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June 19, 2006

Under The Knife

Money Not Well Spent

by Will Carroll

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As the HGH drama plays out, we learn that Bud Selig is more interested in public relations than in the efficacy of a drug-testing protocol, David Segui either had the least effective HGH ever or that it doesn't make that big a difference in healing, and this is just the beginning. Instead of spending money on research (a three-year total of less than half a million dollars), MLB is spending hundreds of thousands on advertisements and millions upon millons on lawyers from two major firms. Absent more admissions like the one by Segui, the Mitchell Commission investigators are going to find next to nothing substantive. We still haven't heard much from the coaches and team personnel being interviewed around baseball over the last week; many more are coming this month. It's time to end the charade that anything can be done about the past and focus on the future. Those millions that will go to lawyers and newspapers would be much better in the hands of researchers and educators. Bud Selig is choosing to react rather than lead, although he's doing so with the best of intentions.

Powered by my dad--if a day late--on to the injuries:

  • I saw the future of the Cubs on Sunday afternoon. Mark Prior was standing on the mound, throwing in the low 90s, struggling with his control and his mechanics as the Tigers pounded him mercilessly. I saw Dusty Baker sitting, staring out at the disaster the 2006 season has become. I saw the fans, still there to see and to hope, even as the weather turned as black as the season.

    Prior needed 40 pitches to get through the first inning. By the 20th pitch, he was showing signs of fatigue, such as his elbow dropping below his shoulder, leading to a lack of control. He was unable to find his breaking ball until the middle of the second; by then he was down six runs, only half his pitches going for strikes. He overthrew to hit 92, the flat four-seam fastball not sizzling by hitters. Prior was throwing with Greg Maddux stuff but not Greg Maddux control. It's one start, but paired with what we saw during his rehab, the Cubs have to realize now that this Prior is no longer the Prior that they drafted. He's something different now, just as Kerry Wood is no longer the Kerry Wood who scared hitters and threatened a 20-strikeout performance every time out. Prior and Wood--who should be back in the rotation by next weekend--can still be effective, even great, but not how we thought. It's up to them to find a new way to win ballgames.

  • Sometimes, injuries synchronize. It is a bit of luck and a bit of good planning. As Xavier Nady comes off the DL just days after his appendectomy, Cliff Floyd takes his place there with a high ankle sprain. The availability of Nady made it easier for the Mets to push Floyd to the list, and the solid play of Lastings Milledge made it easier still. When it comes to injury management, Branch Rickey's axiom that "luck is the residue of design" holds true. Floyd's injury isn't considered serious, and if the confluence of events hadn't fallen just so, it's possible he could have continued to play through it. Keeping the team healthy is going to be easier with the cushion the Mets are building in the standings, so expect more of these moves as necessary. Right now, it looks like only a spate of injuries can take the Mets down, though one look at the roster shows just how possible that scenario is.

  • I really should keep count of the Player Vs. Wall war, which would be easy, because one side wins all the battles. Wall's latest victim was Dave Roberts, who looked like the human version of the front crumple zones you see in car ads. The padding in Angels Stadium's left-field corner didn't go down far enough to keep Roberts from coming away with a deep bruise on his right knee. This is the second time this season that Roberts has crashed into a wall, meaning the team either has to change the way he plays or figure out how to get more padding on the fences. (I'm curious. Why doesn't padding go all the way down?)

    The Padres were happy with what they saw from Jake Peavy in Saturday's game. Despite him taking the loss, those who have seen him pitch recently said he was throwing looser than he has been. One NL scout at the game told me "whatever's going on in there, he's been trying to gut through it and has gone high effort. Mix that with his pitch counts and I worry about a bigger breakdown. He's as good as there is in the West so the [Padres] better protect him."

  • The Dodgers continue to look more like a MASH unit than a baseball team. Sure, they're winning, still tied for the division lead after a weekend sweep. and yes, their rookies have been impressive. Looking at their lineup shows the problems they face, however. Does anyone besides the most blue-blooded Dodger fan think that the replacements can keep up their current levels without some reinforcements coming off the DL? Eric Gagne is the wildest of wild cards. If he comes back, no one knows what he'll be able to do, leaving the bullpen a mess. New anti-inflammatories are the latest step in trying to get his elbow to a point where he can pitch, let alone pitch effectively. Bill Mueller is slow coming back from knee surgery, making some wonder what he'll be able to contribute aside from more role confusion with the mix-and-match infield. Jayson Werth is headed for more wrist surgery. He's hoping to save his career after a two-year struggle with the injured joint. It all adds up to a big, big problem for a team at a crossroads. They're contending now because of the Band-Aids that Ned Colletti picked up this winter. How much of the future does the team trade to win now?

  • The Angels had an interesting weekend. They sent down the guy who has been their best pitcher over the last month, activated a guy who had looked bad before getting hurt, and saw their gritty, gutty leader back on the bench with another expected problem. Bartolo Colon replaced Jered Weaver on the roster, a move that surprised few yet shocked many. Luckily, Colon was sharp, if not vintage Colon, in his first start back. He looked uncomfortable, as if he couldn't find a comfortable arm slot on the mound, yet the results were passable. For Darin Erstad, the bone chips in his ankle continue to cause him grief. The ankle needs surgery and Erstad is trying to fight through the pain, something he's able to do some days and not on others. That's not going to change without surgical intervention, so expecting him to suddenly be healthy and effective is folly. The Angels think they can keep him useful as a de facto fourth outfielder and DH, a plan that isn't a good fit for their current roster. It's making many wonder if Bill Stoneman has something going on behind the scenes.

  • The Reds haven't really missed Edwin Encarnacion, but they hope he hurries up and gets back anyway. The ankle injury that put him on the DL is well enough to send him to Louisville sometime later this week, and his return could be accelerated depending on the severity of Rich Aurilia's shoulder injury. Ryan Freel serves as a roster multiplier, making short-term needs less of a concern for the still-contending Reds. Encarnacion has been the best option at third, performing almost exactly in line with expectations. He shouldn't have any residual problems once he returns from the DL.

  • Nick Johnson must think his first name is "When healthy." Every story about him starts with "When healthy, Johnson " Johnson has been healthy for most of the '06 season, a big part of the recent Nats surge. He's on pace for a career high in plate appearances, again speaking to his new-found health. The back spasms that kept Johnson out of the weekend series against the Yankees had to be frustrating, but they don't appear to be serious. Team sources indicate that Johnson could have played on Sunday, but that the Nats decided to keep him on the bench an extra day as a precaution. Expect the big first baseman back in the lineup when the team heads to Boston.

  • Pardon me if I'm a bit gun shy when it comes to reports on the A's this week. I'll get over it quickly, I'm sure. The A's have their annual Mark Kotsay midsummer back spasms going on now, a situation the team is both well acquainted with from previous seasons and well aware of how to handle. No one is particularly concerned, though this doesn't make Kotsay any more comfortable, I'm sure. He'll be back quickly. The impending return of Milton Bradley helps the A's get over this. While some were expecting Bradley back on Sunday, he didn't play in the game against his former team. His return could come in Colorado. (I wonder if coming back in Colorado is a positive or negative for a hitter.)

    The A's are also expected to have Justin Duchscherer back soon. He'll make a quick stop in Triple-A Sacramento and should be back with the team for the weekend series with the Giants.

  • Manny Ramirez has sore knees. Nothing more and nothing less, so it's hardly the crisis that you might think it was after he took a day off on Saturday. No one's ever quite sure what the case really is with Manny, least of all when it comes to his health. He's carrying a bit more weight than one would like and is aging, so small problems like this loom a little larger and heal a little slower. Unlike the Mets, the Sox have no room to let a player like Ramirez take some extended time off, so watch for Terry Francona and his new medical staff to try some creative ways to buy time off for Ramirez, David Ortiz and others up and down the increasingly injured roster and rotation.

  • Quick Cuts: It was brought to my attention that while I didn't remember the A's team physicians being quoted, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. In fact, Dr. Jerrald Goldman has been quoted 28 times this season according to a LEXIS search done by a reader. My apologies for the oversight Ted Lilly was pushed back a day due to "tightness" in his pitching shoulder. We're watching this one Great article. Hard to believe there's any question about why these three ended up injured J.J. Hardy is still at least two weeks away from a return. Watch for him to start picking up the running at some point in the next week. That makes Jeff Cirillo more important, but he injured his ankle in Sunday's game, jumping in frustration after a warning track shot Steve Karsay made a graceful exit from the game, retiring after getting a win. Karsay's another of the many who might have been, who instead became UTK All-Stars Jamey Newberg broke news that Kameron Loe was headed to the DL. More on this as available Who are the RSAs and why is the Mitchell Commission talking to them?

Related Content:  Gutty,  Back,  The Who

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