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April 26, 2007

Under The Knife

Prior Mayhem Makes a Long Wait Longer

by Will Carroll

I spent most of Wednesday waiting and wondering, like most baseball fans. It was the day we'd all finally have some closure on Mark Prior. Was he pitching through a damaged shoulder? Was the damage related to mechanics (a SLAP lesion or torn cuff) or was it more related to overuse? Did Dr. Andrews put his scope in and see more pitches left in the once-magic shoulder of Mark Prior? I spent a lot of time on the phone and pouring through medical books and journals to make sure I had a grasp on all the possibilities. I find this outcome unsatisfying and can only imagine how Prior feels about now. By the time you read this, Prior will alread have begun his rehab, a long road that's aimed at taking the mound again, hopefully without the pain that's plagued him since 2003. (Yes, you read that sentence correctly.) Prior is an object lesson in the shoulder's fragility, in the fact that the sure thing isn't, not unless we do more.

I wondered aloud to one source yesterday about how much money was spent on Prior's lost time and medical bills, money that could have been invested in research into the prevention of pitching injuries. For an industry that lost over $212 million dollars to pitchers on the DL last season, the paltry few million they've earmarked for research is simply not enough. It's not just Mark Prior that would benefit, but maybe the next Mark Prior. He's the one out on a Little League field, hearing parents and coaches complain about the new pitch count regulations. I actually had someone say to me yesterday that the regulations were ruining baseball. In contrast, I think the ruination of countless young arms on neighborhood diamonds is plenty of reason to, if necessary, nuke the game at that level. It's one thing to risk injury to a professional player in the heat of a pennant race, and quite another to do so in quest of a twelve-year-old's trophy. We've got a long way to go and a lot left to learn.

Powered by Chelsea's 1-0 victory over Liverpool, on to the injuries:

  • Mark Prior's surgery went about as was expected. Dr. James Andrews got his scope inside, looked around, and saw a lot of damage. My initial impressions were pretty much dead on with what sources have told me. It's telling that he'll start his rehab in Birmingham, as it appears that he's headed out of Chicago. Will a change of scenery and a new medical staff help Prior? That is as unclear as everything else in Prior's universe. At 27, he remains relatively young, and if he comes out of this surgery pain-free, he has a chance to do what Chris Carpenter did at age 28 after a similar surgical repair. That Prior had significant damage inside the shoulder tells us that the last couple seasons could have been different, years that were essentially lost to Prior and to the Cubs. Going forward, putting Prior with a pitching coach like Dave Duncan or Jim Hickey would make for an interesting mix.

    Most of the damage indicates a slow wearing rather than any significant trauma, which puts the blame more on Dusty Baker than anyone else, especially Marcus Giles. I've seen some blindly suggesting that the Bankart lesion was the result of that 2003 collision but if that had been the case, the amount of damage occurring to the ligaments would be sufficiently significant to cause instability that would prevent return to activity for an extended period of time-extended here meaning far more than the three starts he missed. The reported outcome after the collision was a Grade II acromioclavicular sprain. Since the AC sprain involved the acromioclavicular ligament (which basically ties the clavicle and scapula together), there would be very little likelihood that this injury could have involved his labrum. With Prior, there does not appear to be any history of significant injury to the glenohumeral joint itself, therefore making this a wear & tear injury that could have been exacerbated by the fact that the may have been genetically bilaterally lax as compared to the "norm". We also have to remember that the shoulder laxity found during 2006 was said to be muscular, not structural. The once-vaunted mechanics fell apart when pain pulled down on his arm slot, leaving him "throwing pies" as one pitching coach described it.

  • Ben Sheets came limping out of his start with a groin strain. He may not have been as bad off as his manager-Ned Yost broke his collarbone in a running accident on Tuesday-but Sheets didn't come out of it well. It happened a day that seemed tailor-made for a strain, played in cold conditions with heavy winds and a rain delay, Sheets couldn't pinpoint when the injury came up after the game. Early indications are that the strain is minor, but Sheets hasn't been ace-like in the early going, even before this injury. He'll resist any move to the DL, though it's possible that Yost will juggle his rotation a bit to get a bit more time for Sheets to rest and rehab. If Sheets is eventually forced onto the DL, the Brewers are going to have to take a long look at Yovani Gallardo, who had another solid outing at Triple-A Nashville on Tuesday, which conveniently putts him on the right schedule to make Sheets' next start.

  • Tony La Russa is well known for his work with pro-animal charities, so when he says a knee is "barking," maybe he's just building awareness for his pet cause. Albert Pujols, surly at his best moments, gets downright snippy when asked about injuries. Even after Pujols denied any problems with his knee, La Russa reminded people that Pujols has really never been healthy. Throughout his amazing career, Pujols has dealt with elbow, back, and foot woes, and I think you could say he's done pretty well. I'm told the knee isn't affecting Pujols' swing. The Cards also saw Mark Mulder, who stopped in to see the medical staff. The lefty has been at extended spring training while rehabbing, but isn't close to a return, according to several sources. Some are even questioning if he'll be back and effective at all this season, though I believe he will be back, at least; effective remains to be seen. The scenario where he came back in May that made the rumor circuit at the end of spring training was wishcasting.

  • It took a while to get new Ray Akinori Iwamura to admit that he was hurting, but the Rays could see the swing that helped them so much over the first few weeks of the season changed on Monday night. Iwamura finished the game, but was found to have a significant oblique strain after the game, forcing him to the DL. Early word is that he's expected to miss four to six weeks, but sources tell me that they're not sure how this will play out. Iwamura is a typical Japanese player, one that hates being limited in any way, making him likely to work hard and push for a return. That same demeanor will also make it more likely that it could recur, meaning that the Rays might need to slow Iwamura's rehab down, protecting him from himself. Either way, Jorge Cantu will get some time to re-establish himself, though it will be Carlos Pena that sees the bulk of Iwamura's at-bats as Ty Wigginton shifts across the diamond.
  • Derek Jeter left Tuesday's game with a very low thigh bruise after being hit by a Scott Kazmir pitch, but doesn't figure to miss much time, if any. Jeter was expected to be in the lineup on Wednesday, but it was rained out. Tuesday was also the season debut for Chien-Ming Wang, who looked very solid and showed no effects from the hamstring strain. I watched the game as well as checking a couple starts from last season, and I didn't see any significant changes in his mechanics. That's a very good sign. Yankees fans will be watching closely Thursday night as Philip Hughes makes his debut, but it's just as important that Mike Mussina throw well in a rehab start on Friday at Double-A Trenton. Observers at his mound session on Monday don't think Mussina felt comfortable, though there was a complicating factor-the Yankees bullpen catcher broke his finger during the session, and one source said "Mussina never looked in sync after that."
  • Bartolo Colon has a mildly sprained ankle, one that happened when he rolled it covering first in his last start. While initially thought to be minor enough to heal up by his next start (scheduled for Thursday), the Angels are now wondering if it's just enough to make Colon's mechanics change. Given Colon's initial injury problems coming into this season, cautiousness seems like the smart play. No decision has been announced yet, though it appears that Dustin Mosely would get the start if Colon is pushed back a day. The injury isn't serious, and won't result in more than a delay here, so don't get too concerned. There was also some good news in Anaheim, as Chone Figgins is due to start a rehab assignment on Thursday. He'll be at Triple-A Salt lake through the weekend, and if he has no problems hitting, he'll be back with the Angels for next week's games. Watch to make sure he has full bat control before activating him. The Angels called up Brandon Wood on Wednesday, a short term call-up that should end when Figgins returns.
  • Randy Johnson may not have gotten the win, but there were some positives from his return to big league action. First, he looks pretty good in the new Snakes uniform. More importantly, he showed mid-90's velocity, no problems in his delivery, and until he tired, solid control. The stamina was clearly the biggest problem he had, as he showed signs of fatigue as early as the third inning, and was visibly tired by the fifth. This is an anticipated problem, one that should clear up as Johnson works himself back into pitching shape. Until then, he's going to need to work more on being more efficient with his pitches, something he's never had to deal with during his career. The best sign to me was Johnson's slider. The pitch looked nasty, getting the same snappy movement it had during his first stint with the Snakes.
  • Johnny Estrada learned the hard way that Prince Fielder is a one-man wrecking machine. Fielder is a big, big boy with a nasty habit of running over or through things on a baseball field. When Fielder slid into Estrada when they were converging on a popup, things initially looked very bad for the Brewers' new catcher. Somehow, he came out with only minor soreness on a play that initially looked like a season-ending knee injury. Fielder is surprisingly agile for his size (he's probably heavier than his listed weight of 260), and that factors into these kinds of collisions. He gets to things that even his teammates don't expect him to get to, and with his full-stead ahead approach, that sometimes results in collisions. I doubt that the Brewers will tell Fielder to tone it down a notch, but his teammates are going to have to be alert to the fact that the Big Bopper doesn't have good brakes.
  • I got a chance to see Dallas Braden's first major league game the other night, and I came away impressed. The screwball he throws isn't that screwy, in that it's not a big-sweeping breaker, but actually something just more than a sinker. It's still a good, effective pitch and one that most hitters haven't seen before, major or minor league. Braden's more than a gimmick pitcher, but there's no plus pitch there. I still like the idea of the screwball having a place in the game, though it seems to be going the way of the knuckler, a legacy pitch that will seldom have more than a very few disciples. Then again, all those kids Mike Marshall is teaching should have a scroogie, and one of them's bound to make the majors, right Mike? Meanwhile, the A's just got Dan Johnson back after he missed the start of the season with a hip injury. To activate him, the A's sent down Adam Melhuse, a move that surprised some. Mike Piazza now becomes the backup backstop, and even with Jason Kendall catching nearly every game, Piazza's fantasy value just shot up. Melhuse should be back, though the timing of it depends on the various other moves that have to be made surrounding Rich Harden's availability.

Quick Cuts: I had no idea that the record for consecutive K's belonged to Tom Seaver, or that it was ten in a row before Jake Peavy nearly reached it with nine of his own. Doing it against a solid D'backs club is even more impressive ... Greg Zaun will have surgery to place a pin in his broken thumb. He'll be out at least six weeks ... If Tim Lincecum isn't on a roster in your league already, it's time to grab him. If you're looking for saves and strikeouts, grab him fast ... Morgan Ensberg will miss a couple games with a hyperextended ankle. That's an injury you don't often see in baseball, so I'm trying to find out how it occurred ... I'm sure Pete Rose got a kick out of the Commissioner's decision on Torii Hunter. I'm not equating the two in any way, just sayin' ... Rondell White had a setback in rehab, and will be out at least two more weeks with a calf strain.

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