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September 13, 2006

Under The Knife

News From the Mound

by Will Carroll

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No, I didn't really skip a day. We're working on something new here that's not quite ready for prime time, but it will be soon, my friends. Monday was a pretty light day for injuries, anyway, but there's plenty to discuss today. Powered by a series of coinflips, on to the injuries:

  • When Andy Pettitte stepped on to the mound last night after having his start pushed back by a sprained ankle, that joint was the focus. But as we know, everything's connected, so when Pettitte came off the mound with an elbow problem in the third, you had to think that it was not just coincidence. Early discussion focused on Pettite's flexor tendon, the same area that Pettitte injured in 2004 before making a nice comeback last season. It's hard to say how Pettitte fits into the Astros' plans, and even harder to say if his big free-agent contract was a win for the team. In the short term, it looks like Pettitte is done for the season. The question now is will this affect him next season. The Astros think that Roger Clemens--a fringe benefit to the Pettitte signing--will make his next start.

  • Not everyone agreed with me on my vote for Joe Torre as Manager of the Year, including several people who do have votes for the award. Whether or not you agree, we'll see what he can do with a full deck soon. Hideki Matsui returned with a four-for-four night (without power), and the team will get two more big cogs in the machine back next week. Gary Sheffield is on track to return from his wrist problems about this time next week. He won't have the chance Matsui had to get some rehab in the minors, and his violent swing has me thinking that he can only come back as little more than a high-risk pinch-hitter. We'll know more as he starts taking batting practice with the team.

    The Yankees may like having Sheffield back, but they need to have a healthy Mariano Rivera to compete. Granted, they could score 12 runs every night, but I have a feeling that they'll need their legendary closer in a couple of playoff games. The team is being very conservative with him while using this time to sort out the rest of their pen, so it's not time to worry yet despite the continual pushbacks of Rivera's return.

  • I won't pretend to know what Rich Harden's next step is. Okay, I know that the next step is a simulated game today. This will be his second one of the week, after a solid session on Monday. What I mean is that I have no idea where the A's starter/reliever/rehabber goes after today. Does he come back into the bullpen to stretch out his arm? Does he come into the rotation, backed up by another starter due to his pitch limit? Does he go right back to being a dominant, feared starter who will push the A's into the second level of the playoffs and beyond? Your guess is as good as mine here, but I'll be watching closely. One thing to keep in mind is that the A's have a very meager track record to go on, because the previous five years, they've had so few arm injuries that there's almost nothing to go on historically.

    We do know that Mark Kotsay had an epidural injection for his chronic back condition. The timing suggests that the medical staff thinks that this spike will get Kotsay well into the playoffs. Watch for him to be spotted smartly in the last few weeks. If it's not clear by now, Billy Beane has been playing for October all season long.

  • As the Tigers won a game with an assist from Mother Nature, the team is worried about, of all things, their set-up man. I have a feeling that when the chapter is written on the Tigers in BP2007, one of the points of discussion will be Jim Leyland's bullpen usage. Joel Zumaya has been the best reliever on the team by any measure, and the best non-closer in the game. Zumaya's WXRL is nearly the same as those of Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones combined. Losing him would sorely test a bullpen that has been a strength all season. The word out of Detroit is that the tendonitis in his pitching wrist is minor, but there are whispers that his strong frame is taxing his wrist. Pitchers break the weakest link when things go wrong--most are weak at the shoulder or elbow, so it's an interesting concept to think that Zumaya's weak spot might be at the wrist.

  • There are suggestions that Jason Isringhausen is not only done for the season, but that he's just plain done. While Isringhausen does have some significant problems in his hip, I'm not sure that they rise to the level of ending his year. At this point, the team has exhausted most, if not all, pain-management techniques trying to get their closer back to a stage where he can pitch effectively and, more importantly, regularly. "It's the Cardinals. It's always pain management," said one insider. While the Cardinals would not confirm reports that Isringhausen is dealing with an acetabular labrum tear, good sources categorically denied reports that the joint was unstable. I think Isringhausen will pitch again this season, though it's up to him and his pain tolerance as to whether that will be a positive.

    The Cards are also watching the rehab work done by Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein. Both still have some distance to go, but they have time and realize that without their best players on the field and playing at or near their peak, they'll be playing the part of the 2005 Padres in this year's playoffs.

  • Quick Cuts: The Mariners have had near-miraculous turnarounds when it comes to DL days, especially when it comes to pitchers. Their handling of Felix Hernandez looks especially smart, though we won't know for a couple of years if limiting his starts paid off Roy Halladay is lucky--he's expected to make his next start after the comebacker off his elbow No surgery for Travis Hafner. The fractured hand still makes for a sad end to the year, and probably kills any chance of him getting significant MVP votes Brad Radke's playing catch? That's the report out of Minnesota Surprisingly, Tom Gorzelanny is coming back for a couple starts. The Pirates are trying to build some momentum for a big off-season.

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