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May 12, 2006

Under The Knife

U.S.S. Enterprise

by Will Carroll

I live in a fantasy world, almost literally. We all love baseball but I get to spend all day surrounded by it, rather than having it be just a hobby. Unfortunately, that existence doesn't preclude the problems of the normal world. In those cases, I am powered by friends and family and faith, as well as being powered by my readers, many of whom I've come to know and some of whom are now friends. For that, I thank you.

I also have a special request: Powered by my readers on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, out of Norfolk and headed for a long cruise, on to the injuries:

  • The streak is over for Hideki Matsui. While my disdain for games-played streaks are well-documented, I always hate seeing them ended by injuries because players in them always seem to have such a sense of pride about playing every day. Matsui's streak has ended because he didn't play long enough in Thursday's game to satisfy the conditions. Matsui dove for a sinking liner and seemed to roll over his left wrist. As he left the field, Gene Monahan, the longtime Yankees trainer, appeared to be stabilizing the wrist as if it were a fracture. Even if it is not, Monahan is right to treat it as if it were. Early reports from the stadium have it as a fractured wrist and that Matsui is headed for surgery. We don't know at deadline whether Matsui broke his anatomic wrist or if, like Derrek Lee, he broke the bones of the forearm near the wrist. Without that information, I'm unable to tell how long Matsui might be out. Six weeks will be at the low end.

  • When I saw Dontrelle Willis in the World Baseball Classic, he looked like a mess. His mechanics were so messed up that when Jeff Passan asked me to explain what was wrong, I said "the only thing right is that the ball is going towards the plate." Pitching coach Rick Kranitz saw the same thing and was able to correct the flaws once Willis returned to the team; for the first couple starts, it looked more like the Willis we've seen for the past couple seasons. Now, the problems are back, making it tough to blame the WBC and easy to worry that Willis' mechanics are naturally degenerating.

  • Jay Mariotti called Mark Prior the king of simulated games. The king is about to sit on his throne again. Prior is expected to throw a simulated game on Mother's Day, hopefully making all the Cub fan mothers happy. If Prior makes it through that, the Cubs will put Prior on the same track that Kerry Wood is now on--two rehab starts at various levels and then a return. Prior's more likely to make his debut at West Tenn, though the site is yet to be determined.

  • Frank Thomas is a potential difference maker for the A's, but only if he's on the field for 300 at-bats or more. Given his history of lower leg problems, managing him to that goal is a big challenge. Thomas limped off the field last night, and many A's fans gasped. Instead of another foot injury, Thomas has a mild strain in his quadriceps. It's possible that it's a cascade injury caused by his obvious limp, though it's a mild problem in any case. The normally laconic Larry Davis gave somewhat conflicting reports, calling it a mild strain, then saying it was a "blow out." Expect Thomas to miss at least a couple games as the injury is monitored in order to preserve a retro DL move.

  • The Jays are still trying to figure out when A.J. Burnett is coming back. In the meantime, they just sent Dustin McGowan back to Syracuse to start (again). The Jays' season hinges on health, so losing Gustavo Chacin to an elbow strain is bad news. Chacin's UCL injury is not enough for Tommy John but he's going to head to the DL for rest and rehab. Francisco Rosario is said to be the likely replacement, himself a TJ survivor. We'll see how well the Jays can deal with two starters out and one--Josh Towers--doing his best to lose his slot.

  • The Dodgers have done all right without Eric Gagne, but to hear the fans talk about him, he's not just going to solve the bullpen questions, but the Quebec separatist issues and the price of parking in Boston. Gagne's been progressing, throwing off a mound and working towards a return. The Dodgers have announced that Gagne will begin a rehab assignment at the end of the month in Las Vegas. Gagne sounds more confident, which is a definite positive, though he's still a major unknown until we see him in games. I'll be watching to see if that slider he brought out in spring training is still in his quiver.

  • What's wrong with Brad Lidge? Lidge isn't suffering from post-Pujols syndrome. Like most closers and like most pitchers with violent mechanics, he's going through a down period after a dominant period. Some come back, some don't and there's no way to tell where he's headed at this stage. Lidge's injury history is a negative, though he has always come back effectively. The Astros replace closers better than anyone--ask Billy Wagner or Octavio Dotel--and have two ready replacements in Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls. At best, Lidge has plenty of time to straighten things out. At worst, we have another data point in the argument for Mariano Rivera being the best closer of all time; no one else has done what he's done for as long.

  • Aaron Rowand heads to the DL with a broken nose. Rowand is famous for not slowing down as he approaches the wall, leading the White Sox to add padding in The Cell last season. The Phillies must not have enough padding there, as Rowand's face paid the price for an amazing defensive play. Broken noses tend to heal cleanly and, aside from the obvious pain, this shouldn't be a problem for him. One complication might be if Rowand is forced to wear face protection at the plate. That can often throw a hitter off as he gets used to it.

  • The Orioles are overworking Richie Bancells and his staff. Melvin Mora is the latest to spend time in the training room with a lower back strain that sources tell me is muscular. "He's tied up in knots," the source whispered. Mora's problem--in combination with other injuries--has the O's in such despair that Jeff Conine may be forced back to 3B.

  • Hidden in the court system is the ongoing case of Houston McLane Corporation v. Connecticut General Life Assurance. Baseball fans would better know this innocuous sounding case as the Jeff Bagwell case. Filings made in the case and seen by UTK show that the Astros had significant testing done on Bagwell before making their decision. Opinions from team doctors, Bagwell's surgeon Richard Steadman, and James Andrews, as well as motion capture analysis by ASMI, were all included in their petition. Bagwell showed significant deficits, losing nearly 60 degrees of range in his affected shoulder and he's unable to throw the ball harder than 35 mph. The insurer is resting its case on the definition of disability, a very strict one in this contract. I've been in the disability industry before, and this case isn't going to settle quickly. One of the more interesting points in the document was the cost of the policy--about $2.5 million on the $80 million contract.

  • Lots of questions this week about Cole Hamels making his debut Friday in Cincinnati. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions:

    • Is Hamels rushed? That's unclear, though his performance through 2006 seems impressive enough. Gillick's assertions that he needed to fail seem funny at first; Hamels has dealt with plenty of setbacks over the past couple years.
    • Is it a bad idea to start him in Cincinnati? Most organizations would prefer to keep their young guys in situations where their confidence won't be tested. Anyone pitching in Great American against the slugging Reds is going to get challenged. I've seen no evidence that there's any difference in how someone starts. If he succeeds this season, one additional start is a big plus.
    • Is Hamels past his injury problems? No young pitcher is really in the clear, but most of Hamels' injuries haven't been pitching injuries. He broke his arm playing football and his hand defending a teammate in a fight. The back injury is the most worrisome, but he's had no problems in nearly a year, a good sign. Missing out on the minor league innings may be a developmental negative and a health positive. Like Chris Capuano, Hamels matured physically without the wear and tear on his arm.

  • Quick Cuts: Johnny Damon made the play but slammed into the wall, Rowand-style. His shoulder took the brunt of it, but it's the foot injury that was reported that's of more concern. More on this once we know more ... Ken Griffey Jr. was activated and in the lineup for the Reds, hitting a long homer in extra innings and having no apparent problems with his knee Bronson Arroyo went another eight innings, an impressive feat, but he's lost efficiency over his last five outings. Watch his P/IP over the next few starts Oliver Perez will be skipped in the rotation after a rainout, working on the side to try and find what's lost Brian Roberts was unable to run on Wednesday. His return from the DL is going to be later than expected Eric Chavez is still out with food poisoning. Those must have been some really bad clams If you listened to last week's BPR with Mike Veeck and Marv Goldklang, this won't surprise you. It will make you laugh.

Be sure to check out BP Radio this week with our look at Roberto Clemente. If you can spare a prayer for my dog today, I'd appreciate it.
Related Content:  The Streak,  Broken Wrist

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