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April 12, 2007

Under The Knife

I Want Candy

by Will Carroll

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Kid in a candy store, baby. I can't remember being this excited about a game in a long time, let alone being this excited about a game and having it turn out better than expected. Did you see the glint in Ichiro Suzuki's eye, or was that just the million flash bulbs? Did Daisuke Matsuzaka smile just a small smile when he made another slick fielding play to get the out? (The scoop on the double play later was classic. Peter King from SI says Matsuzaka's going to win a game with his glove; I agree.)

Once again, the competition played "up" against Matsuzaka, with Felix Hernandez mowing down hitters as he kept throwing strikes (and falling towards first). The King's mechanics are awful, but I can't imagine even considering tinkering. There's going to be the inevitable comparisons--is he C.C. Sabathia, fixable and watched closely, or is he Doc Gooden? If he pitches like that every night, he can do it any way he wants. I hope I'm wrong about his mechanics or that he's just a freak. For those of you wondering about the gyroball, you heard a lot about it on the ESPN telecast. Orel Hershiser does a nice job, but his "gyro-screwball" is, well, a myth. He's describing, I think, the sinking change that Matsuzaka throws. Instead, it's the "upforce gyro" that we saw--and yes, we saw it. ESPN had a great slo-mo of the spin of the pitch as it went by Richie Sexson in the fourth for a K. No, it's not the first gyro thrown in an MLB game--that honor goes to C.J. Wilson, who threw one earlier this week for the Rangers.

Fact is, this game needs more nights like that, more pitchers like Felix Hernandez and Daisuke Matsuzaka. It needs more showcases, more nights where everything in the world revolves around baseball, where Peter Gammons gets to sit and watch a game and the whole town goes nuts around him. We need more Matsuzakas, Ichiros, and Kenji Johjimas in the game, but how about we also get a few more lefty relievers like Wilson, smart and a bit crazy? I'm telling you, I was a kid in a candy store last night, but there are injuries to report, so powered by the beauty of this one night, on to the injuries:

  • Yankee fans can breathe a bit easier after more info came out overnight about Mike Mussina, who'd pulled himself from his start with a hamstring strain. His reaction, as noted by Orel Hershiser on the Sox-M's game, was muted, not grabbing at anything or limping. This was a very mild strain, perhaps just before something more significant happened. He'll miss one start assuming that treatment goes well, and will not hit the DL. There were tons of Yankee fans clamoring for information last night, and more than a few questioned the new strength and conditioning program. I don't know much about it or what changed, but I do know it's far too early to start placing any kind of blame on that program for two hamstring strains in the rotation and one in the outfield, though it's definitely an interesting pattern.

    Rafael Furcal played his second game for Inland Empire Wednesday night, oddly facing Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver in his two outings. So take his hitting stats with a grain of salt; it wasn't the typical 21-year-olds he was batting against in a High-A rehab assignment. What was worth noting is that after stealing a base, Furcal pulled himself from the game with tightness in the left ankle. There's some indication that Furcal is having more trouble in the field than on the bases, which sounds like a first-step problem. Furcal was expected to be back in the Dodger lineup on Friday, but that's doubtful at this stage. He'll return to Los Angeles for more treatment, but there's no new return date yet.

    Adam LaRoche not only began his Pirates career with a 3-for-27 start, but he's now dealing with some lower back spasms. LaRoche has had this before and it's not expected to cost him much time, but many are wondering whether the back pain is connected to the slow start. Sources tell me that they don't think that's the case; LaRoche has been very vocal about aches and pains, so even with a new team, they doubt that LaRoche would hide something, especially while in a slump. LaRoche is expected to be back in the lineup on Friday, but if he continues to not hit, Brad Eldred will see more time at first base in the near future.

  • Nothing's really changed when it comes to Chris Carpenter, but the interviews that various St. Louis media did with Dr. George Paletta were stunning. It seems that the Cardinals did an MRI of Carpenter before signing him to the extension and, if I'm reading this right, knew that he had bone chips. I will grant you that there are likely a good percentage of pitchers that would find the same thing if imaged, and that they were nevertheless asymptomatic. This is what I was talking about when I said that teams--the Cardinals in particular--have better data sets for pitchers. Knowing everything they do about Carpenter, including this info, they still elected to sign him to the extension. Do they know something we don't? Of course they do. Whether that info is enough to counteract what was surely an unexpected injury coming from an acknowledged and known problem is another story. On another negative front, Scott Rolen will miss some time with severe upper back spasms. Rolen's had this type of thing before and usually comes back without consequence.

  • Even with today's off-day to help them get some extra rest for Milton Bradley and Bobby Crosby, they rested both players last night. The team was already scheduling rest for Crosby, but Bradley has had both back and hamstring pain over the last week. By holding them both out, they'll get two days of rest before the weekend series, something you'll see Bob Geren doing throughout the season, especially with Crosby. Even with Mark Kotsay out, the A's have enough flexibility on their roster to allow for these kinds of moves. They might also be getting Dan Johnson back significantly earlier than expected. Johnson has made "leaps of progress" over the last week, according to one source, and could play sometime next week. While his return date is unknown at this stage, it's possible that he could return around May 1 if everything goes well in extended spring training, followed by a minor league rehab stint.

  • Victor Martinez isn't getting to enjoy the domed hospitality of Milwaukee in springtime, but he's not headed to the DL. Instead, the team is hoping that he'll be ready to go for the next series, getting him back well before he would have been eligible to return from the 15-day. The quad strain isn't completely healed, according to sources, but he'll be watched closely and play under orders not to run too hard. No word on whether Martinez would be kept from behind the plate, but it would make sense at least in the short term.

  • It should come as no surprise that Jaret Wright is dealing with shoulder pain. He's had multiple surgeries and problems with that throwing shoulder, even years after he was the original poster child for the heavy workloads that go with pitching deep in the playoffs. While tests found no apparent structural damage, Wright has described the pain as similar to what he had in 2005, when he missed half the season, according to MLB.com's Spencer Fordin. The Orioles are hoping that Wright will be able to make his next start, but it's more likely that Jeremy Guthrie will get that start in the interim, with Hayden Penn the more long term solution, if needed. The O's are expecting to get Ramon Hernandez back early next week, probably for the series in Tampa Bay.

  • Seattle's injury stats made an amazing turnaround last season, in large part due to the health of the pitching staff, something that the team had been among the worst in the league at handling for nearly a decade. Those stats will look worse than they really are this season after starting out with Mark Lowe on the DL and now losing Arthur Rhodes for the season. Rhodes tore his UCL and could elect to have Tommy John surgery. However, there's also the possibility that Rhodes simply walks away from the game. If Rhodes isn't pitching--if he becomes a regular citizen like you and me--he doesn't need a UCL, and could avoid the pain of surgery and rehab. Rhodes never threw a pitch in the regular season, so this it's a tough way to end a long career if this is indeed it.

Quick Cuts: When did ESPN start using the Fox gun? I think we need to start drug-testing the radar guns ... Eric Gagne threw another solid inning at Double-A Frisco and seems ready to rejoin the Rangers pen ... Over/under on me confusing Jeff Weaver and Jered Weaver this season is about 20. Maybe they'll stay healthy. Word is that Jered Weaver needed to clear the 90-pitch mark at Single-A to be activated. The MiLB.com box only has batters faced (25), but that sounds like enough ... Freddy Garcia comes off of the DL on Sunday to take the mound for the Phillies ... The Twins have some bad luck with their DHs. Jeff Cirillo had knee surgery and will miss around a month while he recovers. The injury happened in Chicago, so we can't even blame turf ... Matt Kemp heads to the DL after his encounter with the wall, but I was reminded by a reader that the correct total should be Wall 2, Players 0, since Nook Logan was injured by one of those carnivorous walls ... I just love the phrase "300-pound human missile" being used outside of a football context ... Guitar Hero update that no one cares about--the orange key is killing me in Hard. Any tips?

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