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March 13, 2007

Under The Knife

A Tale of Two Closers

by Will Carroll

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It's my mom's birthday today, one of those special "zero" ones. She doesn't read my column, probably never has, and actually doesn't like baseball, so I won't spend too much time saying things she won't read. I will thank all of you, people who don't know her and for the most part only know me through words on your screen, for helping her get here. A couple years ago, when she was fighting cancer, I asked you to drop her an email and literally thousands of you did. She made it through, and while the cancer has come back, if you read UTK, it's all about trying to get better each day. Whether it's my mom, a pitcher coming back from elbow surgery, or a third baseman taking another cortisone shot in his shoulder, we admire those who overcome things, who fight the good fight and struggle to remain in the game. Sometimes it's stupid machismo that leads to exacerbating an injury, and sometimes it becomes a transcendent moment like Kirk Gibson hobbling around the basepaths. We admire the fighters in America, and we root for the underdogs. Happy birthday, Mom, and powered by what she's taught me, on to the injuries:

  • It was a big step for Eric Gagne, facing minor leaguers. It may not seem like much, but he was able to throw both his pitches and came away pain-free, something he hasn't been able to do for two years. His command and control were both notably absent, he threw more balls than strikes, and according to one observer, "he didn't really know where the ball was going." The same source said that despite this, the difference between the fastball and changeup was very good, so there's your positive. At this stage, Gagne and the Rangers are glad to see any progress. Keep a close eye on his command, however. If he doesn't show more of it in the next few weeks, it's a must to pair him with Akinori Otsuka, who'll pick up some save chances until Gagne gets his groove back.

  • The news out of Cardinals camp is as rosy as their red hats. Jason Isringhausen had an exciting mound session, throwing all his stuff, looking great and comfortable, which keeps him on schedule for his first game action. That will likely come on Thursday. The Cards closer is coming back from hip surgery, so being pain-free during his delivery is having the expected results. Assuming that he comes through his first action unscathed, the next challenge will be if there's any limitation on his availability. Right now, the indications are that Isringhausen is all systems go for Opening Day. If you've been hesitant to push him up your draft board, this might be the last chance before everyone realizes he's healthy.

  • After multiple off-season surgeries, Jim Edmonds isn't going to get into many games this spring, if any. It's well known that Edmonds hates spring training, often finding injuries that keep him resting while everyone else is running. The shoulder clean-up he had is a matter of greater concern than the toe surgery, though neither is really that troubling. The shoulder procedure was more of a cleanout and chance to look around than anything structural, and certainly nothing on the order of what Scott Rolen had before the 2006 season. Edmonds is still a bit weak swinging the bat, but there's time. At this stage, it's a tossup whether or not he'll be ready for Opening Day, though he has a tendency to start getting healthier when the games start counting. Edmonds is still a week away from getting into game action, but even with the possibility of starting the season on rehab, Edmonds holds about as much value as he did last season.

  • The Angels rotation is only "one of the best in the league," a tag they've had hung on them all offseason, a tag that really sticks if Jered Weaver and Bartolo Colon are in there. It was an extremely good sign to see both pitchers in the pen, throwing 45 pitches each. Colon was throwing at a low level, somewhere just north of 50 percent, while Weaver mixed in more of his stuff in his second mound outing after being shut down with shoulder soreness at the start of camp. Weaver has a chance at being on the active roster come Opening Day, while Colon is more likely to miss at least his first two starts. One source says Colon's target return date is May 1, which seems reasonable, if still fast compared to guys with similar injuries, like Mark Mulder and Pedro Martinez. One interesting note on this is that the Angels have a new pitching coach this season. Mike Butcher takes over now that Bud Black headed south to take the big chair in San Diego. Black's received a good deal of the credit for the pitching in Anaheim, so Butcher has his work cut out for him, especially early.

  • It was his left ankle, not his right foot, that felled Chipper Jones on Monday, but it's becoming clearer that Jones might best be listed with an NHL tag of "lower body injury." The right foot/left ankle problem is a clear cascade, though sources in Orlando tell me that the ankle injury was more flukish than any real indication of a systemic problem. He's certainly productive when healthy, but that "when healthy" seems to be less and less frequent, with no positive tipping point in sight. Jones almost literally took the entire off-season off, so conditioning is something of a question. Naturally, Jones doesn't think he'll miss any time. It'd be better if he'd start taking the occasional day off here and there anyway, so missing some spring training games after an injury might be good practice.

  • You'll be reading more about the Rockies on the site today, but there's good news as well as hope and faith in Denver. Todd Helton got back on the field Monday after missing nearly a week with knee soreness. Helton put on twenty pounds in the offseason, and while I haven't seen him personally, no one's described the gain as muscle. Remember, Helton lost a lot of weight during his battle with terminal ileitis, so gaining some weight is probably a good sign for his overall health, while at the same time representing something of a negative for his knees. I don't worry too much about players' recovery times during spring training. Often, it's more a sign of caution than slow healing, especially among star players who aren't competing for anything. It's worth noting that this type of problem could develop into something more, such as a recurrent knee situation that will force days off or something more serious like back problems if his gait is changed.

  • I got a few responses from Pirates fans and fantasy players when Jason Bay came up green in the PHRs. Bay had a very minor knee operation in the offseason, the type that nearly everyone comes back from without problem. Knowing this and failing any other outside information, why was anyone surprised that someone who should be better off had a better rating? Surgery, especially the predictable kind, is designed to make someone better. There are complex surgeries, ones where the success rate is lower, that make us worry or have career-impacting implications. A "scrape and tape" on the knee isn't one of those; it's a known quantity, and I like known quantities. Bay got back in left field this week for the Pirates. Speaking of the Buccos, a couple sources are worried about Tom Gorzelanny. His season ended early last season with some arm issues, and he's been miserable this spring. Some are worried that he's going to end up on the Bryan Bullington-Sean Burnett side of the ledger instead of the Zach Duke-Ian Snell side. I'm just wondering--what do the Pirates do well? Most teams have something.

  • Everyone's asking me what shoulder laxity is, especially in relation to Mark Prior. Simply put, laxity is looseness in the joint. For the shoulder, it's the ability of the arm to move within the joint space without doing something like separating or subluxating. It doesn't really mean anything without context. Is his other shoulder similarly loose? Has his shoulder always been loose? Has a strengthening program reduced the laxity by strengthening the cuff? Is there scapular dyskinesis beyond the laxity, a far more common and dangerous situation? The two outings that Prior has had don't show me anything in the way of injury. He hasn't shown an injury-type posture, an injury-caused alteration of his mechanics, or an injury-type response after throwing. In other words, I don't know either, but I'm getting more and more sure that you're not going to find out the reasons in the training room or on my beat.

  • Quick Cuts: The mild abdominal strain that caused Greg Maddux to scratch is just that, mild, according to sources. The team is hoping that missing one start and some side work will keep it mild ... Tim Dierkes is compiling a nice list of all the spring training changes, like eye surgery, new pitches, and such. Worth checking out ... Bobby Abreu is getting some work in and looks recovered from his oblique strain. While he's not completely in the clear yet, people that saw him report he was "fluid" while moving around ... Who's going to take more heat about HGH in the next week? Sylvester Stallone, who was indicted, or Gary Matthews Jr., who was named in a story? ... Armando Benitez looked good in his first spring action, according to sources. The bigger tell will be if he's able to come back tomorrow and throw. His availability on back-to-back days will determine if he'll be re-installed at closer, or whether Brian Wilson will be co-closer ... Mark Grudzialanek is rehabbing his knee post-surgery, and is on track to get back in the Royals lineup in mid-April, if not slightly before. It shouldn't be a problem once he gets back out there, aside from the need for a quick rehab stint to get the at-bats he's missing in spring training ... Dustin Hermanson threw well for the Reds on Monday. He's got a lot to prove before he gets save chances, though if healthy, he'll be in the mix there ... Eric Milton was back on the mound for the Reds. He had some chips and "stuff" cleaned out of his pitching elbow last fall. Seriously, "stuff."

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Shoulder

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