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August 7, 2006

Under The Knife

Recharged

by Will Carroll

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Floyd Landis. Juan Gonzalez. Mark McGwire. Patrick Arnold. Justin Gatlin. Forgive me if I ignore these names for a while. I understand the significance that each holds to the sports fan; each has some consequence to baseball as well. I don't really have a way to integrate all this, to explain how this is both a problem and not a problem, to convince you that this is both insignificant and one of the most important issues facing sports and society. So much is happening now that just a year after publishing "The Juice." Some of it is hopelessly dated. I'm watching all of it, and yet turning a blind eye to it now hoping that the facts--not the hype and speculation--can be the real story. I'm also hoping that at the next moment of real opportunity, we can all be part of the solution. There is hope. MLB and the Taylor Hooton Foundation have started an educational program that's taking place at various locations. I'll challenge you to find another reference to it, a schedule, or any explanation of what "Hoot's Chalk Talk" is going to be. It's hope, it's progress, but there's so much more to do.

Powered by a recharging long weekend in Chicago, on to the injuries:

  • The Dodgers aren't playing like they're missing a key offensive cog in their machine. Their streak belies the injuries they've had and shows that, at least in the short term, the deadline deals helped the team. Getting Jeff Kent back can in no way be considered a negative, though it will force some interesting choices. Kent is still coming back from a Grade 2 oblique strain and memories of his last comeback is causing the team to sound conservative, at least publicly. Kent is pushing to get back in the lineup while the team is saying that it'd rather keep him out a few extra days if that's what it takes to be sure there won't be a recurrence. Grady Little faces a challenge with this, though the streak should give him a little bit more leeway with all sides.

  • The Cardinals are in freefall, saved by the rest of the division's failure to capitalize. The team lost no ground despite their recent losing streak. They head into a key road series in Cincinnati hoping that their starters will all be ready. Jeff Weaver gets what may be his final chance to establish himself, with Mark Mulder tossing a solid five innings in Single-A. Mulder will go again on Friday, this time for Triple-A Memphis. Chris Carpenter is due to go on Wednesday, though he's still having some swelling in the thumb of his pitching hand. Carpenter took a sharp grounder off his hand. A bullpen session over the weekend showed that he was ready to get back out there.

  • Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano might just be human. Santana has pitched well below his normal level over his last several starts, in large part due to interrelated back and hamstring problems. The back spasms are causing cramping in his upper hamstrings, throwing his mechanics off, robbing him of some velocity and control. The team is working hard to make sure that he's improved while still making his next start. The team is also ready to send Liriano back to the mound on Monday. His skipped last start gave him a bit more rest and the elbow soreness has disappeared with rest and treatment. I probably don't need to say that without these two pitchers on the mound and healthy, the Twins have no shot at the Wild Card.

  • Is it coincidence that Justin Verlander crossed the 130-inning hurdle in his last start and is now on the shelf with fatigue? Absolutely not. I've been warning you about this for months. We're looking at the pivotal moment for the Tigers now. Fatigue is nothing, but we know that Verlander is pitching while tired, something that leads to injury unless he's allowed to rest and recover. With their lead and the impending return of Mike Maroth, the Tigers have to--have to--let Verlander take some time off, whether that's one start or the rest of the month. The Tigers are smart enough to know this without me, but I'll say it so that everyone can hear it: protecting young, talented pitchers is the most important part of pitcher development and winning baseball. As we come up with better, more accurate heuristics to assist the intrinsic knowledge in the game, we'll only make the game better.

  • It's easy to overreact when a star player leaves a game, especially when it's Ben Sheets, a player who has been dealing with a series of setbacks since tearing a muscle in his shoulder two seasons ago. There are two possible paths here--Sheets learns to adjust to his new musculature and the feeling he gets when pitching, or he sets off a cascade. In the hands of the Brewers medical staff, he should be fine, though the continued problems have to be frustrating for everyone, especially Sheets. The latest episode was nothing more than a cramp, though he'll have tests early this week. With the team essentially out of contention, it's smarter to use this time to get Sheets right than to just push him back to the mound.

  • Brandon Webb has been among the most durable young starters in the game. His sinker allows him to be efficient, pounding out grounders instead of fighting for strikeouts. Still, the workload he's had wears on anyone. His pitching elbow came up sore late last week, sending the Diamondbacks scrambling to check his golden arm. This isn't the D'Backs of old; their medical staff is now led by former award-winner Ken Crenshaw, who knows how to keep pitchers healthy. Webb had tests, cleared them all, and then threw an easy bullpen session on Friday. The team will give Webb some additional rest in hopes that the mild flexor tendon sprain clears up completely. Another bullpen session will be the final test before Webb returns to the rotation next weekend.

  • For the first time I can remember, a baseball player's wife got involved in a health problem. Both Jake Peavy's wife Katie and BPR guest Kelly Calabrese donated blood to Chan Ho Park, helping him recover from a scary loss of blood. What was initially diagnosed as anemia was discovered to be internal bleeding that cost him nearly half of his body's normal blood supply. Park is currently out of danger, though no one is trying to guess what the timetable for his comeback will be. Katie Peavy passed out after her donation, though I am told she is fine now. This is one of the neatest "team" functions I've seen, perhaps saving a life and making it possible for Park to return by the weekend. It's a reminder that we should all be donating blood.

  • All season long, the Yankees have been taunted by the possibility that Carl Pavano and Octavio Dotel would rejoin the team. It never got close, but always stayed just out of reach. Once again, both men now have a timetable which is closer, yet not quite here. Pavano and Dotel will both throw in the minors this week, putting them on track to rejoin the team by September 1. The date dulls the impact somewhat, though both could be key additions down the stretch with Dotel taking pressure off the overextended bullpen and Pavano having a chance to pitch his way back into relevance. Both remain risky and prone to setbacks, but once again, there's the chance that these once-important acquisitions could contribute to the rejuvenated Yankees.

  • The Red Sox are recovering, on and off the field. Doug Mirabelli should be back mid-week after an aggressive treatment schedule kept his sprained ankle from getting more serious. Mike Lowell should be back in the lineup the next time the Sox take the field with the medical staff working overtime on his left foot. Even Keith Foulke is getting some good news, throwing well in Pawtucket. His next test will be back-to-back games and, if he passes without problem, he'll be in the Red Sox bullpen for their weekend series at Fenway. Like David Wells, the Sox will take whatever they can get from their former closer, allowing him to be essentially relief for the relievers.

  • While Andruw Jones deals with his drama off the field (and it was the Astros that had the prevailing claim on him, I'm told), Chipper Jones is just trying to get back on the field. Like Jeff Kent, Jones can often push his way into the lineup, but the Braves are pushing back this time. Eligible to come off the DL next weekend, the team has kept his rehab very conservative. Jones hasn't yet taken swings while the medical staff attempts to keep their Type-A third baseman from experiencing another setback. The Braves remain in the Wild Card hunt and need Jones' bat back in the lineup down the stretch.

  • The Rangers haven't gotten what they expected from Brad Wilkerson, in large part due to the chronic shoulder problem that has sapped his power and eaten into his bat control. They'll keep getting that until (and if) they fall out of the playoff race. Wilkerson has elected to wait on shoulder surgery until the season is over. The rehab time will have him back in plenty of time for the season and doing it early wouldn't give him any real advantages in coming back next season. There's no real reason to expect any changes in Wilkerson's performance and even some worry that the surgery won't return him to his previous form. He has one more year to prove himself before free agency.

  • Quick Cuts: Gustavo Chacin had another terrible outing. He'll get one more rehab start, but I don't like what I'm seeing Scott Kazmir will be back on Friday. Watch to see if there are any changes in his pitch selection Kip Wells will miss a start with shoulder soreness. Given his surgery earlier this year, this is a bad sign Expect Ryan Klesko back on the Padres' active roster when they expand on September 1. He'll both pinch hit and spell Adrian Gonzalez at first base The Diamondbacks don't like to play down a man--at least manager Doug Melvin doesn't. That could push Jeff DaVanon to the DL with a sprained ankle Joe Crede missed the weekend with lower back spasms but is expected back on Monday.

If you missed BPR this weekend, you can go download it and listen to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, XM's Jeff Erickson, and our own Christina Kahrl's trade deadline breakdown. Also, if you're in the Chicago area, keep your Friday night free. Details soon.

Related Content:  The Streak,  Back,  Jeff Kent,  All-star Weekend

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