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July 7, 2006

Under The Knife

Backing It Up

by Will Carroll

Yesterday, I mentioned that the A's had slid back to the average in regards to pitcher injuries. This being BP, I wouldn't have said this without the evidence to back it up. The A's have already lost 287 days to injury, exacerbated by the fact that unlike many teams, they had no Tommy John surgeries or players with injuries that carried into the regular season. Who are the teams at the bottom of this list? About who you'd expect given their results: the Nationals with 651 (in large part to season-enders to Luis Ayala and Brian Lawrence during spring training), followed by the Royals (490) and the Braves (470). On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Giants (107), the Angels (83) and, in the suprising twist, the Mariners. Seattle has lost only 73 player days to injury. Now, we only have a half-season's data to work with, but it appears that the Mariners may have finally figured out something or at least have gotten a lucky break (Ed. note: except in the case of Jeremy Reed). Before anyone goes and blames former pitching coach Bryan Price, the Diamondbacks, his new team, are in the top half of the list at 165 days lost. It's just information, but interesting information.

Powered by a powerful new front end to the injury database, on to the injuries:

  • It should come as no surprise that Pedro Martinez is on the DL. With the timing of the ASB, it's a smart, conservative move, and the availability of Mike Pelfrey makes the decision easier. Many seem more worried by "rushing" Pelfrey than they do about the hip injury to Pedro. Last year, a farm director told me that they liked bringing players up from the minors for a week or two, just to give them a taste of the big leagues. He thought it helped prepare them and motivate them. I don't know if this is true--it sounds like something that could be studied--but I'm not worried about Pelfrey. I am more worried about Martinez, whose hip problem is possibly related to his toe injury from earlier in the season. Both conditions leave him open to cascade injuries and put pressure on his golden shoulder. The Mets have enough cushion and, with Pelfrey and the impending return of Brian Bannister--here's an interesting email exchange for you--they can afford to be ultraconservative with Martinez's return.

  • Barely a day goes by when a team or player doesn't contact me about something I've written. On Thursday, the Padres were concerned about my report on Chris Young. My source told me that Young had dead arm and had seen the medical staff, something I interpreted as "doctors." Young did see head trainer Todd Hutcheson, something most players do every day and certainly not worth concern. Young did have a bad outing, showing a bit less velocity than normal, but his concern over my report gives me pause. There's a very fine line between what some call dead arm and a bad outing. I hope that Young is okay and continues his breakout season. I'm sure he won't be offended if we say we're watching closely.

  • If you didn't think things could get worse for Eric Gagne, you were wrong. Gagne woke up with severe back pain and was admitted to the hospital for tests and treatment. The former closer has a pair of severely herniated discs in his lower back, and is a candidate for surgery if an injection doesn't relieve the pain. A decision will be made quickly, in this case with one of the top back orthos in the world, Dr. Robert Watkins, leading the care team. Surgery would mean the end of Gagne's season, something that was already in question because of his various elbow problems.

  • Don't get too excited by news that Mike Sweeney is getting ready for a rehab assignment. Before he gets to that, he'll have an epidural injection this weekend, a clear sign that his back is not healthy and that he's not pain-free. Sweeney has been able to swing the bat, progressing up to live batting practice, but he's dealing with soreness and pain after these sessions. Unless there's a dramatic change, Sweeney could be expected to return in a limited role, needing rest that would keep him from playing over an extended period without rest days, even if he's only DHing. Add in that even if he's turned into Albert Pujols over the course of his rehab, he's not going to help the Royals contend this season. I'm not that excited.

  • Catchers are usually a tough bunch, or at least a bunch that can take a hit. We've seen how bad it can be this season with Mike Matheny, or with Michael Barrett--wait, that was a different kind of hit. Yadier Molina took a ball off the back of his helmet on what appeared to be a slipped pitch. Molina went down--he's lucky that the pitch wasn't a fastball. Then again, if it was a fastball, Taylor Buchholz probably wouldn't have lost control of it. Injuries may seem random, though they are more often the product of confluent circumstance. In better news for Cardinals fans, Jim Edmonds sure seems to have healed up from his various injuries, including some that threatened to end his season not so long ago. His power binge is helping as Albert Pujols continues to find his swing.

  • J.J. Hardy made a tough decision, trying to rehab his ankle and get back on the field rather than having surgery that he will likely have to have after the season. For now, it looks like the right decision. Hardy is taking ground balls, and could be back with the team as early as next week if there are no setbacks. There's no guarantee that the injury, which is similar but not identical to Curt Schilling's now-legendary ankle injury, will not recur at any time. The Brewers have to hope he can hold together long enough to help the team get back into contention in a very mediocre NL Central.

  • Small things are often the difference between winning and losing. Over the course of a season, a race as close as the one between the Tigers and White Sox can be tipped by something we don't notice and seldom see, even in retrospect. The White Sox may get Dustin Hermanson back at some point in the second half, something even they had thought was a longshot back in early June. If Hermanson has his stuff after nearly a year off, he'd be a great addition to a team that needs every edge it can get as it battles for AL supremacy. Just as the addition of Bobby Jenks amounted to much more than we thought when it first happened, I think the return of Hermanson could be one of those small but important moves that the Tigers will have to answer.

  • The Tigers appear to be getting creative. They're one of several teams considering a six-man rotation to take the load off their starters. While I'm an advocate of the four-man rotation and feel that it's better for baseball, I can understand how more rest would seem to help people. There aren't many studies out there, though Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner's PAP work and in BBTN are the best I know of. Using the fifth-best starter-someone that just a decade ago would have been relegated to mop-up work or the minors-usually drags down a five-man rotation. If a team truly has a sixth worthy pitcher, this move could work, but if not, it's counterproductive. Mike Maroth would be the sixth man for the Tigers. His comeback from elbow surgery is targeted for August, just as Justin Verlander gets into the danger zone.

  • Quick Cuts: I cannot say enough about how great this story made me feel. MLB needs to give this guy a grant because he's helping the game… Johnny Damon appears to have saved himself from more serious injury by pulling himself from the game on Wednesday. His oblique/abdominal strain won't cost him more than a few games… Victor Santos had a nice outing, hitting his pitch count by the fifth inning. Yes, he had one despite the manager's denial… Casey Blake will spend his ASB in Lake Elsinore, on a rehab assignment. He's expected to be back in the Cleveland lineup when the team returns from its more restful break… It looks like Mike Lieberthal will rejoin the Phillies after the ASB. No word yet on a rehab assignment... I'm considering laser eye surgery. Anyone have some tips?

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