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August 15, 2006

Under The Knife

Conversation Piece

by Will Carroll

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Baseball is the great conversation starter. I've done a lot of sitting in airports over the last few months and no matter which airport, there's always someone with a baseball cap on. Being me, I can always make some comment about that team. Yankees cap? "Wow, what's up with A-Rod?" White Sox cap? "Think you can do it again?" It goes on and on and, while I don't have ready lines for the Royals or Devil Rays, the novelty of seeing those out in public would likely be the conversation piece. The universality and neutrality of baseball give me something to talk about with almost anyone. Even the older gentleman who sat next to me on a flight last time had enjoyable stories about seeing Bob Feller pitch. You just don't see that with any other sport, even when you see an NFL or NBA team on a baseball-style cap.

Powered by a nice cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, on to the injuries:

  • It's often been the legs this year with Pedro Martinez. This time it was his right calf, injured during warm ups, that did him in. Martinez tried to go out, but couldn't escape the first inning, losing velocity and location to the injury. This is a clear cascade problem, likely involving some change in his pushoff to take pressure off his chronic toe problem. Assuming the strain is minor and wasn't exacerbated by trying to pitch through it, the Mets' worst-case scenario is putting Pedro on the shelf for a couple weeks, replacing him with Mike Pelfrey or the rehabbing Brian Bannister. Given their lead, they could afford to make this type of move.

  • Alex Rodriguez takes a lot of heat in the media, but I'm going to add to the fire here. Rodriguez suggested to Joel Sherman on Monday that undisclosed injuries were to blame for many of his struggles. While he declined to give any details, he gave us some symptoms to work from. According to Sherman, Rodriguez blames his terrible throwing mechanics and a change in his swing on the injuries. It's important to note that the plural was always used, though those symptoms suggest a shoulder problem, likely a rotator cuff or labrum problem. I'd guess the former, given that he's healed without apparent gaps in his game log for cortisone injections. Maybe Johnny Damon, his new teammate, is giving him tips for staying in the lineup. While it's interesting to note this, if Rodriguez's play was impacted by injury, it's hard to credit him for it if he could have been better by taking a couple games off.

  • Jeff Erickson asked me about Tim Wakefield yesterday on his XM radio show and I had to give a big "I'm not sure." Wakefield not only has an injury that's nowhere in the database--a stress fracture at the attachment of a rib--but he's also not exactly your normal starting pitcher. His knuckleballiness might be a positive here, since he shouldn't be putting as much stress on the area as a conventional pitcher would during the delivery. Then again, the unusual injury suggests that his difference could be part of the causation. A day later, I'm left with continued uncertainty when analyzing this, leaving us all watching and hoping. The Red Sox told the press that his target for a return is now August 27th, and there's nothing to dispute that date.

  • The A's will activate Bobby Crosby on Wednesday, after he passed the last of the medical staff's tests. While his hitting remains below his normal level, he was able to run, field, and hit without causing any problems with his chronically sore lower back. In the longer-term, Crosby's injury history is going to cause us to think about him in much the way we do about his teammate Mark Kotsay, or it will cause us to lump him in with the chronic-but-useful bunch like J.D. Drew and Cliff Floyd. If he goes the Kotsay path, he'll play much of the season with the occasional time off. Down the other, he'll lose some, but far from all of his value. Like Eric Chavez, it's hard to think of him as a future MVP anymore, but the talent is there.

  • Garret Anderson is headed in the opposite direction, missing his third straight game with a "tight" lower back. The Angels know what they have in the current iteration of Anderson--is he overrated or underrated this year?--and know that they have to keep on his various chronic maladies, which include his lower back. He should be back in the lineup as a pinch-hitter or DH this week, though Mike Scioscia has a tendency to be a bit overconservative with player usage after injuries.

  • The Reds officially lost a pair of pitchers to surgery. Brandon Claussen underwent a scope on Monday, repairing his shoulder, including a small rotator cuff tear. Claussen should be back near the start of next season. A good comp would be Kerry Wood this season, hopefully without all the setbacks. The Reds also got confirmation that 38-year-old Kent Mercker is going to need extensive surgery. He tore both his UCL and his flexor tendon. In all likelihood, this will end his career; it's a tough way to go out. On another Reds injury note, I'm told that Wayne Krivsky has asked the Nationals to send him a minor-leaguer to "even out" the Gary Majewski deal instead of filing a grievance.

  • Jayson Werth had more surgery on his ailing wrist, hopefully giving him a chance to return next season. Beyond the injury, Werth has lost the better part of two seasons, making any sort of return very difficult. It's often said that hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports. Taking two years off and then trying to do it again is even harder. There's actually some data on this due to two-way high school and college players. Players who did both, then became pitchers before trying to convert to hitters have a very low success rate, even if they were good-hitting pitchers. The opposite is not true and is actually a relatively common conversion path. Here's hoping Werth can buck the trends.

  • The Phillies are shutting down Tom Gordon for their next series as a precaution. Gordon has been worked hard and has come up with a sore shoulder. Tests came back negative and it appears this is nothing more than workload-induced fatigue. Gordon will simply rest before coming back, so there's not much to worry about here aside from who will replace him in save situations.

  • Mike Maroth had his second rehab start and while he wasn't as good as one would hope, he did make it to 74 pitches without health problems. Given the Tigers' need to win combined with their need to protect Justin Verlander from excessive innings in the process, many expect Maroth to step into the rotation, taking it to an adjusted six-man. After this performance, the Tigers could bring Maroth up now or try to stretch him out a bit more with a third rehab start over the weekend. Toledo is in contention in the International League, something that could factor into the decision.

  • Quick Cuts: Roy Oswalt left his start in the eighth with a bruised pitching hand. He took a comebacker off the hand or wrist--video wasn't clear. It didn't look bad, but tests were scheduled to be run, so keep your eye on this Matt Holliday left Monday's game after being hit on the wrist and is listed as day-to-day. Expect more information tomorrow Octavio Dotel tossed a perfect inning with a strikeout in Triple-A Columbus. The team is expected to call him up within the week Wade Miller will make his final rehab start of his stop-and-go season on Wednesday. He'll join the Cubs rotation afterward if all goes well.

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