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March 16, 2007

Under The Knife

No Right or Wrong About It?

by Will Carroll

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I've had two interesting conversations over the last day about pitching mechanics, one from inside baseball and one from outside of organizations. The outsider pinged me on the idea of the "twist," the wrist-snap style slider that can be very hard on the arm, saying that this wasn't how the pitch was thrown. This is someone I would take at their word, a knowledgeable guy ... if I hadn't seen a major league pitching coach teaching this very method earlier in the year. In contrast, the guy inside baseball was bemoaning my continued use of the word "clean mechanics." He favors a non-tinkering approach, figuring that if a guy's effective, he'll let the pitcher continue throwing with the bad mechanics until he has to be changed. To him, there is no such thing as "clean"--it's all about the result, not the process.

In the next couple weeks, I'll be working on a project to help you better understand mechanics. I want you to be able to be your own amateur pitching coach, noticing things like balance, scapular load, pronation, and the biomechanical theories that make up the theoretical "clean" motion. So much of what I write here has to do with pitchers that it still stuns me that we're not only failing to advance the scientific concepts that could help reduce pitching arm injuries, but that there's active resistance inside the game towards both the ideas and the methods. This is a piece I've been wanting to do for better than a year but couldn't because of consideration for video and photo rights. Trust me, they're expensive.

More on this soon, but for now, I'm powered by the anticipation of a meal at Craftsteak and Mesa Grill this weekend, so let's get to the injuries:

  • The Orioles took no chances with Miguel Tejada. When their star shortstop said he felt funny after taking batting practice, the medical staff sent him to their local doctor and had him take a precautionary electrocardiogram. While reports from Baltimore indicate that he had an elevated blood pressure reading, there were no further problems found. If there's anything to take away here, it's that more teams are taking more precautions, both with heat-related injuries and with cardiac issues. Sadly, the Orioles know better than anyone just how dangerous this can be. Tejada is expected to miss no time, though he will be observed closely for the next few days.

  • Sometimes, rehab doesn't work. I mean, just look at how this thing is going for Britney. Wait, not that kind of rehab. I'm talking about the kind where a pitcher like Kris Benson tries to avoid surgery and stay in the mix for this season. Unfortunately, three weeks into a four-week program, Benson has thrown in the towel and scheduled surgery. He's out for the season, and likely done as an Oriole. It's a tough injury to come back from, but not an impossible one, and since Benson isn't as reliant on velocity as many, he has a pretty good chance. He'll spend the rest of the year at home with his wife, meaning we may see him in some other kind of rehab soon enough.

  • At some point, you just feel bad for the guy. Kerry Wood has been shut down with what was described as a strained triceps. The soreness he had was lower than what might have been shoulder problems, but it's just the latest arm problem that Wood has suffered in his career. The Cubs are waiting for the initial swelling to leave the area before determining how long Wood will be shelved, but anything over a couple days puts his active status for Opening Day in jeopardy. Wood was due to work long relief for the Cubs, though many think his early-season limitations would have handicapped him in even that role. The team wasn't rushing him into the closer role or even a setup role as many expected, preferring to allow him to get comfortable with the lack of routine in the bullpen. That's still the plan, assuming this latest injury doesn't push him too far back. Early indications are that he'll miss about a week.

  • Changing mechanics is tough and the smallest change or problem in one part of the kinetic chain can lead to problems elsewhere. (Just ask Kerry Wood.) Kelvim Escobar had been working on a small change in his delivery, trying to alter how he landed to not "stuff" his foot. The change didn't work for him, and he'll go back to managing the problem. This has been a long-term concern for Escobar, but one that the medical staff has been able to manage over the last few seasons. Escobar has a number of problems, including the knee and his pitching elbow, but he's very diligent about making sure that he does what he needs to do off the field to make sure they don't affect him on the field. It's worth noting that the manner in which Escobar and others like Frankie Rodriguez have been managed by the Angels bodes well for Jered Weaver, who will also be dealing with a chronic issue this season and beyond.

  • Strapping an electrical stimulation unit to your ace's neck sounds like a big deal, but the Diamondbacks are treating this like it's nothing. Brandon Webb will miss one spring start while they work to get the range of motion back in his neck. The only worry is that the pain began shortly after he threw four innings, though there's no confirmation that this was pitching related. Webb is still on schedule to make the Opening Day start for the team, and as long as he gets back to throwing by the middle of next week, that honor should remain his. The team will of course be cautious with Webb, so keep your eye on this. Losing an ace pitcher, even for just a start or two, can make a big difference in fantasy leagues.

  • The Mets have conceded that Duaner Sanchez won't be ready for Opening Day. His lackadaisical rehab may have contributed to this, but the type of surgery he's coming back from made a return in time unlikely. This isn't to say that he's behind schedule or even far from coming back, just that his return isn't going to happen in time for an essentially arbitrary but important date. Once he starts throwing off the mound--something that should happen late next week--we'll have a lot better idea of where he is and how he'll factor into the Mets bullpen, a unit that looks to be a strength for them. Missing the Opening Day roster might bite into Sanchez's value, since guys like Ambiorix Burgos have gotten chances to impress in camp and to solidify their positions in game action, while Sanchez is just trying to get back.

  • The Reds have some interesting decisions to make over the next couple weeks. With Ken Griffey Jr.'s hand, Josh Hamilton's great spring (and shin splints), and a crowded bullpen to sort out, Wayne Krivsky is still trying to piece together a roster that can compete in a tight division. The back of the rotation is one of the more confusing spots. Homer Bailey isn't going to make the team despite doing nothing in camp to indicate that he won't end the year in the Queen City. Recurrent shoulder soreness is starting to get Elizardo Ramirez pushed out of a mix that includes Kyle Lohse, Kirk Saarloos, and Matt Belisle. Ramirez won't go to the bullpen if he doesn't make the rotation, since sources tell me that the team concedes they'll probably end up needing at least ten starters this season. "Beyond Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, nothing's certain," one source told me. "[The Reds] won't be afraid to mix and match." Ramirez will likely start in Triple-A Louisville, but could be back in Cincy at any point. (This is as good a place as any to note that I will be more vague with the identification of sources this year, due to new media restrictions MLB has enforced.)

  • Quick Cuts: As expected, Jason Isringhausen made his game debut on Thursday. He threw a scoreless inning with no apparent problems as he continues his comeback from hip surgery ... Scott Podsednik had a successful debut, going 3-for-4 in a "B" game. The stolen base he had was the best sign that his hernia repair isn't holding him back ... I've spoken about the "twist" of some sliders, but I didn't mean to say this was the "proper" way of throwing a slider and the statement should not be taken as any judgement on the rightness or wrongness of this technique, just that it's done ... Wow. ... Willy Aybar will start the season on the DL due to elbow soreness. My Braves source tells me that Yunel Escobar will get a long look because of his defensive prowess ... Craig Wilson has already lost his catching eligibility, and now a shoulder injury may cost him his outfield playing time. Wilson is unable to throw from the outfield, which limits him to first base. The good news is that it doesn't seem to affect his swing, allowing him to beat out Scott Thorman.

It's been a great first week, getting back into the swing of things with UTK. We'll move to an abbreviated schedule next week while I'm on the road, first in Vegas and then in New York City/New Jersey for the event at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center. Thanks to everyone for all of the emails this week.

Related Content:  Back,  Year Of The Injury

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