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April 3, 2007

Under The Knife

Real Baseball

by Will Carroll

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I'm sure a bunch of you called in sick, but for me, it was just another day of work. No, I can't even keep a straight face when I say that. I sat on the couch watching game after game and reveling in the action that unfolded. Whether it was holding my breath as Rocco Baldelli hobbled out of the box, seeing Ben Sheets looking like Ben Sheets, or watching my fantasy players put up numbers for the first time, the anticipation that I felt building in the weeks prior to Monday morphed suddenly into simple excitement for the game in front of me. I watch each game both as a passionate fan of the game and as a dispassionate analyst hoping that the work that the players and medical staffs have put in translates into fewer injuries.

Ken Singleton said yesterday that a pitcher was a "graduate of Tommy John University." It's a nicely turned phrase, but surgery is not a rite of passage; it's a failure on the part of teams, coaches, and the pitcher himself to maintain his arm. It goes back all the way to Little League and, like smoking, the damage often isn't seen for years. Accepting injuries is just the start of failure. I'd prefer watching Ben Sheets, who had a full team of trainers, therapists and doctors, all supported by a front office that gets it in regards to injury management. Sheets looked as good as I've ever seen him, in large part due to the work you never saw. There's more work to be done.

Powered by the impending delivery of Guitar Hero II, on to the injuries:

  • There are some signs out of Los Angeles that Rafael Furcal isn't that far along with his sprained ankle. Several reports had Furcal "grimacing" while performing some running and agility drills, a sign many interpreted as a setback. In the strictest sense, that's correct, but sprained ankles are very complex injuries that involve individual responses. Pain tolerance is a key issue during recovery, as are changes in gait that could lead to further problems. When a player comes back from a sprain, they're not fully healed and have an increased risk of recurrence that moves non-linearly. Furcal may miss a few more days, but the tradeoff is lost time for increased longer-term effectiveness, one that works as much for your fantasy team as it does for the Dodgers.

  • When Rocco Baldelli limped out of the box on Opening Day, I had a sinking feeling. No one's ever questioned his ability or talent. It's just he can't stay healthy enough to show it. Baldelli has had hamstring problems already this spring, and if you're starting to get a Ken Griffey Jr. vibe (knee injury, hamstring injury), then you've been paying attention. The good news is that Baldelli was only cramping, and was not only able to come back for his next at-bat, he was able to steal a base. That's a very good sign. The wet field played havoc with several players in the Yankees-Rays game, including Johnny Damon, who left early and is day-to-day after he got cramps in his calves. Neither player should suffer long-term effects, but their susceptibility certainly opens up the shorter-term possibility of exacerbation, or the cramps turning into strains.

  • Octavio Dotel strained an oblique in the last days of spring training, and there's a chance he'll be pushed to the DL. Dotel's injury doesn't sound like much more than a Grade I, maybe I+, but oblique strains are difficult to deal with, and almost always involve a risk of exacerbation or recurrence if they're not allowed to completely heal. This is definitely something to keep an eye on. In the meantime, for closing chores the Royals will go with the best available reliever rather than just plug in David Riske. While you wait on him, just keep in mind that Dotel actually has a good history of coming back quickly.

  • The Nationals aren't a good team, and the difference between Cristian Guzman or Nook Logan and the alternatives are not only not that big, they're perhaps even positives. Logan's ankle was not broken, but this looks like something that could push him to the DL. Expect Ryan Church to shift to center and Chris Snelling to get time in left while Logan's out. As for Guzman, if he's out for any length of time, Felipe Lopez would shift back to shortstop and Ronnie Belliard would play second. If both of those alignments sound better to you, I'd agree.

  • The Orioles had to scramble a bit at gametime when Ramon Hernandez was a late scratch with what is being reported as a ribcage strain. The injury first occured over the weekend against the Nats and hasn't gotten better, forcing the O's to go with Paul Bako behind the plate. Sam Perlozzo had to be holding his breath after Justin Morneau ran into Bako at the plate, but Bako came through that collision fine. With Hernandez out for the next few games and perhaps being pushed to the DL, the O's had to send one of their 13 pitchers down to call up Alberto Castillo as a backup. The decision on whether or not to DL Hernandez will be made in the next 48 hours, so keep your eye on this one for your own roster moves if necessary.

Quick Cuts: Esteban Loaiza is going to miss at least a month after an MRI found more muscle damage in his shoulder... Jon Lieber will make a start in extended spring training on Wednesday. Yes, it's a start, even though he's currently ticketed for the bullpen. He's trying to come back from an oblique strain ... Eric Milton starts the season on the DL. His ineffectiveness this spring made the DL move a no-brainer when he started having back problems ... I was speaking with a well-known writer about Tom Gordon and some of the mystery surrounding his arm, but he looked solid mechanically yesterday ... If you're in a one-game eligibility league, you have to be hoping that Matt Murton gets an appearance behind the plate--he's the #2 catcher while Henry Blanco is unavailable ... Toby Hall is going to try and rehab his way out of labrum surgery. These seldom work out, but you have to give him and the White Sox credit for trying ... Eric Gagne is still on schedule to be back in Texas by mid-month. Watch to see how he does in Double-A Frisco next week for signs of his immediate effectiveness ... There have been some whispers that Kerry Wood is considering retirement; don't believe them.

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