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September 24, 2006

Under The Knife

I Got It

by Will Carroll

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The reader response I received on Friday was overwhelming. There's seldom been an issue that provoked as much discussion as the sentencing of the Game of Shadows authors. People made a lot of great points, but were overwhelmingly opposed to my position. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I know my position is motivated in large part by self-interest; my sources are already worried about the day when some team comes after me as part of a HIPAA investigation. As we head into this last week of the season, having spent the last six months watching baseball through the lens of sports medicine, it is those sources that have allowed me to give you the best possible information. For that, I thank them.

Powered by a 1998 Gaja Barolo, on to the injuries:

  • Few injuries look as bad as those caused by collisions. In baseball, we're not used to seeing the violent, painful clash of bodies, and that makes it all the more terrible when it happens. We see two or more men barreling towards each other, and we hope that one will peel off, that cries of "I got it" will be heard, or that somehow, the players will simply miss each other.

    Nick Johnson took the worst of a collision Saturday, and came away with a particularly rough injury as a result: a fractured femur, the largest bone in the body, and one of the hardest to break. This has nothing to do with Johnson's history of injury--it's just bad luck. Johnson had surgery to fixate the femur on Sunday, and is expected to make a full recovery in time for spring training. Johnson's offensive game doesn't rely on speed, so even if this negatively impacts his range afield, he could still DH, something many feel he's destined for anyway.

  • The Mets have dominated the NL East from Opening Day, but it's acknowledged that the team is only going as far as Pedro Martinez takes them. I'm not sure that's true, though they're certainly better off with him than without him. In his second start back from missing time with a calf strain, Martinez looked good for four innings before the calf started to tighten up on him. "Good," of course, is relative; he didn't have his normal velocity or movement. The velocity is the most worrisome, indicating that he's not getting the same push from his legs, and that puts more strain on his shoulder. Martinez says he was taking it easy last time out and that he'll show more velocity next time. Martinez is the type of player who remembers Curt Schilling's bloody ankle start and would love to add that type of mythology to his resumé.
  • The Twins are close to clinching a playoff spot. I'll leave it to Joe, Jim and others to explain just how unlikely and amazing this is, but from my perspective, doing this without their #2 and #3 starters is stunning. Brad Radke still hopes to come back and hopes that it is for more than just a curtain call. His side work has gone well despite the medical staff being very cautious with his fragile shoulder. He'll have one more session on Monday, and the likely target for his start is Thursday at home against Kansas City. The team is sorting out its playoff rotation, and no matter how good he looks, Radke will be a very risky choice if they put him on the postseason roster. Here's an odd fact--Twins pitchers do very well pitching while injured. I'm not really sure why, especially considering the changes in their medical staff over the past five years, but it's there.

  • "We'll rest him once we've clinched" was the message I got from the A's. Winning is the priority with that organization, so allow me to correct myself. Eric Chavez will rest his ailing legs once the team clinches, which is any minute now. The question becomes how much healing Chavez can do with a week or so off, but it's better than nothing. Speaking of better than nothing, Bobby Crosby might be back, assuming the team can go farther than it's previously gone in the Billy Beane Era. Of course, that report is based on a quote from Crosby in the San Francisco Chronicle, not the medical staff, though I'll bet Susan Slusser checked with them.
  • Mike Mussina took a comebacker off his glove hand. Luckily for him and the Yankees, he came away with only a bruise. Since it's the glove hand, Mussina shouldn't miss a start, unless the Yankees shift their rotation to set up for the postseason. Mussina is expected to be the third starter for the Yanks, behind Chien-Ming Wang and Randy Johnson. If the Yanks do skip Mussina's next scheduled start, Mussina would have nearly two weeks to let the bruise heal.
  • Doesn't it seem like breaking the all-time save record should be a bigger deal? Trevor Hoffman is somehow one of the most anonymous of superstars, and while many of us feel the save is overrated, there's no denying that Hoffman has been one of the best at what he does for far longer than most can do it. He's also doing it with a sore shoulder. He broke the record after pitching the previous day, and despite the soreness. The fact is that the tightness of the races for the NL West and the wild card gives the Padres no way to allow Hoffman the rest that he could really use. That will put him at a disadvantage in October, unless he can somehow get a couple days off. The Pads offense could give him an assist with a blowout or two.
  • Along with Ryan Freel, the Reds have closed the books on Ken Griffey for 2006. Griffey's toe problems, starting with the dislocation against the fence, have been slow to heal. The Reds know how one problem with the feet could lead to problems with the legs for Griffey, and given how much work they've put into keeping those legs healthy, this is the smart play. Griffey should have no long-term problems with his toes, but I am a bit concerned about his weight. As early as the Classic, Griffey looked heavier. A lot of people gain weight as they age, thickening, and certainly this isn't a body conversion that raises eyebrows around the league. What it could be is more stress on the knees and hamstrings for a guy that needs as little stress on them if he's going to continue playing at this level.
  • The Red Sox season has ended in a mess of blame and injuries. Matt Clement might symbolize the season, a pitcher loaded with promise who has seldom delivered on that talent. He's now headed for surgery in an attempt to figure out what is keeping him off the mound. His future depends on what the surgeons find inside, and what type of repair is necessary, if any.

    The offseason is also going to be an interesting one for Manny Ramirez. His problematic knee essentially shut him down after the team fell from contention, though there are plenty that question just how serious the problem really is. His knee problems are clearly affecting him, but it's hard to say that this is worse than, say, what Barry Bonds is playing through. There have been no mentions of offseason surgery so far, but it's something I've been anticipating for Ramirez.

  • The White Sox have likely sent Jose Contreras out to the mound for the last time this year. The pitcher's hamstring strain is likely to end his season as the team fades from contention, as the Sox also protect their investment. Contreras' injury isn't one that should be considered serious in the long term, but it can become a chronic problem. However it ended, though, the season has to be considered a success for Contreras. He may not have ended up pitching in October, but he emerged from the shadows of Orlando Hernandez and his problems in New York to establish himself among the elite starters in the game.
  • A lot of people--and I mean a lot, including several in front offices--have asked me for my take on Josh Johnson. First off, the story that this is anything more than a strained forearm isn't true, according to my best sources, though it is true that the injuries are often interchangeable. That's more due to teams trying to cover injuries more than any real confusion. What I'm being asked is how much coming back to pitch after an extended rain delay could have contributed. Honestly, I don't know. There's no data available on what the line in the sand is for delays or how pitchers do after long delays. I'll assume that Joe Girardi and his staff at least thought about it. Given the climate down there in Florida, making sure that the bridges are all burned behind Girardi as he heads out of town, it's very difficult to separate the factions from the fictions.
  • Quick Cuts: Amazing that Chan Ho Park is back in the bullpen for the Padres, about a month after life-saving surgery … David Eckstein came back to play shortstop for the Cards and promptly hit a homer. That's about as clear a sign of health as we're going to get regarding Eckstein's oblique … Bartolo Colon is back with the Angels after rehabbing his torn rotator cuff in Arizona. He's expected to be back in the rotation next year, but these are notoriously difficult injuries to work through … B.J. Upton may need offseason surgery to tighten up his shoulder. This is comparable to what both Richie Sexson and J.J. Hardy went through a couple years back. Chris Burke also needs surgery to prevent further subluxations in his shoulder. Both Upton and Burke should be back in plenty of time for spring training … Placido Polanco is back for the Tigers, giving him a week to prove that he's ready for the postseason. Watch for his bat control.

Don't forget to give this week's BP Radio a listen, where we spoke with Mike Arbuckle, Assistant GM of the Phillies, and Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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