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August 2, 2006

Under The Knife

Very Bad News

by Will Carroll

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I'm hitting the road for the rest of the week, another in my summer travels. UTK continues, due to the magic of the internet. So let's get right to this today--no long intro and not even a powered by. Just injuries:

  • This is one you do not want to see, especially if you're a Twins fan. Francisco Liriano will miss today's scheduled start after his elbow had some soreness during his last bullpen session. The team insists that there's no big problem and that Liriano's workload is being closely monitored so that soreness doesn't become pain and that pain doesn't become something that changes his mechanics. The spot, near his left elbow, indicates some tendonitis, assuming that the point that Rick Anderson made during an interview was accurate. This is definitely one to watch, especially considering Liriano's mechanics. They are eerily similar to those of Johan Santana, who had bone chips removed from his elbow.

    The Twins are also trying to figure out how to manage Brad Radke through the rest of the season. Radke's pitching, though lost behind the dominant performances of Liriano and Santana, is still a key to their wild card hopes. Radke has pitched this season with a torn labrum and intermittent impingement in his pitching shoulder, and the effectiveness he's had is impressive in that context. There's some correlation between the cortisone shots Radke has had and poor performances, something no one seems to understand but could have something to do with altered mechanics during those starts. A cursory review of video available on Radke doesn't show any glaring changes in mechanics, command, or velocity. Expect Radke to be treated like Carlos Silva was last season, given constant treatment and extra rest when possible, and being shut down if the team falls out of the race.

  • Jason Varitek pulled up at second base and hopped, tellingly. What happened was that his deceleration led to a small, probably pre-existing tear of his meniscus coming loose and "locking." There are several reasons this happens; the most likely for a catcher in his thirties is that the meniscus wore down over time and a small piece of cartilage was floating inside the knee or hanging by a flap. It moved into a position where it "caught," giving a small resistance to normal movement or pushing against one of the articular surfaces, felt as grinding in the knee. The surgeons will go in with a scope, wash out the knee, remove any free or hanging pieces of cartilage, and slap a bandage on the opening. To call this a minor procedure is overstating it. While no surgery is minor if it's performed on you, this is as minor and easy as surgery ever gets. Varitek should be out about three weeks, reminiscent of Jason LaRue after he had a similar injury just before Opening Day.

    Some Sox fans might be asking themselves why Varitek needs surgery when Manny Ramirez's similar injury allows him to play. I'd simply point out that Ramirez isn't squatting for nine innings almost every day. This should have little or no impact on Varitek when he returns, short- or long-term.

  • If Varitek's injury isn't enough to convince you that catching is a hard position physically, how about the case of Ivan Rodriguez? Rodriguez has been dealing with a thumb contusion. It wasn't behind the plate where he was injured. No, he was hit by an errant bat in the batting cage. Rodriguez can't grasp the bat normally or, more importantly, get a good grip on the ball quickly enough to throw out runners, leaving the normally tough Rodriguez temporarily LeCroyed. He's back in the lineup, but is likely to see more time out of the roster. The Tigers' lead allows them to make moves like this, coasting a bit and getting ready for their first trip to October in quite a while.

  • Gary Sheffield surprised many by acting happy after the Bobby Abreu deal, even volunteering to move to first base to accommodate him. Combined with a bit of a reset of his expected return date to mid-September, many readers wondered if moving to first would help Sheffield return more quickly. The answer is probably not. The worry for Sheffield's wrist is not the position, but the violent and powerful swing that he generates largely from the forearms and wrists. Watching Sheffield at his best, one wonders how the wrists hold together at all. Unless Sheffield can adjust his swing--something he shouldn't do--it's going to be his ability to hold up under the stress of that swing that determines his return date and his effectiveness upon that return. Given the swing, the doctors will have to be very sure he's completely healed before allowing him to cut loose.

  • The White Sox are having enough problems without Jim Thome missing time. Thome has missed a couple games with a variety of maladies. First, he took an upcoming series against the Royals as an opportune time to get a cortisone shot in his sore right wrist. Thome puts a lot of stress on his lower hand during his swing, so simple tendonitis has recurred from time to time. I'm not sure how the Royals will feel about being called an off-week, but it's a smart move. The problem now is that Thome's back is acting up, with spasms keeping him out of the lineup on Tuesday. Thome's history of back problems is much more troubling than the wrist condition, though Thome himself insists that this is both minor and unrelated to his previous problems. The spasms were higher than the low, lumbar problems that sidelined him for much of 2005. It's worth watching, but not worrying over yet. Between the two issues, there may be some explanation for the slowdown in power from the South Side slugger.

  • Many didn't understand why Chris Snelling was DLed rather than just being sent down by the Mariners. Call this one a class move by the organization and a nice understanding of the rules. Snelling was playing through a sore shoulder, something that was noted on the injury logs that are turned in by every minor-league trainer. The team continues to pay him a major-league salary while Snelling plays on a "rehab assignment" at Tacoma. In the end, this is just about doing the right thing.

  • Just like Sheffield, Rickie Weeks generates his impressive bat speed with his wrists. For the second season in a row, Weeks isn't holding up under the load. Weeks will need surgery, though the Brewers have not yet determined when that surgery will take place. Weeks played much of last season with pain in his thumb, corrected with surgery. That pain tolerance may be tested again if the team decides to let him try and play. The team is, according to AGM Gord Ash, going to let him take a couple weeks off and, if the rest calms the pain and irritation, they'll let him play and see what happens. If not, surgery would be the next step. While Weeks should be ready for spring training regardless, this continued breakdown has to be factored into decisions about his future. (Speaking of the Brewers, how cool were those "Cerveceros" jerseys?)

  • It's not often that a rookie pitcher is the key to a team's rotation. Brian Bannister pitched well before tearing his hamstring, but his value isn't measured in his results. It's his impact taking innings from Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine at the top and eating innings to help the bullpen that the Mets need. The Mets have all but statistically clinched the division (99.8% on the Playoff Odds Report), so they'll shift from normal mode to the coast mode of a team with a big lead prepping for the postseason. Bannister looked good in his second rehab start, going seven innings without a problem in High-A. He'll move up to Triple-A for his next and likely final rehab outing. The question now is if Bannister's rehab performances trump his five-inning outings during April. His competition for the slot, John Maine, has gone no less than seven in his last few starts.

  • The A's are apparently paying the full interest on what I once called a deal with the devil to keep the team healthy. Throughout much of the Beane era, the team had little or no arm injuries on the staff and few significant injuries on the field, allowing them to keep their payroll playing rather than languishing on the disabled list. Bobby Crosby, the talented but injury-prone shortstop, is now becoming a symbol of the new, not-so-improved A's health picture. He's out with lower back pain, something that some have compared to the chronic, low-level back problem of Mark Kotsay. The team doesn't believe it's serious, but it's important to note for the future. Crosby is not likely to overcome this, keeping his expected games played more in the 120-130 per year range.

  • Quick Cuts: The MRI on Albert Pujols' injured elbow showed no new damage. One source tells me that scarring from his 2003 injury complicated the reading Stop me if you've heard this one before. Sean Marshall, the Cubs rookie pitcher, is out with a strained oblique Robert Fick is headed to the DL with a rib cartilage seperation. He's likely to miss the greater portion of the season, if not the rest of it John Thomson has a frayed, not torn, labrum. He'll avoid surgery for now Morgan Ensberg returned to the lineup in Houston. We'll see if his shoulder has recovered from the trauma that has held him back this season Scott Elarton had surgery Monday to repair his torn rotator cuff. He expects to be back at some point in the 2007 season.

Related Content:  Surgery,  The Call-up

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