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May 24, 2007

Under The Knife

Sprung a Leak

by Will Carroll

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Without getting into the subject again, I want to encourage everyone to read Joe Sheehan's column from Tuesday. As with many things Joe that writes, I wish I could not only write that well, but have written it just that way. He's right on almost every count. The one thing I would change would be to note the incessant leaks that further an agenda. Yes, it's hypocritical of me to be against leaks--my job depends on just that type of thing--but when people in a position of authority are trusted with information that is supposed to be confidential, they have a duty to keep it confidential.

T.J. Quinn has done a phenomenal job building sources and getting some of the best stories, but with a very good idea who's leaking some of this information out, it still disturbs me. What disturbs me more is that some baseball writers are ignoring the amphetamine story, and let's be clear there: Bonds and Giambi were not taking greenies, but instead were using banned substances that have more in common with Red Bull than crystal meth. The writers aren't noting which of the players took a drug mulligan and is now subject to extra testing. Maybe they've decided they don't want to tell that story, or that they'll follow the "first test not public" policy. However, if we're moving forward, we've got to decide if we're doing it by turning our back on the past or learning from our mistakes.

Powered by the upcoming Indy 500 weekend, on to the injuries:

  • Joe Mauer has quickly and quietly gotten back up to speed. He's running, hitting and, most tellingly, catching. There's not a lot left to prove, and no reason to send him on a rehab assignment, based on the known information. I had a chance to talk with one of my favorite Twins sources while in Florida, and he indicated that the organization is still struggling with the idea of Mauer being anything other than the everyday catcher, meaning that Mauer's recent leg problems have not accelerated his shift from behind the dish. I won't pretend to agree here, and think that this has to be considered a longer-term negative. Still, in the short term, Mauer could be back and playing as early as this weekend and no later than early next week.
  • Ben Sheets left Tuesday's game late with a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand. What does the index finger location tell us? It shows that it's throwing the curve that's causing the irritation. While the Brewers will wait to see if Sheets' finger heals up before making any decision on his next start, they have experience with this type of thing. Some are wondering if Sheets' injury might give the Brewers a chance to give a "feet wet" start to Yovani Gallardo; I don't think they want to make the roster moves necessary for that if Sheets is only going to miss one start. Instead, they're more likely to juggle the rotation or go with Carlos Villanueva for a spot start.
  • The Rays might need middle relief more than they need some "Aki knocks," but getting Akinori Iwamura back into the lineup runs a close second. Iwamura had looked worth every penny of his posting fee before straining an oblique, but while he was out, Carlos Pena established himself at first base. Does this push B.J. Upton off of second base and into the outfield (especially with the latest Elijah Dukes incident), or does Ty Wigginton share time at first and play as a part-time superutility man? Iwamura is a plus added back into the lineup, but he won't change the Rays' fortunes on his own. The decisions made surrounding his return just might.
  • The White Sox are seeing some progress with Joe Crede as he tries to avoid the DL. His back felt better on Wednesday than it did on Tuesday, so the hope is that he can get back in the lineup this weekend. The cortisone shot he took earlier in the week appears to have calmed things down, but Crede carries that recurrence risk with him, which is one of the reasons he wasn't traded this offseason. I'd venture a guess that his power numbers will be down a bit over the next two weeks (perhaps as long as a month) as he unconsciously guards it and as the effects of the cortisone slowly wear off. As with Jim Thome, keeping him effective will be one of the big tasks placed on the Sox' medical staff; their effectiveness will be worth a couple wins either way over the rest of the season.
  • The Padres have been fighting some minor injuries, like the bone bruise that seems to be wearing on Brian Giles. First injured in April when he banged it off the hard walls at Wrigley--and yes, they should be padded--Giles has had a couple of episodes where there seems to be some exacerbation, forcing him to miss a couple games. His MRIs haven't shown any significant damage, but this is likely one of those things that will bother Giles off and on all season, only to be corrected with minor surgery in the offseason, assuming the cure matches the symptoms.

    The Pads should be getting Clay Hensley back after one more start at Triple-A this Friday. Hensley's groin isn't a problem, and he gave the team what they wanted to see in his first rehab start. The start was made in cold, rainy conditions, something that was likely as much of a factor as the injury. Hensley is expected to go back to the rotation, though the solid performance of Justin Germano while Hensley was injured gives the team some options.

    While we're talking about the Padres, we should mention that they are also one of the more interesting teams to watch due to Bud Black's usage of his pitchers. The solid starting pitching has given some of the relievers a long layoff, such as the extended vacations for Kevin Cameron, Scott Linebrink, Heath Bell, and Cla Meredith. Each of the relievers has had a period where they've had at least five games off. More interesting is that these absences don't appear to have caused any "rust." It's one of the more interesting things about managing a bullpen--how do you keep them rested but not rusty? Some pitchers say they get better with regular work while others can lose their mechanics. Whatever it is that Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley are doing, it's working. Of course, a lot of credit has to go to the starters. Without them going deep into games on so many occasions, the workload of the pen would be much, much higher.

    Another question I have is one of orthodoxy. While the Pads can go with five solid starters, are they doing themselves favors by this work? We've seen that matchup relievers do have an advantage when used properly. Are the Padres merely making the best use of a flawed system, or are we overrating the relief work we've seen over the past decade?

  • Everyone's focusing on Roger Clemens. That's one of the side benefits of having the Rocket on your team; no one else matters as much to the media. The coverage of Clemens has allowed some interesting notes on Philip Hughes to pass by nearly unnoticed. Recent reports indicate that while Hughes is throwing off of a mound, that there's now a mid-June rather than early-June target for his return. I'm not sure on this one. The Yankees haven't publicly given any time frame, but the assumption is that Hughes will need a rehab start before coming back.

    I'm not sure why, not just in regard to Hughes, but about the concept of rehab starts in general. Rehab starts have two real purposes: testing the pitcher's health in a non-competitive environment ('non-competitive' meaning that it doesn't count in the major league standings), and building up stamina after an absence. If the Yankees are sure that the hamstring is sound, I think they'd be much better off doing what the Mariners have done with Felix Hernandez--limit his pitches and let him "rehab" at the major league level. The Yanks need any advantage they can find as they try to climb back up the standings towards both the Red Sox and the Wild Card. This could be an advantage if handled properly, because the more Hughes they get, the better they are right now given the Yankees options. I think Tyler Clippard and Matt DeSalvo are better suited for the bullpen right now, though the team likely needs to have someone at Scranton ready to start as insurance against injury.

Quick Cuts: Really interesting, if it bears out. ... Huston Street is in Arizona, and working towards his return. Listen for news that he's throwing from a mound for a better read on when. ... Is the save the new home run? Trevor Hoffman is closing in on 500, but I doubt Bud Selig will come for that event. ... Henry Owens should be back soon after a solid rehab outing showed that his velocity was there. ... Anyone that emailed about Angel Guzman and his shot at closing last week should go read the latest beat reports. I don't often do "told you so," but on this one, I am. ... Gregg Zaun is very close to a return, something that should help the Jays more than many would expect.

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