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May 31, 2007

Under The Knife

Expanding Knowledge

by Will Carroll

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Two of the best parts of this job are talking baseball with passionate fans, and learning from people smarter than me. I was lucky enough to spend some time yesterday afternoon with Dr. Alan Nathan, a physicist from the University of Illinois. We had a great conversation that ranged from Mike Marshall to the gyroball to the aluminum bat debate. Did you know maple bats don't give the hitter an advantage? This is something I'm going to follow up on. I got to show him the Ribcap and a bit more on the gyro, so maybe I made up a bit of the information trade deficit. It's great to meet some of the smart people around the game of baseball, and it serves to remind me that not only are some of the best and brightest in a number of fields working to make the game better, there's also a lot of room for those people to contribute, no matter how great the game already is.

Powered by the scariest thing I've seen since jumping sharks, on to the injuries:

  • Peter Abraham got the scoop again. Less than eight hours after someone from the Yankees assured me-in his words-that Philip Hughes hadn't experienced a major setback, Yanks GM Brian Cashman announced that Hughes had suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain, or the worst sprain possible. Instead of early to mid-June for a return, this devastating injury will keep Hughes off of the mound for another 8-10 weeks, moving back his likely return to sometime in late August. With Carl Pavano already done for the season, Hughes is now in danger of having an essentially lost season. If there's any consolation here, this isn't an arm problem, and that means he's definitely not going to be overused at a young age. There's little else positive here, and certainly nothing that points any fingers at a cause. An ankle sprain during rehab is essentially random, so call it luck if you must. Right now, all the Yankees seem to have is bad luck.
  • Most fantasy owners are manic-depressive, at least when it comes to their team. When bad news comes, it's the worst, and when good news comes, it's the best. It's what leads to the wild swings within a season, which can lead to making rash moves. Jason Schmidt has been the cause of some of those fantasy league mood swings recently, but in hindsight, the rational course was the one followed by the Dodgers. Even when things looked bleakest and reports came out that Schmidt wasn't able to throw overhand-which was true, but what was seen was part of a drill-people needed to remember that one of the reasons Schmidt came to Los Angeles was the medical staff, led by Stan Conte. In his rehab start last night, that trust was repaid, as Schmidt threw six shutout innings, showing good velocity and "perfect command," according to one observer. He's expected to make one more minor league start, likely at Triple-A Las Vegas, before returning to the Dodgers rotation.
  • "Can't straighten his arm." For a pitcher, that sounds bad. For Huston Street, it is, but is it as bad as it sounds? Not really. The ulnar nerve that is causing him problems often exhibits this kind of symptom while it is inflamed. A surgeon I spoke to yesterday told me that "it's inflamed and that doesn't allow it to make its twists and turns, like a slack rope, when the elbow is in extension (straightened.) In flexion (bent), the nerve's path through the elbow is much more linear and for the patient, more comfortable." The worry now is that if the nerve's problems are causing any further symptoms, such as tingling or numbness in his fingers, that might be indicative of more damage. There are no reports of this, and in most cases, the inflammation simply goes away with rest and treatment, at which point activity can be resumed. Beyond that, it's going to be very important for the Athletics and for Street to figure out what's causing the inflammation so that they can attack it before it recurs.
  • John Smoltz doesn't like the DL, and after yesterday's bullpen session, it looks like he'll avoid it. The shoulder and finger injuries that ran him from his last start early don't appear to be much of a problem, and Smoltz is expected to make his next scheduled start, barring some unforeseen setback. That's not to say that his next few starts won't be risky. Given the problems he had with the finger (which was bothered by batting), one can easily see the chance for a recurrence two or three times a game. Most pitchers would simply put the bat on their shoulder, but that would be tough for Smoltz, someone so ultra-competitive that his backgammon playing has become clubhouse legend, and who famously had large pool bets on batting average with his other pitchers back in the Big Three days. Expect shorter outings from Smoltz until he has given the finger time to heal.
  • It looks like another setback for Joe Mauer. Initially expected back early this week, which was then pushed back to Friday, Mauer is now pushed back again by at least a week after a workout left him sore and swollen. His quad simply did not hold up after a vigorous workout, one that involved "a bunch of exercises in the outfield... He's done lunges, sprints, and some weird drill in which he gets down on his stomach, then suddenly rolls over, pops up, and dashes off," according to La Velle Neale. After this workout, Mauer had some bleeding in the leg, a very bad sign for someone overcoming a deep bruise as well as the muscle strain. It's unclear just what the Twins are doing here, so it bears watching.
  • A lot of emails came in asking about Ryan Howard having some cramping in his legs after his coming back from the quad strain. Many of them asked why there have been so many cramping problems throughout baseball. One suggestion a knowledgeable source made was creatine. This ubiquitous supplement can drain the muscles if the body is not kept superhydrated, which can lead to cramping or even muscle strains if things aren't kept in balance. Creatine has long been used in baseball for its help with recovery and strength gains, especially now that more powerful substances have been eliminated by testing regimes. With few items on the "official blessing" list, creatine has made a big surge back into baseball. While we don't know for certain if there's a big bottle of EAS in Ryan Howard's locker-anyone in Philly want to check?-it would hardly be something to ding him on. Mild setbacks like cramping are something to note, showing that Howard may be back on the field but he's still not 100 percent.
  • Yadier Molina is done for a minimum of the next six weeks after a foul tip fractured his wrist. The team is pointedly not saying which bone is broken, but that really doesn't significantly alter his prognosis. The biggest problem initially will be his ability to receive pitches while catching, since the wrist will be stressed not only by the force of the pitch, but by the quick twisting motions necessary to control the glove. Like most wrist injuries, there's concern that Molina will lose some bat control and power, but as I told Bernie Miklasz yesterday on his St. Louis radio show, it's not as if Molina has demonstrated those skills when healthy. The Cardinals are also dealing with a situation with Chris Duncan. Duncan's minor knee injury also involves an infection, and one source has told me that the team is concerned about MRSA, the particularly virulent and lingering bacterial infection that has crept into sports. While the team refused comment on the situation and I was not able to confirm this source's report, MRSA is an important enough problem in baseball to note. You will remember that Alex Rios had this type of infection in his knee last season, and suffered through a terrible second half after the injury. Hopefully, Duncan will not have to deal with this, but it bears noting.
  • The Tigers are gearing up for a big series with the Indians, but will have to start it a couple of men down. Carlos Guillen left Wednesday night's game with what he described as a minor groin strain, but after the game, Jim Leyland wondered aloud if Guillen would need to go on the DL. Given Guillen's recent history of leg problems, even a minor groin strain might end up as a more serious problem if it's allowed to start a cascade. The team won't make a decision on Guillen immediately, preferring to see if he'll recover quickly. Brandon Inge's problem is more straightforward-a chip fracture in his left great toe. This is a similar, but not identical, injury as that suffered by Shawn Green; a slightly different bone-a bit more proximal-but with the same mechanism and similar results. Inge is day-to-day, and his availability is based mostly on his pain tolerance.

Quick Cuts: Orel Hershiser mentioned the hockey puck drill that Paul Byrd used to work on his curve during last night's Indians-Red Sox game. It's a solid drill, a variation on one I picked up from Steven Ellis that uses a can of tennis balls. No, I'm not explaining it, because kids shouldn't be throwing curves without proper supervision and medical clearance. ... Shawn Hill is headed for a second opinion on his pitching arm. ... Good lord, what's up with the Toronto turf? Has it been like that all year? ... No question about it-Felix Hernandez is guarding the elbow, creating some control issues. On the plus side, it just looks like he's scared, much as Johan Santana was after his bone chip removal. ... Jesse Crain had surgery to repair his shoulder on Tuesday, and will begin the long process towards a return. If all goes well, expecting him back in 2008 would be reasonable. ... Troy Percival is expected to sign with a team by the start of next week. Multiple sources tell me that the Phillies are in the early lead. ... If Colby Rasmus isn't owned in your league, it's time to grab him. His former high school teammate, Kasey Kiker, isn't as far behind as you'd think. Rasmus seems to be on the Ken Griffey plan, but I'll leave this to Kevin and Bryan to break down whether he's been rushed.

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