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June 8, 2007

Under The Knife

Playing Catch

by Will Carroll

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There's no time for an intro today, between feeling ill and a pinched nerve in my neck. This is seriously one of the most painful, knee-buckling things I've ever had, so forgive me a bit of brevity today.

Powered by the hope that I'm better in time for Brad Wochomurka's wedding Saturday afternoon (and yes, please flood him with congratulations at bradw@baseballprospectus.com), on to the injuries:

  • The White Sox are getting a bit too much experience with bad backs this season. After losing Jim Thome for a while (although for less DL time than many expected), the team is now worried about Joe Crede. Crede's chronic back condition has worsened over the past week, becoming swollen and painful enough to land him on the DL. What's different this time is, according to multiple sources, that Crede himself wants to "take care of it." On the heels of quick returns by the likes of Mark Kotsay and with next year's contract year coming up quickly, Crede is considering not just surgery, but "all options", as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. If Crede's problem is similar to Kotsay's, the same two- to three-month timeframe could put his return sometime late this season, and definitely ready for next year. Even if it is more serious, he'd be ready for spring training in all but the most unlikely scenarios. This isn't to say that surgery is definite, but it's better to be prepared, just as the White Sox are. Josh Fields will slot in, though whether this is a short- or long-term fix remains to be seen.
  • Aramis Ramirez injured his knee trying to beat a throw, but it was actually the way he hit the bag on the play. (He was safe, by the way.) The Cubs third baseman was scheduled to have an MRI on Thursday, and manager Lou Piniella said that Ramirez has patellar tendonitis. I've watched video of the play twenty times or more and I simply can't see enough to come to any conclusions. Given the symptoms--a quick limp, but able to bear weight on the joint--Piniella's explanation matches up. There didn't appear to be any lateral movement, hyperextension, or "give" in the knee. If it is indeed an aggravation of a previous problem, then Ramirez shouldn't miss much more time than it takes to calm down the inflammation; that should take a couple days. If it's something more, like a small meniscal tear, Ramirez won't miss more time, but it could be something that recurs. Speed isn't a big issue for Ramirez, but if his base is weakened at the plate, he could lose some power.

---

Do you know anyone that says "have a catch?" Maybe it's a regional thing, but they only time I've heard that phrase is in Field of Dreams. Apparently, Ray Kinsella was inspiring people all around the majors over the past couple of days, with a ton of injured pitchers having a catch. Whether it's Chris Carpenter, Brett Myers, Huston Street, Jason Bergmann, or Kenny Rogers, all these pitchers showed some progress by simply doing something we all like doing.

  • Chris Carpenter was throwing for the first time since his elbow surgery. This appears to show that he's on the more traditional timeframe for recovery than the conservative one that the Cards have been quoting. It's unclear if the standings helped, or whether Carpenter is simply ahead of schedule, but either way, it's a good sign.
  • For Brett Myers, throwing for the second time in a couple days isn't a bad thing, but there's less information about his status. That makes it impossible to gauge where he is, so we're forced to take Charlie Manuel's "seven to ten days" as the guide despite this being an insanely quick return. While Myers doesn't need to build up stamina with a rehab assignment, the idea that his strained shoulder is completely healed in nearly the minimum seems suspect. I'll need to see Myers from a mound by the weekend to buy into that time frame.
  • Huston Street might not be able to straighten his arm--though I bet he can--but he is throwing again. Street was admittedly tentative with his throws, and it was, in the words of one source, "baby steps." Previous speculation on his return has been centered around the All-Star break, and compared with Myers, this is a significantly more credible timetable. The comparison to Josh Johnson remains the guideline here, which means a return at or around the two-month mark. Again, there's no need for stamina, but Street will still need time to get less tentative with his arm.
  • A record of 1-3 doesn't sound good, but wins don't tell the story for Jason Bergmann or even the Nationals. Bergmann played catch on Tuesday, then jumped up on a mound on Wednesday. Since going on the DL, Bergmann hasn't had a solid timetable for a return. Assuming that he recovers normally and gets back on the mound sometime this weekend, the Nats can start thinking about when he might come back. Don't expect him to pick up right where he left off, but he's an improvement over his replacements, so the Nats won't take too long in getting him into the rotation.
  • Finally, Kenny Rogers did more than just play catch. Coming back from surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder, Rogers made it through a simulated two innings. (Quick thought--I've seen it called a sim game, but at two innings, it's clearly less than a game. What do we call that?) Rogers has had no problems, either medically or on the mound, during his comeback. A rehab assignment to help him sharpen his pitches and build stamina should start sometime next week, which puts him on track to come back around the end of the month.

---

Reader JG asks:

Not sure if you saw the intro to yesterday's Mets game on ESPN, but they showed Orlando Hernandez warming up with a softball, and throwing it underhanded. They explained the desire of some pitchers to get a feel for the baseball and have it feel small and stretching out the hand with the softball, but were at a loss for why he would throw some underhanded. Any ideas? Seen it anywhere else?
In fact, I have. The softball is pretty easy to understand, but the underhand tosses are an interesting new technique being used by several pitchers. There's some connection between the pitchers doing this, though it seems to be Latin in nature and I can't find the genesis of it, but it was explained to me by one source as being a way to warm up the muscles of the shoulder without overtaxing the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff. There's plenty of research done on the biomechanics of softball pitching to know that it is not nearly as fatiguing as the overhand baseball throw. Does it work? No one really knows, but there's actually some science in addition to just anecdotal info with this one.

---

Just as the pitchers above are mostly centered on a theme, position players are following their own--bad hamstrings. Miguel Cabrera, Rocco Baldelli, and Endy Chavez are just a few of the players around the league having hamstring problems. While it's too early to get any real read on things, it's very clear that hamstring injuries are on the rise, with absolutely no known causation. Problems like this, with no solution, are the most frustrating to doctors and trainers, so let's just focus on the information.

  • With all the concern about Miguel Cabrera's weight being completely overblown--what's the worst case, that he winds up a first baseman? That hasn't worked out so badly for Albert Pujols--there should be some concern over his hamstring strain. Cabrera is filling out in what we've seen is a rapidly changing body. When he came up in 2003, he looked like two different halves of a person. From the waist up, he looked like a little leaguer. From the waist down, he had the tree trunk legs that suggested his power potential. Now that his waist-up has caught up to (and passed) his waist-down without all those annoying "wow, his body has changed!" questions that Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire get, the Marlins are making sure that he doesn't tax those legs. It was a mild strain that kept him out of the lineup, and that was clearly a combination of precaution and rest.
  • The Rays got their man in Thursday's draft, surprising no one by picking David Price. They hope to get another of their men soon. Along with Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli has been the face of the organization as its changed over, but Baldelli has become the more symbolic of the two. Baldelli is as talented as they come, but there always seems to be an injury. His latest hamstring strain has healed up with aggressive treatment and a very conservative timetable, which has Baldelli headed down the street to extended spring training sometime over the weekend. One complication is that the Rays will be heading into NL parks about the time Baldelli would be expected back, so much like Jim Thome a month ago, his return could be delayed by the schedule. The more I look at Baldelli's career pattern, the more I see J.D. Drew. PECOTA might see Rondell White and Harold Baines, but Drew's early career struggles (admittedly less varied or as limiting as Baldelli's) feel more correct from an injury standpoint. Both are exceptional athletes that appeared to be brittle early on, but seem to have enough talent margin to play at sub-maximal levels and still be very good. Then again, the other comp that feels right is Ken Griffey Jr., the Cincinnati years.
  • Losing Endy Chavez would once have been considered a net positive, but the Mets have figured out what Chavez can do rather than getting wrapped up in what he can't. Chavez is a plus defender, a plus runner, and a good guy to have around behind someone like Cliff Floyd or Moises Alou. Over an extended period, Chavez will be exposed offensively, but he's still useful and above replacement level. What makes losing him to a hamstring strain tough is the injury stacking that the Mets have experienced. With Alou still dealing with fluid buildup in his leg, Lastings Milledge still on the minor league DL, Shawn Green a couple of days away from a return, and even Carlos Gomez dealing with leg problems, the Mets are down to guys like Ben Johnson. The results of Chavez's MRI weren't known, though the injury looked more severe than something that would heal up in the minimum.

Quick Cuts: Correction--I wrote Sean Marshall when I meant Sean Gallagher. ... Bartolo Colon will make his next start, says the Angels. Watch his arm slot to see if it drops, says me. ... John Smoltz is questionable for his next start with continued soreness in his pitching shoulder. ... I thought that Tomo Ohka was a nice value signing for the Jays when it happened, but he's been a bit unlucky, and he's also recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. I won't say the Jays were wrong for releasing him, but it would surprise me if there weren't teams he couldn't help with a better second half. ... Ryan Freel has not yet been cleared to start baseball activities, but sources say that this is "no indication of post-concussion problems." ... Joe Mauer will be back at catcher Friday. Just wondering--anyone seen a study on catcher squatting? ... Does all the ESPN signage at the NBA Finals mean it's a weak ad market for the NBA, or that it's so valuable that ESPN's willing to use a big vehicle to promote the Home Run Derby and "The Bronx Is Burning?" ... Speaking of ESPN, I'll be doing my weekly chat over there at 11 a.m., so stop by.

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