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March 29, 2007

Under The Knife

Day Games

by Will Carroll

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You know what I'll miss about Spring Training? Day games. The way the schedule works out in the spring is great for me, as everything is wrapped up well before prime time. There's the downside of having to deal with the morning people, those sick people who think calling me at pre-caffeinated hours will do anything. But at this time every spring, people are packing up their stuff and heading home. There are more and more teams making a stop somewhere for exhibition games, but the trucks are headed back, and Opening Day is just days away. The "Turk" has finished most of his difficult work around the league while the reaperesque figure of Injury is just beginning his work. Teams spend these last days just before the season starts living in fear, just a bit, of injury coming to visit. Powered by Daring Fireball, on to the injuries:

  • There's not much funny about taking a ball off the arm. It's less funny when it's a team's ace pitcher in his last work before his Opening Day start. But I'll admit that the coverage of C.C. Sabathia's reaction to taking a hard shot off his pitching wrist made me giggle. "He uttered a profanity," said one game story. Uh, yeah. I'm sure that most of our reaction would be either profanity or laying on the ground crying like a baby. Or both. Sabathia got lucky, or as lucky as one can get in this situation. There's no fracture, just a severe bruise with "copious swelling." The Indians medical staff now has the task of minimizing the effect of the hit, hoping to get Sabathia back to a place where he can start on Opening Day. That's unlikely at this stage, but the effect on the staff shouldn't be significant. There's enough time to juggle, enough room in the early schedule to skip a starter, and given all the early season problems Sabathia and the Indians have had over the last couple years, this is something they're used to dealing with. The incident once again brings to light the need for some kind of protection system for pitchers, like a sleeve made of this stuff. (Watch the video.)

  • Jason Isringhausen has done everything he could be asked to do this spring as he returns from hip surgery, except for one thing: he has not yet pitched in back-to-back games. That was expected to be the final test for Isringhausen, the one that showed he was not only back to throwing like he did before the hip injury but that he would be back in the closer's role without limitations. While the Cardinals are publicly downplaying the significance, does this mean that we have to worry about Isringhausen's stamina or availability? I don't think so. While three and four days in a row is out, that's the case for most closers. Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are well aware of Isringhausen's situation and will likely monitor him closely, limiting him to pure need situations. Isringhausen hasn't missed a session all spring off the playing field, so I believe that he'll be ready to go once the games count. At worst, he'll miss a few save opportunities in April and May, but that's not enough to reduce his value. He remains the best value at closer on my draft board.

  • The "second opinion" is a player's right. A team can't refuse it. In the case of Freddy Sanchez, the time and cost of getting in front of Jim Andrews appears well worth it. Sanchez came back from seeing Andrews knowing that the previous diagnosis was correct and it gave him enough confidence to get back out on the field. Going 3-for-8 in a Triple-A game is a pretty solid comeback, one that will continue in today's intrasquad game. The team appears ready to start the season with Sanchez on the active roster but not starting at 2B. Instead, he'd be available as a pinch-hitter. If Sanchez were placed on the DL, he'd miss only the first four games. There are factions in the front office going both ways, so this one will likely be a last minute decision. Either way, the knee appears well enough to put Sanchez back wherever you had him on your draft board. I know I'm higher on last year's batting champion than most.

  • Jason Repko underwent surgery to reattach two muscles of the hamstring to his pelvis. Yes, that's just as bad as it sounds, but the prognosis is quite positive. While he's expected to miss much of the season, there's reason to believe that Repko will be able to return without significant deficit. This type of surgery is more common in football, where it's had a great deal of success. In baseball, Armando Benitez is the guy who comes to mind and his recovery--also led by trainer Stan Conte--was downright amazing and more importantly, has not been a problem since.

  • Last year when everyone was talking about how the WBC might affect pitchers (and finding no real statistical significance), the one guy many pointed to was the one MLB pitcher who came out injured. Luis Ayala had TJ after snapping his elbow during the Classic, but remember, the Nats had discouraged Ayala from participating in large part because they knew his elbow was in tatters. It would have snapped at some point, but the Nats had hoped it would be later rather than sooner. Ayala is still on the road back about a year after the surgery, a slightly slower than average return nowadays, but not so far behind that we should be worried yet. Ayala is likely to be ready in the next couple months and will start the season on the DL, continuing to rehab his pitching elbow.

  • Mark Prior took a step back, and down, on Wednesday. Whatever he showed in his previous outing was gone as he once again showed only high-80's velocity and poor command of his pitches. The Cubs have optioned him down (and no, it does not mean he cleared waivers) to Triple-A in order to give him more time to try and regain his stuff. There had been some speculation that the DL was more likely, so that Prior could stay in the warm Arizona weather rather than head to slightly cooler Des Moines. The problem was that all spring, the team has insisted he was healthy. Even in a league where DL moves are essentially blank checks, that would have been a tough one to let slide.

  • In the most important news of the day, Otto The Dog made it through surgery and appears to be recovering comfortably after a scary incident in spring training. Knowing that his work with the ball was all that was holding him back from being a true five-tool dog, Otto had put in hours this spring trying to improve. It appears he took his work a bit too seriously and ended up with a large piece inside him. The surgery to remove it was successful, but it's clear that not only will Otto start the season on the DL, an equipment change is going to be necessary. Kevin Goldstein has Otto rated among his top pit bull prospects, so it's good to see that this young player will be back soon.

Quick Cuts: First, can we quit calling it a "steroid probe" since it focused on HGH? Second, getting someone to roll over is the first step in getting a case going in this type of prosecution. No matter how sexy the impending release of athlete's names are to the media, none of them will be prosecuted. That lack of prosecution likely makes it impossible for the various leagues to levy any penalties ... Looking at the picture attached to this article, it's pretty clear why Kerry Wood's arm is sore. Dropped elbow, throwing across his body? Same problems he's always had, sadly. It was a good sign that he was able to throw on flat ground, but if the mechanics don't change, he'll never stay healthy ... The Phillies believe that Freddy Garcia will only miss one start. Good news for a team that learned that depth is fleeting ... I'm thinking of using Twitter to talk about Opening Day. If you Twitter, I'm "injuryexpert" on there.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Jason Isringhausen,  Significance

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