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April 29, 2007

Under The Knife

Gearing Up

by Will Carroll

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The A's are up to something. Jeff Angus noticed that the A's were using a different workload pattern for their starters, with some uncommon results. To me, it looks like the team is setting up for a shift to a four-man rotation but that could be just wishful thinking on my part. If we've learned anything about Billy Beane club, it's that they're often doing something, but just as often doing nothing but making us think its something. It's like Vizzini the Sicilian from The Princess Bride running a baseball club, making us all overthink the simple things. The usage patterns are unusual and certainly effective through the first 20 games of the season, so it will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes. It's another one of the things about baseball that make the season so much fun to watch, the game within the game.

Powered by baseball's first round, which takes nowhere near six hours, on to the injuries:

  • Jim Thome heads to the DL with what the White Sox insist on calling a rib cage injury. Since Thome's only job is to swing for the fences, anything that prevents him from doing that is a blow to an already shaky offense. The question here is whether it's an oblique strain (as previously indicated), or if Ozzie Guillen's verbiage indicates that Thome actually has an intracostal strain. The fact is that it doesn't matter much--either injury is going to keep Thome out four to six weeks. The torque that Thome generates with his swing is going to necessitate his being completely healed before a return. Thome's been a healthy player over most of his career, something of a feat given his violent swing, and when he's been injured, he's healed slightly ahead of schedule. Let's say this will take right around a month, and see how the White Sox adjust. You don't have to look further than Thome's PECOTA to worry if this is the first sign of a downturn.
  • I have no idea what the Twins are doing with Joe Mauer. When Mauer was diagnosed with a stress reaction in spring training, the Twins carried three catchers, making me think that Mauer would be DHing more to take pressure of his leg and his knees. Instead, Mauer has played 19 of 24 games at catcher, an increase over last year's workload. The soreness in his leg returned on Friday, though not near the site of his previous stress reaction; it's possible that this is something of a cascade. I can't tell what sort of adjustments, if any, Mauer has made to take the stress of his leg earlier this season. However, it's clear that there's been some toll that his legs are paying for his catching. Given his hot hitting and the presence of Mike Redmond, it still makes no sense to me that Mauer isn't DHing more. Protecting Mauer has to be a top priority for the Twins if they hope to contend, both now and into the future, and I can't see what they're doing to further that goal. Yes, I'm worried.
  • I'm not saying that pitchers need to wear these, but when you see Jeff Karstens take a liner off his leg and leave with a broken fibula (but only after pitching to another batter!), you have to wonder why no pitcher has at least considered trying a smaller, less-bulky pad. I know that pitcher protection has become something of a quixotic quest for me, but I've yet to hear a good reason why this can't be fixed quickly, cheaply, and without altering anything about the game. Karstens will miss a couple months while his fractured leg heals, though past experience indicates that these types of injuries often linger beyond initial expectations. Somewhere, the Hendricks brothers are trying to stifle a smile. Mike Mussina had a good rehab start in Double-A Trenton on Friday, and slots back into the rotation on Thursday, but that was already planned for; Karstens' slot will probably get taken back by Kei Igawa. (While we're talking about equipment, why couldn't Chone Figgins come back and wear something like this? That return will happen this week by the way.)
  • Cardinals fans are waiting to see how Chris Carpenter feels today. Carpenter threw a 70-pitch bullpen session on Saturday, but all through this situation, he's been able to throw without any problems. It's the way he feels the next day, locking up after his pitching motion causes the bone chips impinge the hinge of his elbow. If the rest and treatment that Carpenter has had for the last few weeks has worked, Carpenter should come back today without the pain and swelling, allowing the team to take the next step towards his much-needed return. If he comes back swollen and painful, the likely next step is the simple surgical removal of the chips, but that would at best have Carpenter able to come back after the All-Star break. To say that the day will be pivotal for the Cardinals season is no understatement. Given that it's an elbow, maybe we should say their season hinges on the outcome.
  • There are things I just don't understand--the popularity of "Two And A Half Men", how people lived before Tivo, why Charlie Musselwhite isn't considered a national treasure, and how the Mariners handle their pitchers. If I could just quit trying to figure it out, my life would be easier, I know. The Mariners only have a normal side session scheduled between now and the expected May 4 return of Felix Hernandez. There's been almost no caution in what was admittedly a minor elbow injury, but an observer at the game said that Hernandez was cutting loose, showing the same flawed mechanics even on the side, but that he didn't see any breaking pitches. I'm not sure what this tells us, if anything, but as I said in my recent MLB.com video, Hernandez is putting so much pressure on his elbow with his delivery that this minor injury should be treated as a warning shot, not a mild setback. I hope I'm wrong. The M's are also inexplicably working J.J. Putz very hard. I don't want to suggest that using a closer in the eighth is wrong, just that heavily using a closer that has a recent history of injury problems should make us cautious. Is Putz more suited to longer outings? That's possible, but there's no evidence for it. Is Putz pitching with a known injury and the M's are trying to extract all possible value before the time bomb in his arm goes off? Again, it's possible, but there's no evidence there either. We're left wondering what they're doing, and given the team and the manager's history, it's tough to give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Woody Williams is expected to start Sunday after a Wednesday cortisone injection. Watching video of Williams' previous starts, he was reluctant to "finish" his pitches, and was not extending the arm, thus failing to pronate on his follow-through. That's usually an indication that some inflammation is limiting the range of motion, but there are multiple causes for this. It's possible that the injection will help Williams make it through and reduce the inflammation, but it does nothing to actually correct the underlying physical problem in his pitching elbow. Paired with an already sore Jason Jennings, the Astros pitching situation is looking desperate.
  • Signs are looking positive for Octavio Dotel's return. While the Royals insist that Dotel is on track for a mid-May return, he had no trouble throwing on three straight days while maintaining a normal rehab throwing program. The deliberate pace of his rehab seems to be more a choice by the team than a rflection of his actual physical status, though it's important to note that the Royals rehab times are almost always on the long side over the six years of injuries we have available in the database. Dotel should begin a rehab assignment at some point in the next two weeks, which seems to be the only indication we'll have that he's closer to being back in the bullpen.
  • I don't know when John Lester will return to Boston, but I know the fact that we're talking about it like it's inevitable is a great story in itself. Lester's quick, successful comeback from cancer is something more than just a baseball story for me, a signpost on the road towards our reducing this terrible disease to a setback rather than a life-destroyer. It's a personal thing for me to root for players making this kind of return, and I respect that not once did anyone around the Red Sox ever talk about him as a pitcher during the offseason. It was always their concern for him as a person first that stood out for me. There's no reason to think of this as anything other than a baseball decision now, one the Sox can make from a position of strength.

Quick Cuts: I'm monitoring the Kirk Radomski story, or as many are calling it, the Mets Steroid Scandal. It's far too early to know much about this case beyond the initial Sports Illustrated story, but there seems to be more meat on this than the prescription scandal from the spring. As yet, there's nothing to add, though the connection between this and last year's scandals seems to be apparent. ... Speaking of that, what ever became of this? ... Final thing on this: read the Indianapolis Star's coverage of draft day. In the section on new lineman Tony Ugoh, a former Colt lineman suggests that the average rookie lineman should put on twenty pounds of muscle in the first year. Read that again, and try telling me that it's baseball that has the problem. ... Yhency Brazoban should be back in the Dodgers' bullpen sometime this week. ... In Mariano Rivera's last outing, his mechanics looked normal, but his cutter wasn't cutting at all. I couldn't tell you why. Saturday night it was and he ended up breaking bats. Surprisingly enough, I think broken bats are what we need to be looking for to gauge Rivera's effectiveness. ... Mark Kotsay is progressing normally following back surgery, and is on track to return in June. He should begin hitting soon, and could start a rehab assignment in mid-May. ... Lastings Milledge will miss six weeks after a foot injury in the minors.

Related Content:  Jeff Karstens,  Year Of The Injury

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Every Given Sunday (04/29)
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Under The Knife: Prior... (04/26)
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