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May 11, 2006

Under The Knife

A Kid, His Bike, and the Knee That Roared

by Will Carroll

I spent part of today riding my new bike and listening to podcasts of some of my favorite shows, MLB Radio's Fantasy 411 and The Official Lost Podcast. It's been a while since I rode my bike anywhere, pedalling away with the wind in my face. We didn't wear helmets when I was a kid, and my bike lock was a padlock and chain. I'd ride to school, to practice, and to the vacant lot where we'd play ball from sunrise to as far past sunset as the light would allow. Riding to or from wherever I was going, I'd dream of baseball and of a car. These days, I still dream of baseball, and I now have the car, but it's good to have that old feeling of freedom that a ten-speed gave me longer ago than I'd like to think.

Powered by the simple pleasures of life, on to the injuries:

  • David Pinto called me out. I was already planning on writing about Randy Johnson and the Tuesday night meltdown and used MLB.tv's outstanding Searchable Video features (subscription required). (Note to MLB.com or ESPN: I need a telestrator and five minutes of your time.) This gave me a good-but-not-great look at every pitch of Johnson's outing, and the problem is pretty clear.

    From the very first pitch, Johnson was not extending, appearing instead to shorten his stride to reduce stress on that damaged front knee. Watch Johnson's leg--it's nearly straight. He'll either "pop up" on his follow-through, getting taller, or rotate to the third base side. Both actions take the energy that normally heads to the plate in a delivery and redirects it. While this is taking some of the pressure off the knee, it's taking velocity off of the ball, and adding stress to the elbow and rotator cuff. Adding insult to literal injury, Johnson's changed mechanics are also inconsistent, leading to his newfound control problems. It's notable that his release point seems to change, at least according to the MLB.com video. Video obtained from scouting sources and then seen through the Dartfish program makes this even clearer. Johnson's release point is more than inconsistent--it's almost random, adding stress to the shoulder. Fastballs from the normal slider release point and sliders from a higher ¾ point are consistent only in their ineffectiveness.

    The key here is the knee. Johnson isn't complaining about it, but it seems that Johnson is either due for a refill on his Synvisc, or the treatment is no longer effective enough to keep him effective. He's too crafty and talented to write off without another couple of starts, but you don't have to be an expert to see when Johnson's on. You probably saw it last night in your own way, but I'll give you an easy key--watch the front of his jersey. When it pops out hard, as shown on the cover of "Saving The Pitcher," Johnson is okay. Surprisingly, the gloveside shoulder seems to be okay, despite previously reported problems. The Yankees went ahead and had an MRI on Johnson's pitching shoulder yesterday to make sure everything was fine, meaning something was bothering him physically. Johnson says that he wants to "put his best foot forward" in his next outing. He'll need to make sure that's done in combination with a solid knee, good hip turn, and proper energy transfer.

  • Some are already calling Rich Harden the Mark Prior of the AL--immensely talented, but finding new and interesting ways to keep himself on the disabled list. Out currently with a strained muscle in his lower back, Harden began throwing again on Wednesday. Playing catch is seldom much to get excited about, though for A's fans watching Joe Blanton melt down, the idea that Harden could return by June 1 is exciting. Harden still has a way to go in rehab,and the type of back injury he has is prone to recurrence. You know the steps by now--long toss, sim game, rehab start, then return.

  • Imagine what he could do when he's healthy. Jonah Keri pointed out last week all the things that Albert Pujols did in his first five years. He failed to mention that Pujols has done it all while facing a series of serious injuries. He avoided Tommy John surgery despite a near complete tear of his UCL. He dealt with plantar fascitis for two years, helped by an experimental ultrasound therapy. Now, he has a strained back that some are whispering might be a disk problem. Pujols is playing in pain, something he's shown he can do. The question is whether he can continue to do so at this level or whether he's putting himself at more risk by playing. If the back doesn't do him in, the cascade injuries might. The Cardinals' medical staff, once again led by Dr. George Paletta, has taken some hits in the past. This is their biggest test.

  • Manny Ramirez left Tuesday's game early, ostensibly to rest a sore knee. The knee has bothered him for a while, swelling slightly and becoming painful when he stands too long. You'll often see Ramirez moving around in the outfield, or even finding a place to sit down when possible. It's nothing to worry about, even in the short term, since it isn't affecting other parts of his game. Pulling him from a blowout is just smart resource management on the part of Terry Francona.

  • Few people expected to see Moises Alou walking through the Giants clubhouse so soon after his ankle sprain. Multiple sources all say that Alou is walking, though not one could tell me whether he had any sort of assistance, whether that is a boot or even a tape job. If Alou is walking unassisted, he's significantly ahead of schedule--but it's far too early and Alou has too long a history for us to start cutting a week or two off his recovery. Take it as a positive sign, something the Giants could use these days.

  • Cesar Izturis isn't going to fix the Dodger offense by coming back. His defense is valuable if the team can figure out how to shuffle and set a mixed-up lineup to maximum effect--or to trade an extra part for an upgrade. Izturis will start a rehab assignment on May 20th at High-A Vero Beach, putting him on track for a return no later than June 9th. With Odalis Perez already the subject of trade rumors, the Dodgers will likely be the focus of many more rumors over the next three or four weeks. Izturis has had a couple setbacks with his repaired elbow--all confined to throwing--so it will be interesting not only to see him play, but where they choose to play him. The Dodgers will also be without Jason Repko: the outfielder caught his spikes trying to climb the wall and has a severe sprain of his right ankle, pushing him to the DL for an estimated six weeks.

  • Ricardo Rincon will undergo two surgeries on his arm. Tony LaRussa told Matthew Leach of MLB.com that he thinks it's all due to the World Baseball Classic. The Mexican team had qualified coaches and trainers, so if they'd like to chime in, I'd love to talk with them. I haven't had any luck in getting hold of Team USA's trainer (former Cubs head trainer Dave Tumbas) to get his thoughts on the post-Classic problems. The shoulder surgery was expected, but at this stage, no one is able to tell me what the problem with Rincon's elbow is. The surgeons could be doubling up as a matter of opportunity. If it's something like bone chips, there's no reason not to clean them out while his rehab time is covered by the shoulder.

  • Quick Cuts: Cole Hamels debuting in Cincinnati? Wish I could be there for that one … Gustavo Chacin left his start and will have an MRI on his elbow. Keep your eye on this one … Add another to the list of players stricken by illness. Coco Crisp has been bedridden for several days, pushing back his conditioning and rehab … Rocco Baldelli is due to start playing in extended spring training games this week. With as many setbacks as he's had, I'll need more before I get excited … Carl Pavano will get a start in Double-A Trenton on Friday …Brilliant … Dmitri Young is heading back to the DL, as his quad is still a problem even for DHing … Brandon McCarthy is headed to the rotation after one rough start for knuckler Chuck Haeger.

This week's BPR takes a look back at Roberto Clemente. David Maraniss, the author of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, tells us why he was drawn to the Latin superstar. Steve Blass, Clemente's teammate and a current Pirates broadcaster, tells us about the man he knew and the player he saw. Worth listening to, on your local station or on our podcast. If you're not subscribed to the podcast, you missed the latest installment of BPR Extra.
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