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May 15, 2006

Under The Knife

Sparkle

by Will Carroll

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Baseball players are fanatical about streaks and luck. It doesn't matter what it is--if they think it matters, it does. I've never written a column without having my dog Sparkle at my feet, looking up at me or barking when the phone rings. There were times when it seemed like she was a co-writer or at least a co-conspirator. She didn't care whether I was having a good day or a bad day, whether the press was raving about UTK or attacking it. She saw me through two books, thousands of columns, millions of words, and at the end of the day, she just wanted to sit with me on the couch and have her belly rubbed.

We lost her to cancer on Friday and I want to thank the thousands that e-mailed and looked at her Dogster page. She was carried off from us on the wings of prayers and friendship, and I'm richer for having known her.

Powered by the knowledge that life goes on, on to the injuries:

  • We know more about Hideki Matsui and his arm injury now. Matsui had surgery to fixate the distal radius on Friday. Surgeons used a series of pins to make sure that the bone heals properly. Twelve weeks is the expected minimum here due to the nature and location of the fracture. How is it that Matsui has a more serious injury with a longer recovery than Derrek Lee, who broke both bones of his forearm? A baseball analogy will help here--think of all the bats you've seen break. Have you ever seen two break the same way? Some break cleanly while others seem to explode into splinters. Bones are similar, if not quite so explosive. When the bones can easily be reset--as was the case with Lee--the healing is cleaner and quicker. Matsui should have no problems once the bones are healed, meaning he has a chance to come back at the end of the season. Wrist injuries sap power and bat control in the short term, so what Matsui will be able to bring when he comes back this year remains a major question. In 2007 and beyond, he should be back to the same Matsui that we saw in the previous 1700+ games, age-adjusted of course.

  • I wondered what the change in Win Expectancy was when Aaron Rowand made the catch that led to his broken face. According to our own Clay Davenport:
    Looking at the tables for 2000-06, making the catch gives the Phillies a .593, .579, .607, .592, .587, .592 chance of winning--simple average of .592.

    Not making the catch (2 outs, man on 2, 3 run lead) gives the Mets' chances to win as .737, .630, .625, .786, .647, and .727, with a simple average of .692.

    So I'd say that catch turned a .308 chance for the Phillies to win into a .592 chance, a gain of +.284 wins.

    At 10 runs/win, that's 2.84 runs, which is the rough equivalent in linear weights terms of hiting two (randomly placed) home runs.

    It's hard to fault any player for playing as hard as Rowand does and harder still to fault the Phillies for a lack of padding where Rowand hit--the stadium crew was planning to install new padding in precisely that spot while the team was out of town. That one play cost at least fourteen games of Rowand's production and defense, an equation that likely won't balance with whatever that play gave the team. Rowand had surgery Friday to set his broken nose and fractured orbital. There are no vision deficits, I'm told, a small blessing but an important one. Rowand should be back in the minimum, unlikely to change his wall-slamming, hard-charging style.

  • As I go through my day, I take notes as calls and e-mails come in and go out, part of my GTD structure. Pitchers are on one side, hitters on the other; I can't remember it ever being quite so out of balance as it was this weekend. A batch of pitchers make it into UTK today, proving that we still have a long way to go when it comes to preventing or even predicting pitcher injuries. We'll first look at Jose Contreras. Contreras showed no signs of trouble before a game of catch. Afterwards, he was hobbled for days, and was back on the field playing catch with no apparent problems this weekend. Seven days brought a world of difference, meaning that Contreras could be anywhere along this continuum next weekend. Injuries like this boggle even trainers, but Herm Schneider gave some clues when he told reporters that "he's had a lot of medication, stuff that if you had this problem, you wouldn't have had what we gave him. You have to be special to get what he did." Okay, I'll agree that athletes on million dollar deals get treated differently, but the cloak-and-dagger imagery that Schneider uses belies simple megadoses of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. It even goes beyond the epidural that confirmed this was a spinal situation. This situation bears watching closely as information we don't know is bound to come into play.

  • The Angels under Mike Scioscia are very easy to understand. When they're healthy, they're good, good enough to make playoff runs and win rings. When they're not, they look bad. So far this season, the latter seems to be the case with the club looking like a classic transition team, shifting from veterans to the class of prospects that are beginning to force their way in. Injuries are one way that teams can break youth in slowly. We saw this last year with Ervin Santana and also early this season with Howie Kendrick. As Bartolo Colon begins the heavy work in in his rehab, the team will again come to a crossroads. This team, with Colon at the top of the rotation and Frankie Rodriguez at the back, is good enough to win a division where no one is running away. They just have to stay healthy.

  • When you stand on the flat plains of the Texas Panhandle, somewhere between Amarillo and Lubbock, the horizon seems even farther away than it could be. It's ompletely flat from east to west. Things get seen coming a long way away out there, and people learn to be patient as it gets closer and closer. Kerry Wood has been like that, the Chicago press (and me) watching and overanalyzing every move. With his rehab behind him, Wood will get the ball on Thursday against the Nationals with the weight of the Cubs on his repaired right shoulder. Everyone is expecting miracles; Wood's good enough on some nights to make anyone believe.

  • The Padres are done beating up on the Cubs for the season and will now have a bit of an uphill climb with their pitching staff. Woody Williams tore his calf in the muddy mess at Wrigley this weekend, putting him out at least eight weeks, possibly longer. Williams has a history of slow healing and leg injuries for marginal pitchers tend to be devastating. The Padres, once rich in pitching prospects, have only Jake Peavy to show for that period and now John Hudgins, acquired in a trade from the Rangers, could be on a fast track if the fill-ins the Pads audition don't lock down the job.

  • People talk about Leo Mazzone the way they do about David Blaine. There's magic there, or at least a very watchable illusion. Magic doesn't just happen, however, and Mazzone's pixie dust hasn't done much to change Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera still has amazing stuff, control that vanishes as quickly as it appears, and a motion that consistently leads to shoulder and elbow problems. He's headed for an MRI after leaving his weekend start with tightness in the back of his shoulder. We'll know more after the results, though his velocity has been consistent over his last few starts.

  • Fernando Rodney impressed Jim Leyland in his stint as Tigers closer, making him a #1a option now that Todd Jones is having some knee pain. Jones asked out of Sunday's game while Rodney took the ball and was awarded the save. While Jones' knee isn't supposed to be a serious problem, the short term situation will involve some job-sharing between Jones and Rodney. That's not a bad thing, and with Joel Zumaya dealing, either co-closer could be dealt at the deadline, a move Dave Dombrowski made with Ugueth Urbina last season.

  • David Wells is getting closer to an inflection point. He's nearing a rehab start that could tell him--and everyone--whether he can solidify the back of the Sox' rotation or whether we've seen the last of the jovial lefty. Wells will give it every effort, both out of pride, stubbornness and a contract with appearance bonuses. The Synvisc injections haven't given him much relief. Wells continually mentions simply walking away at the slightest setback. For all the trade talk surrounding Wells this offseason, one has to wonder now if the reason he wasn't moved is that the Sox knew he couldn't clear a physical.

  • The Dodgers are, in the words of Grady Little, treading water and fastening their seatbelt. Injuries are once again proving the undoing of the team while depth is acting more like an anchor. Things could be worse. Brad Penny has a long history of overselling some injuries, but was in obvious pain during his last start. The team requested Penny have an MRI to check his lower back, as much for Penny's confidence and mental well-being as it was for diagnostic purposes. Penny is not expected to miss time, though it's very difficult to predict anything to do with a Penny-Dodgers combo. Eric Gagne is getting closer, mixing in the breaking balls he featured this spring in his last mound session. He should make a cameo appearance in Las Vegas this weekend and quickly be back in the Dodgers' bullpen. Forget breaking him in slowly--he's the closer from day one, something that could make or break the Dodgers' season.

  • Let's close out this litany of pitcher injuries with some quick hits: Esteban Loaiza has begun throwing again, though he has no schedule for a return to action. He's working on mechanics as much as he is at his rehab. Sergio Mitre heads to the DL for the Marlins, moving Ricky Nolasco to the rotation and Yusmeiro Petit to the big league bullpen. Brandon Backe is back on the mound, no pun intended. He's still a few weeks away from a rehab start and a return to the unsettled Astro rotation. Tanyon Sturtze heads to the DL with a right shoulder problem, putting more pressure on Scott Proctor, who's playing the part of Aaron Small 2005. The Yanks are also closely watching Carl Pavano, who left his rehab start early with soreness, not pain. He's still on track for another rehab start this week.

  • Bill Mueller was signed to give flexibility to an infield that was, at some point, supposed to be healthy. It hasn't worked out that way and the positional flexibility that Mueller has never came into play. Now, Mueller is headed for more surgery on his problematic knee and will miss six weeks. That could force Jeff Kent over to third, assuming that Cesar Izturis can play 2B and keep his elbow healthy. What once looked like a plan by Ned Colletti now looks more like expedient chaos.

  • The Pirates have an interesting dilemma right now. What if everything went right--you loaded up on pitching, your development system was graduating players to the major leagues and giving a surplus that could be traded--and the team still came up miserable? The team is trying to figure out how to shuffle the deck chairs right now. Chris Duffy is down and Oliver Perez is likely to follow him with Tom Gorzelanny getting the quick look at the majors that the Pirates like to give their top prospects. Sean Casey is beginning baseball activities, and his back is holding up through the early stages of his rehab. Casey is still a couple weeks off from a return, though that return could portend the move of the suddenly much more valuable Craig Wilson.

  • The Nats gave Brian Schneider as much time as possible with his strained hamstring before pushing him to the DL. Schneider's move is retro and he shouldn't be out much more than the minimum. The move was made only after Matt LeCroy proved incapable of throwing out a runner, forcing the call for Wiki Gonzalez. (Positional flexibility is only worth something if the player isn't a defensive liability.) Remember that Schneider said his hamstring was "99 percent" as recently as Wednesday, so a setback isn't out of the question. Expect some conservatism.

  • Quick Cuts: Jorge Cantu is expected to start a minor league rehab late this week Expect Eric Chavez to have a slow ramp back to normal as he continues to recover from a weeklong illness. Scott Rolen is a near perfect comp for this situation The A's will be without Milton Bradley for another week. He's still unable to swing the bat without pain. He's using the time off to continue strengthening his knee I'd love to sit through nine innings of a game with Bob Ryan too Remember when the Yankees bid on Doug Mirabelli to drive the Red Sox's price up? That could be a problem while the Yankees look around for OF help The Nationals won't make any major deals, let alone conduct a fire sale, until Stan Kasten has his own guy in place Ian Kinsler should be back this week, though the Rangers are being very conservative with his schedule
Related Content:  A's,  Back,  The Who,  Trade To Dodgers

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