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June 14, 2006

Under The Knife

The Mesa Grill

by Will Carroll

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I was honored to learn yesterday that The Juice won an award from SABR. To be mentioned in the same breath as the other books in the category and to be considered in the same league as some previous winners is, frankly, overwhelming. It made me reflect on the legacy of Doug Pappas. I won't admit to knowing Doug well--hardly at all--but I hope he'd be proud. Thanks to all the members of SABR; I only wish I could be there to accept it. I'll send Maury Brown--who'll be far more eloquent--and I'll see you guys next year in St. Louis.

Powered by Mesa Grill and Bar Americain, two places you have to check out next time you're in New York, on to the injuries:

  • Every once in a while I write something and realize after a flood of e-mail that I could have phrased it better. In striving for clarity and brevity, I miss the mark from time to time. Rich Harden is dealing with a "moderate to severe" UCL sprain in his pitching elbow, the type of injury that will often lead to Tommy John surgery. Despite the A's current stance that Harden will rehab the elbow and return without surgery, sources indicate that the team acknowledges this is, at best, a coin flip. It makes good medical and baseball sense to try and rehab the injury, so don't take this as criticism. Some pitchers are able to come back; without the proper medical information, I can't make any sort of informed estimate on how Harden's injury compares to, say, Brandon Backe's. The most likely course of action still points to eventual surgery, but playing long shots sometimes leads to a big payoff.

  • One thing the Harden situation is not comparable to is the A.J. Burnett injury. Burnett's UCL is intact and, in fact, is still in the "honeymoon" period. Burnett has plenty of issues in the elbow involving bone chips and scarring, but his UCL is healthy, so trying to comp Harden here is wrong. Burnett is making decent progress--if slow--as he moves towards a return. The best sign was not the five no-hit innings in Triple-A, but rather the lack of swelling or pain afterward. If Burnett shows confidence in his arm, he'll be a big addition to the Jays, if a couple months later than expected.

  • The fans in New Orleans have had quite the show recently. I don't think it's a conscious post-Katrina effort, but the Zephyrs are getting a bunch of big-name rehab starts there. Mark Prior came in and looked the best he has in well, a long time. Prior went 90 pitches, again living in the 90 mph range and showing good command of all his pitches. The Cubs seem noncommittal on when Prior will come up at this stage. He'll make at least one more rehab start, possibly using the whole 30 day allotment. The worrisome thing about the outing is that he went 90 pitches and the Cubs keep talking about his endurance. If they're going to take him 120 pitches deep with any regularity, this rehab is going to be positively Sisyphean.

  • Sometimes stat lines don't tell us everything we need to know. Bartolo Colon wasn't trying to put up a no-hit performance in his last Triple-A start. The team wanted him working on velocity and keeping the movement on his pitches there despite his inconsistent release. The ball was coming out of his hand in the mid-90s. He also had no problems on Tuesday, the day after his start. Colon isn't going to need another rehab start as was speculated. He'll be back for the Angels during their weekend interleague series against the Padres.

  • Things aren't looking better for Eric Gagne. He'll see a neurologist on Wednesday, hoping that this specialist will be able to figure out what's causing the problem. MLB.com reported that the nerve is still inflamed and pain radiates on stimulus. Sources with knowledge of the situation indicate that this minimizes the situation: "The inflammation is the stimulus," I was told. "The elbow won't calm down and it's a cycle of pain. It's the nerves again with him and could be the unintended consequence of his 2005 surgery." There's no timetable for Gagne, though there is an increasing sense that he should be done for the year. I say 'should' due to Gagne's known ability to pitch with pain. I expect Gagne back relatively soon, but I don't expect him to ever dominate again.

  • A great way to tell the severity of injuries is to see what a team asks the injured player to do. Some are sent home, pushed away from the team so as not to remind players of what they're missing. Others are kept around either as cheerleaders or to stay in shape. The Yankees are doing the latter with Hideki Matsui, a guy who admittedly has no life outside of baseball. Matsui is running and working out, staying in shape so that he can get back on the field as soon as his rebuilt wrist allows him to. He's a few weeks ahead of schedule. Even with a reduced effectiveness when he comes back, this is great news for the Yankees, especially considering the alternatives. Now that Gary Sheffield has had his surgery, it will be interesting to see if he too will be asked to stick around and run with the team.

  • It's very interesting to watch the way the Florida Marlins are using the DL this season. Most players are easily replaced and even those who aren't are unable to actually affect the bottom line significantly, making DL moves essentially costless. Add in the youth that usually calls for more frequent DL trips (but less extended trips, equalizing the cost) and the Marlins could be at the far left of the charts--but aren't. I'm not sure what that means yet, since there hasn't been a team like this since we began keeping track. Josh Willingham heads to the DL with a strained hand, a strange swing-and-miss injury. It doesn't appear to be serious, but is slow healing. This one will need to be watched to make sure it doesn't act more like a wrist injury once he returns.

  • It's been a tough week for Ron Gardenhire. He was one of the first to get deposed by George Mitchell's investigation, he saw the Tony Batista experiment end, and he realized there's only one Joe Mauer on the roster. The disappointing Twins might be better with Shannon Stewart in the lineup, a move that keeps sliding back on the schedule. Stewart was due to start a rehab assignment this week, but as yet he hasn't been able to run enough to convince the Twins medical staff that he's ready. The Twins have been fine without him, though the option is there for Michael Cuddyer to shift to third once Stewart returns.

  • John Patterson will have one more rehab start, stretching up to 90 pitches in this weekend's scheduled outing. Patterson has shown no problems during his rehab and appears ready to move back into the Nats' rotation. While this may seem like another in the long line of pushbacks for Patterson, it's the smart move at this stage. Forearm injuries like Patterson's linger notoriously, so making sure that he stays off the DL is the imperative for Jim Bowden's crew.

  • If we take Jason Grimsley's recovery time out of the database, Tommy John rehab is still shorter than it once was, consistently coming back in under a year. Randy Wolf looks to be ready to beat his anniversary, though he had an unrelated setback that could delay things. During his second rehab start at Single-A, a combeacker caught him on the pitching hand. It remains to be seen if this will alter his schedule. Wolf isn't going to be as good as he was at this stage in his recovery, though the Phillies can sure use him. The trade market, especially for pitchers, is so thin that Wolf's return is the rough equivalent of an acquisition, one that could alter the NL East a bit.

  • Chris Reitsma has been bad this year, no question. He heads to the DL with what manager Bobby Cox describes as "numbness in two fingers" on his pitching hand. Sources tell us that the outside (ring and pinky) fingers are affected, suggesting an ulnar nerve problem. Given his control issues, we have to wonder if Reitsma (or the team) has been keeping this quiet. Reitsma will rest the arm for a couple weeks, hoping that will calm the inflammation and allow him to recover in time to help the Braves go for another division title.

  • Quick Cuts: Roy Oswalt returns to the rotation after a short DL stint for back problems. It was a great use of the retro function Here's an interesting thought, sent in by reader P.R.--"If Jason Grimsley is suspended for 50 games, starting with next time he's on a roster, does that mean he's permanently banned?" I'm excited to see Chad Billingsley when he debuts this week. He's one of those guys who I've heard a lot about, but haven't even seen video Oliver Perez is headed out of the Pirates rotation once Kip Wells is back. Expect a trade Mike Matheny is behind schedule with his recovery from a concussion. As you'll see in Pro Football Prospectus 2006, concussions are a tough thing to get a handle on with recoveries often seeming random Keith Foulke heads back to the DL after sucking it up through the Red Sox stretch of doubleheaders. 'Sucking it up' here is valid in either reading Darin Erstad is back in (wherever the Angels play) not because his ankle is fully healed but because it's not going to be. Erstad would rather try and play through it at the major league level Don't expect Jonny Gomes back in the field anytime soon. The shoulder is going to need surgery, but that likely won't happen until the off-season.
Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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