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April 16, 2007

Under The Knife

Sikh and Ye Shall Find

by Will Carroll

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I don't want to do a whole Jackie Robinson thing here, but I'll tip my cap to the man just the same. I came home from the grocery store and saw something going on at the park by my house. I've talked several times about never seeing kids playing sandlot ball or even catch, the way that I did back in the dark ages, so when I saw a group of young men in the grass, I had to stop. It took a couple seconds to realize it wasn't baseball but cricket that I was seeing. My area is heavily populated by Sikhs, so I shouldn't be surprised. It's not baseball, but it's something, a communal game where men gathered to play. It was interesting to watch, and more interesting to watch a man in a turban running after a popup. Hopefully, I can go back sometime, maybe learn the rules, and maybe even figure out if that bowler could be converted into a pitcher. I don't think there's been a player from the subcontinent in baseball yet, but maybe there's a cricketing kid somewhere in America who'll be his people's Jackie Robinson.

Powered by inspiration, on to the injuries:

  • One of the more interesting conclusions I've reached from taking a look at five years of injury data in baseball and six in football is that the training room should not be a meritocracy. It's something I learned long ago, but never quite understood. It wasn't fair that the star player got more attention, but from this angle, there's a darn good reason. So knowing this, is it worse when a star player with a known condition breaks down? One thing I've looked at doing with injury stats is some sort of adjustment to the days and dollars for "expectation." It's still far too subjective to use as a comparison, but let's face it-subjective is better than capricious, which is how some injuries appear. I could say that I anticipated something would happen to B.J. Ryan, especially given a very high yellow rating. But it's almost the same as what he earned in 2006, and he came through fine there. Word from sources is that Ryan's elbow is definitely a problem due to the reduced workload and altered mechanics that came from his off-season back injury. He'll see Dr. James Andrews on Monday and most think that, like his teammate A.J. Burnett, Ryan is there largely for the confidence boost that comes from getting an Andrews seal of approval. Then again, a pitcher with Ryan's mechanics, and one that several scouts have told me was rushed through the minors to get as much value out of his arm as possible before it blew up, always represents a risk. The Jays will turn to Jason Frasor as closer for now, as Ryan hits the DL for what many figure to be at least a month.

  • The Jays are also dealing with spurs in Troy Glaus' heel that are rubbing and inflaming his Achilles tendon. Surgery isn't an option if they want to use Glaus as anything more than a late-season DH, something the signing of Frank Thomas doesn't make too likely. One option that was discarded was the use of ultrasound, similar to that used by Albert Pujols to overcome spurs in his feet. The team will make a decision on the DL, but at this stage, the options aren't that good. Trying to get something out of Glaus while hobbled might actually be the best option, because in most cases a couple weeks' rest isn't going to fix this kind of problem. The news is actually worse for Reed Johnson-he's going to make a decision on back surgery due to a condition similar to but more acute than the one that has put Oakland's Mark Kotsay on the shelf. There's no real timetable for a decision now that the Jays have pushed him to the DL, but he's traveling to see a specialist early this week. Sources indicate that it's "a flip of a coin" whether he tries to rehab it first, but there's been some success-notably Vladimir Guerrero-with aggressive rehab plans.

  • The A's knew this might happen, but if there's a good time to have your ace pull up lame, this might be it. The way the schedule works out, the A's can hold back Rich Harden and give him a couple extra days of rest, allowing his shoulder to calm down a little before getting back out for a throw day. Before coming out with a sore shoulder, he made it through seven innings and 93 pitches, a very solid outing following what had been a healthy and productive spring. The immediate thought is that some mechanical change has caused the typical elbow-to-shoulder cascade often seen post-TJ surgery. Early indications are that this may be nothing more than soreness, but the A's need to have him healthy and at the front of the rotation, so even that is cause for concern. We'll know a lot more if he's able to get back on a mound by midweek.

  • Phil Garner reported that Jason Jennings says his arm "gets this way every year." If so, you have to go back to 2004 to see any evidence of it, and certainly nothing that forced him back to home for MRIs and a DL stint. Jennings has what one source called "severe" tendinitis in his pitching elbow. The MRI showed no structural damage, a very good sign, but there's also been little abatement of the swelling and soreness. Jennings will miss at least two starts while he's on the DL, but early indications are that this could stretch beyond the minimum. The Astros haven't publicly announced who will take Jennings' place in the rotation, though one report that it would be Brandon Backe was erroneous. Backe isn't even in sight of a minor league rehab stint yet in his comeback from TJ surgery, though reports on his progress are positive.

  • It probably didn't surprise anyone to see Carl Pavano hit the DL, but after initially optimistic reports on Mike Mussina, Moose's landing on the DL probably did. Both moves were as much a result of roster needs exacerbated by the crunch of having Chien-Ming Wang on the DL. I'm not calling shenanigans here, just pointing out that much like the Hideki Matsui move, the need for live, playable bodies was the paramount concern here. Mussina came off the mound after just a few pitches yesterday; the team had hoped to play through one missed start and get him back in, but the continued pain made that impossible. Instead, Chase Wright will come up from Double-A to take the start. While it's pretty easy to see Mussina coming back at or near the minimum two weeks, it's tougher to say how forearm soreness will affect Pavano, given his history. Reports are that the pain near his elbow is relatively minor, but Pavano's not going to get much benefit of the doubt. Peter Abraham says it best in his must-read blog: "It was a good day for Alan and Randy Hendricks."

  • There's nothing really new to report in the case of Chris Carpenter, though I would like to clarify something. I stated last week that the Cardinals had taken an MRI of Carpenter prior to signing him and knew about the bone chips. While correct, the Cardinals also knew that those same bone chips were seen in an MRI taken a couple years back, meaning that he pitched Cy Young-quality baseball with bone chips in his pitching elbow. It sounds like a bigger deal than it is, mostly because we don't have images on a lot of pitchers for comparison. It's likely that many pitchers have the same, asymptomatic problem. As I said previously, the Cardinals have information that we don't, and used that information when deciding to sign Carpenter. Even with that information, they couldn't predict the current problem, and if you can't predict three months, what hope do we have of predicting what will happen three years from now? Among still-active players, the Cards are watching Albert Pujols closely. As stunning as it sounds, the guy has never really been healthy as a major leaguer, and as he was hitting sub-Mendoza in the first two weeks, some were wondering if his chronic oblique problem had recurred. If so, he's battled through it with a breakout two-homer game on Sunday, looking more like the Pujols we're used to seeing.

  • Unlike the Yankees, the Angels have a ton of pitching. Like the Yankees, they're making roster moves that aren't entirely injury related. Yes, Kelvim Escobar has soreness and inflammation in his shoulder, but it's the depth and pending roster moves that allowed them to push Escobar to the DL with scarcely a second thought. Bartolo Colon should return this weekend, taking Escobar's next turn, after a very successful rehab tour that finished this weekend in Triple-A. Colon was throwing in the mid-90's, and observers say he was throwing free and easy with all his pitches. Given his injuries, that's an incredible comeback, one that might force a reassessment of Pedro Martinez, and to some extent Mark Mulder. The Angels should also get Jered Weaver back shortly, though weather has altered his rehab schedule slightly. So depth, in this case, allows precaution. Since almost no team will make it through the season on just five starters or even six, it's a nice luxury to have eight or nine valid options like the Angels do.

  • Bobby Jenks thinks his problem is mechanical. Allow me to bestow a Mr. Obvious Award on Mr. Jenks here. The problem is mechanical, but also has a physical component. When Jenks gets sore, he drops his elbow and puts more pressure on the shoulder through his powerful, violent delivery. When he drops his elbow, he gets sore. Sore or not, this vicious circle is one that has to be broken by either keeping his mechanics solid or by not pitching until he doesn't have the soreness. The Sox would much rather that Jenks could figure out the former option in concert with pitching coach Don Cooper. One suggestion has been that he's actually not pitching enough, and that a temporary move to a non-closing role where he could get a couple innings of work for a week or two would help iron out the problems. The Sox have plenty of power arms to accommodate such a move, and Ozzie Guillen is the type of out-of-the-box thinker to try it, but with the media watching, that's a tough move to make.

  • Victor Martinez was technically available, but the continuing climate change that has hit Cleveland made holding him out the smart play. He was going to be limited to DH duty over the weekend, but he could get back behind the plate this week. The quad strain, mild to begin with, has healed nicely, and according to sources he's showing no deficit and making no complaint of pain or tightness. While there's some risk of recurrence, especially with the additional stresses at catcher, Martinez is a pretty safe bet.

  • The Twins seem to spend April making strange choices. Whether it's Sidney Ponson over Matt Garza, Mike Redmond at DH rather than Joe Mauer, or Rondell White deciding to skip out of the dugout, it seems the team spends April digging itself a hole. Fortunately, it's usually good enough to dig its way out. Nick Punto could be called a strange choice for a starting third baseman, but I'd point out that he's the best available option the Twins have. With Punto likely heading to the DL and Jeff Cirillo already there, third is going to become a problematic position for the Twins. Alexi Casilla is probably the short-term solution, but this one is in the hands of Terry Ryan as much as the medical staff. Expect them to delay any DL decision on Punto as long as possible, since getting back even a day ahead of the minimum has value to this injury-riddled team.

Quick Cuts: Mark Prior is heading to Birmingham for a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews (a busy guy these days). According to sources, a visit to Dr. Lewis Yocum at Kerlan-Jobe showed no new internal damage ... Aramis Ramirez may need a cortisone injection to help with continued swelling in his wrist ... In the rash of rainouts, Freddy Garcia's return from mild shoulder problems has been pushed back. There should be no change in his status from this delay ... Carlos Quentin will be activated no later than Tuesday after a successful rehab stint. He showed no problems with his swing ... Expect the rumors to start about Edwin Encarnacion (hey, aren't the Twins looking for a third baseman, with pitching to spare?) but the biggest reason is that Ryan Freel is working out at third base, while Josh Hamilton could be taking over in center. Freel is likely to be back in his superutility role by May ... Then again, all those plans could be scuttled if Adam Dunn has more back spasms. Dunn insists they're transient ... Ramon Hernandez has rejoined the Orioles and should be activated early this week. His oblique shouldn't be a problem ... Yovani Gallardo is tearing up Triple-A and could be the first of the top pitching prospects to force his way into a rotation ... Kaz Matsui heads to the DL with back spasms. Jamey Carroll takes over at second base for the Rockies.

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