lying around the International League. Roberts' groin problem shouldn't take much beyond the minimum while Lopez's back spasms are an ongoing concern that have affected his hitting through much of April. The chronic back problems are one reason he's been pushed out from catching and seem to indicate that the position change hasn't helped. Miguel Tejada is a durable player who plays in the shadow of Cal Ripken Jr., so the streak matters here more than in most places. A relatively minor knee injury pushes him to DH rather than the bench. He'll try to play through the injury, especially given the other two absences in the lineup.

  • The hot streak the Reds had in Ken Griffey Jr.'s absence was coincidence, right? Griffey improves the team, right? As the team finds its identity under Wayne Krivsky and new ownership, Griffey is starting to get the sidelong glances that the symbol of an old regime gets. There are whispers that the team would be willing to let Griffey move on, eating more of his contract than Carl Lindner ever imagined. It's not a giveaway deal and not something that the Reds feel they need to do. It's just one of many options. Griffey should get back on the field this week, which will help determine his role and value. Thinking of Griffey as day-to-day each and every day is the best way to manage him.

  • The Giants will be watching closely this Wednesday when Noah Lowry makes his second rehab start. His first went well medically, but his pitch efficiency was terrible. The use of some advanced techniques on Lowry don't appear to have accelerated his recovery, but may hold promise for putting the oblique strains firmly in the past. Lowry's rehab start points to a return early next week, which is a positive for an improved Giants rotation.

  • The Marlins sometimes appear to move slower than the Nationals' sale in getting their players back. Part of this is the standing conservatism of the medical staff and part is the knowledge that a game here or there doesn't matter in the scheme of things. It's as if the medical staff knows which players are likely to be on the next winning Marlins team. Jeremy Hermida is one of those players and his slow return from a strained hip flexor is frustrating only to those who expected him to emerge fully-formed this year. He'll be fine when he comes back, likely mid-week.

  • Rocco Baldelli is going to play at some point, though his latest setback pushes the return date further off. The hamstring is becoming less of an actual injury and more of a symbol. Baldelli has missed about a year and a half between the knee, elbow, and hamstring--he'll immediately have to overcome the idea that the injuries have eroded his skills and that he's an injury prone player. Baldelli has the contract on his side and a patient, smartly run franchise behind him. I worry more about guys like Baldelli, who rely on their physical talents, something often eroded by injury.

    Speaking of the Devil Rays, this article is amazing. Jonny Gomes has nitro pills he carries just in case he has his SECOND heart attack. Gomes is fast becoming one of my favorite players and is, for a lot of reasons, an easy one to root for.

  • Quick Cuts: Hoy, estoy parado con mis hermanos y hermanas latinos en su lucha C.C. Sabathia will start Tuesday's game. Don't expect any problems. The Indians also get Fernando Cabrera back, helping their bullpen Frank Francisco could be back by May 15th. Given the problems in the Rangers bullpen, this can't come soon enough Sergio Mitre has something in common with Pedro Martinez. Unfortunately it's a sore big toe. His start was pushed back to Sunday and he pitched well, being outdueled by the returning Byung-Hyun Kim Scott Kazmir looked pretty good in his Sunday start with no evidence of cramping or elbow problems Keith Richards is day to day with a concussion. Seriously, how can you tell? Dmitri Young should be back by mid-week, but he'll be limited on the basepaths. That shouldn't be a big restriction.

Today's UTK is dedicated to the memory of Hubert Tinley, who passed away this week. He was the grandfather of my friend and BP Radio co-host Brad Wochomurka.
Related Content:  The Streak,  Back,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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