June 22, 2006
Under The Knife
The Fight for Youth
I hope everyone will read UTK for the info you expect, then keep reading after Quick Cuts. The extended piece is too long to put up top, but needs to be read by everyone, especially if you're involved in youth baseball.
Powered by the fight to save young arms, on to the injuries:
Don't take this as an indictment of the Cubs, because few teams take a creative look at player usage. Kerry Wood threw a simulated game on Tuesday. Everything went well through sixty pitches. Between sixty and seventy, Wood began getting tight, losing snap on his pitches, and he didn't go past seventy. On Wednesday, he felt like he did after his recent starts, bringing his ability to recover into question. It also brought his season into question, the latest frustration for the Cubs. All this isn't really news. What gets me is that Wood pitched well up to sixty. Even without moving him to the bullpen, isn't there some way that the Cubs could make use of Kerry Wood for sixty pitches? Could he not be paired with Angel Guzman as a tandem fifth starter? Could he throw thirty or forty pitches more frequently, allowing him to be used as what one NL pitching coach calls a "spring pen starter"--using the relievers in the first couple innings to make sure that the work gets in? Too many baseball men with sharp minds are caught in the box of risk-averse conservatism, caught by the scribes who circle and challenge anything that's "against the book." If it takes thinking outside the book to keep Wood on a mound, I'm all for it.
The Cubs should get some better news by the weekend. Derrek Lee continued his work towards a return by taking batting practice with the team. While a final decision hasn't been made, Lee doesn't feel that he needs even a short rehab assignment and wants to get back in the lineup. If he wins the discussion, he'll be in the lineup this weekend. If he does head down to the minors, assuming there are no setbacks, he'll be back next week, right at the eight-week mark. As with any wrist injury, there are questions about power and control, though you'll remember this really isn't a wrist injury; it's a broken arm. Hitters recover from those without many problems.
The NL Central is full of returning 1B. Albert Pujols is pushing for his return, continuing to pass all the challenges that the St. Louis medical staff puts in front of him. There are already baseless whispers in some circles about his quick healing. Pujols isn't outside the timeline for a mild oblique strain, though he is well within the period where recurrences happen, the ones that are always worse than the original injury. The Cards could use their slugger back after two nights of watching the White Sox hit like, well, a team of nine Pujolses. To add an injury to the insults, Jim Edmonds--a player who was supposed to be taking it easy on an injured groin--was the latest victim of The Wall. The Sox must have taken down that extra Rowand padding, because the hit didn't look that jarring as Edmonds went up to try and steal a Joe Crede home run. As he landed, he never put his hands to anything other than his head. The early diagnosis is a mild concussion and Edmonds left the game. The expectation that Edmonds would head to the DL when Pujols returns could be more necessary now.
The Angels are busy, assessing what they can do with Darin Erstad. While Mike Scioscia will stick up for 'his guys' long past any point of baseball logic, the team knows that it is in the hardest part of a transition and at the point in the season where those hard decisions must be made. Erstad isn't able to stay healthy playing regularly and is in pain even with rest. The team is thinking of putting him back on the DL by the weekend, with Howie Kendrick mentioned as a possibility to be recalled. Kendrick would be a boost of offense for a team that needs it and the DL would Erstad time to heal and decide how much he wants to play. My guess is that he'll be back after surgery.
The Red Sox pushed Keith Foulke further to the backburner, shutting him down for at least a week while simultaneously rebuilding the back of the bullpen with young arms. The Sox front office looks to be pulling back on the expectation that their starters will go deep, making relievers the focus from the sixth to eighth inning before handing the ball to Jonathan Papelbon. Using Papelbon in longer save situation is one possibility, as is extending Craig Hansen, who was working as a starter for much of his stay in Pawtucket. No one is putting any hope on a David Wells return, so the revolving door, waiver wire band-aids, and cell phone attached to Theo Epstein's ear are going to be fixtures in Fenway for a while.
You'll remember a couple years ago when Jason Schmidt was allowed to go 144 pitches in a complete game. The cries weren't quite as loud when Matt Cain went 131 pitches into a no-hitter attempt, but the Giants medical staff was watching just as closely. They knew that the Giants had an off-day that would buy him some rest (just as Schmidt had) and that the 21-year-old had stayed under 100 pitches in his two previous starts. They watched his mechanics, his mound demeanor, and his results. 131 is a number you don't like seeing from a young pitcher with as much potential as Cain, but he wasn't overexposed. The Giants will send Moises Alou for an MRI, hoping to find the root cause for the back problem that is still significantly limiting his mobility. Alou insists that there's no event that led to this, making it even more worrisome.
Quick Cuts: Don't be confused by any one team being interviewed by the Mitchell investigation. They're going to get to everyone eventually … No matter how many people fail to find convincing evidence of "clutch hitting," the other side is going to point to David Ortiz … Zack Greinke was optioned back to Double-A as he continues his--what should we call it? Recovery? Comeback? Rehab? … No structural damage is the result from Tony Armas Jr.' MRI. No word on a timeframe for his return either, though it will affect his trade value … Ben Sheets went 80 pitches in a side session, throwing fastballs and changes. He's closer, but still not close, to a rehab assignment.
Forgive me for putting this at the end rather than at the top, in bold letters. This story is sadly common and deserves to be screamed out rather than merely added to the end of an article. This is my soapbox. A concerned parent recently wrote to me, asking if I knew of any workouts that involved throwing an iron ball backwards. I didn't; the closest I knew to that was Dr. Mike Marshall's exercises with an iron ball, but his video didn't mention throwing it backwards. I contacted Dr. Marshall to be sure and no, this was none of his doing and he took the time to break down why this was such a bad idea. The 12-year-old travel pitcher may not have a baseball future because of this workout, detailed by the parent:
Here's what happened:
1) Upon reaching the practice field, the boys were asked to run a lap and then, without any warm up throws with regulation baseballs, began the weighted balls session.
2) There were 4 stations; one with a 7 oz. weighted ball, a 10-oz. ball, a 14-oz. ball, and the 2-lb ball.
3) According to my son, at each station they were supposed to throw each ball "as hard as possible" 7 times using 3 separate postures. The postures were 1) standing up as though your "feet were in concrete" (Apparently, this was the way the coaches described the correct way to stand; 2) kneeling down; and 3) standing with one foot in front of the other. In all three postures, they were told not to move their hips or to step forward. In other words, all of the motion was done only with the arm.
4) A total of 21 pitches resulted at each station. This process was repeated for the 7, 10, and 14-oz ball station, resulting in 63 total pitches.
5) The last station incorporated the 2-lb ball in which they threw it backwards over their pitching shoulder 20 times "as hard as you can."
6) The total number of pitches thrown in this manner was 83. All of which occurred within 30 to 45 minutes.
My son said he even mentioned to one of the other kids that his arm was "killing him" after the 2-lb station. After this they began their regular practice. He said that by the time practice ended his arm didn't hurt as bad. The next morning he couldn't raise his arm, and you know the rest of the story.
One of the coaches chastised me for having my son take pitching lessons. This coach (a 23-year-old graduate assistant at a local college) stated to me that "all tendonitis results from overuse, and you have overused him in his pitching sessions with his pitching coach. We have had 6- and 8-year old kids go through this program without any problems." For the record, my son's last pitching lesson occurred 10 days before he threw 108 pitches in tournament. Moreover, the pitchers for this team never threw a bullpen or worked on any aspects of pitching during their regular practices.
What this young "coach" failed to realize was that he and the rest of the coaching staff allowed my son to throw 108 pitches in a tournament only 2 days before the weighted ball session. In effect, my son threw 191 pitches (83 of which were with over weight balls) within a span of 5 days, all under their supervision. If that's not overuse, I don't know what is.
My arm hurts just reading this. It has to stop. I'm not sure how, but this type of abuse--bordering on the criminal--has to stop.