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April 1, 2007

Under The Knife

Mere Hours Left

by Will Carroll

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April Fools! No, we're not still doing that at BP, though I do still occasionally get e-mail about my soy-lentil "joke" from four years back. (Labrums are people!) Instead, I'm spending my April 1 getting ready for the season and figuring out who's not ready. Roster moves are in full flurry mode, as teams work their voodoo to try and work around injuries. I'll leave those to Christina Kahrl, the jokes to the hundreds of other websites that are doing those, and just hold my breath until games start tonight. Powered by picking Ohio State vs. Florida correctly (and not much else in my bracket), on to the injuries:

  • Box scores can show you a lot. You might have noticed that Joe Mauer was back at catcher this weekend, playing solid innings and not looking like his bat had picked up any rust in his week off. It's still believed that he'll DH more and catch less, but again, this isn't a negative for fantasy purposes; honestly, I'm not sure how much of a negative it is for the Twins. (It's not the difference between Mauer and Mike Redmond, but the difference between Redmond and Rondell White, which was nearly 2 wins last season, to Redmond's credit.) We're all set to assume that Mauer is in a "safe zone" with his stress reaction if the Twins are allowing him to catch, returning whatever value he may have lost to risk.
  • It shouldn't be a surprise that Freddy Garcia went on the DL the same day that he threw a 40-pitch side session, one that was described by an observer as "the best he's thrown all spring." Given his spring numbers, that's not saying much, but the retro DL move will only cost Garcia the first week of the season, or one start. There's always concern that he'll be a bit rusty, but given his status and that side session, I'm less worried about this than I would be had he not looked sharp. Generalities are good but the outliers are where you can gain advantages. Expect Garcia to be pitch-limited in his first start back.
  • The D'Backs have good news and bad news. The bad is that Carlos Quentin had a setback with his shoulder, one that will cost him the start of the season. He'll "stay behind" in Arizona, working to get a pain-free comeback. None of my sources sounds particularly concerned, though none could lock down a solid timetable for his return. The good news is that while Randy Johnson was placed on the DL, there is now a timetable for him. Johnson will make three rehab starts in the minors, coming back at mid-month for the big club. Micah Owings, who will start in the minors despite winning the fifth starter job, appears to be the one who will be pushed out of the rotation once Johnson returns. Owings is a nice young pitcher, but this D'Backs rotation doesn't look to be one that, absent injury, will offer a lot of opportunities for young guys to pitch their way into.
  • For the first time this year, we can say "game time decision." The term pops up a lot more in my football column, but the Dodgers are using it for Rafael Furcal. It's not really about whether he can play, but whether it's the best long-term decision for the team. Furcal is not at 100% after his ankle sprain, but he's well enough to play. The medical and field staff will have to decide if the percentage he's at is more valuable and if the increased risk of re-injury is worth the tradeoff of having him on Opening Day. In weekly leagues, you'd be smart to have Furcal in your lineups, but with daily, you can play wait and see right up to the brink.
  • Rocco Baldelli is not far from being healthy enough to play CF, but the OD slot might go to someone you wouldn't have expected. Elijah Dukes has had a great spring and looks to hold place for Baldelli for a couple games. Baldelli's continued and recurrent hamstring issues may give Dukes a few more opportunities in the outfield, making him the utility guy who moves to all three OF spots and 1B rather than the anticipated Tony Phillipsing of B.J. Upton. The Rays have one of the more flexible lineups in the game right now and a manager who understands how to use it. Remember, Maddon was considered the prime mover behind the use of Chone Figgins in Anaheim.
  • The Pirates decided to push Freddy Sanchez to the DL after Jim Tracy decided that not only did he not want to play with a short bench, but that the length of spring training wasn't enough to make some of those decisions at the end of his roster. Brad Eldred isn't going to replace Sanchez in the lineup and doesn't even figure to get many at-bats in the week that Sanchez will be out, so it's a very curious decision on several levels. There's really no change to Sanchez's status other than the lost week. The MCL sprain is progressing nicely and he'll continue to work towards a return to 2B.
  • The reports on Chien-Ming Wang are interesting since they introduce a term you might not have heard before. Wang is throwing off a "half mound" and making good progress, perhaps a bit ahead of his expected return date. A half mound is one that's half the normal height, theoretically being less stressful, though a study I saw recently showed that mound height is actually less important than most would think. Wang's progress to the half-mound has been steady and without any setbacks, so I'm adjusting Wang's expected return date up a week or so. Remember that once he's ready, he will need a couple starts somewhere in the minors or in EST, so you'll have plenty of notice on when he'll be back in the rotation.
  • There were whispers at the end of the week that Cincinnati was looking for ways to cut ties with Eric Milton, either by trade or by release. Neither has happened, so the next best thing is an injury. Milton was scratched from his last outing of the spring with back spasms, something I'm told is real, but that might be the way the Reds can push him aside. Sources tell me that Milton's insisting he's healthy and ready to go, but that the team is cautious and willing to break camp with Matt Belisle in that slot. Look for a last minute move, though I can't tell you at this stage which way it's going to go. Muscular spasms aren't a particularly big concern for most pitchers and tend to be short term; in the broader context with Milton, they're another reason to stay away, if you needed one more.
  • For those of you who had "April 1" in the Ken Griffey Jr DL pool, you lose. Griffey's been in the lineup six times in the last week of Florida games, which is enough to have him in the Opening Day lineup for the Reds. Yes, he'll be in RF and it will be interesting to see if that helps him stay healthier. The fact that the expected OF depth of the Reds has gone to either the DL (Chris Denorfia) or the minors (Norris Hopper) helped Griffey's cause. Throw in the Rule 5 status of Josh Hamilton, and it's a very odd roster. The Reds look to head north with three catchers and four OFs, including two who are as injury-prone as they come (Griffey and Ryan Freel.)

Quick Cuts: If you saw J.J. Putz pitch Saturday against the Cubs, you know the line was deceiving. Putz showed good velocity, but had control issues. That's exactly what you would expect from someone pitching through an elbow problem. Get used to this kind of performance, M's fans ... B.J. Ryan threw a nice inning this weekend, showing that his stuff has returned and that the back will hold up, for now ... Jay Payton will start the season on the DL. The combo of a sore hammy and 13 (13!) pitchers on the Orioles roster forced this move ... Looks like Esteban Loaiza will start the season on the DL, according to MLB.com. Combine that with the somewhat surprising selection of Todd Walker over Erubiel Durazo and the A's are once again effectively expanding their roster ... Saw Casino Royale last night. It was just OK. I wasn't impressed, though I liked Daniel Craig's Sean Connery imitation more than I'd expected ... Greg Norton cost himself his spot by tearing up his knee on the last day of camp. Instead of splitting time at 1B for the Rays, he'll spend the next month rehabbing after having cartilage fixed in his knee ... Due to a hacking, my instant message handle has changed. If you're one of the many that uses this for contacting me, please e-mail for the new name.

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