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June 13, 2007

Under The Knife

Seeing Verlander in a Different Light

by Will Carroll

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Justin Verlander took 112 pitches to no-hit the Brewers last night. Was this the peak of his career, one I predicted to be a risky due to his heavy workload? I'm beginning to think not. Verlander had a big jump in innings pitched, but there are a couple of factors which didn't get considered when I dropped a red light on him heading into this season.

First, the Tigers do an amazing job developing pitchers and keeping them healthy. Over the past few years, they've had a very good record at all levels when it comes to avoiding preventable arm injuries, even as they develop a growing number of young pitchers. Now, I'm not sure how much credit the organization should get for Verlander and Andrew Miller, who came to the Tigers nearly fully formed, and didn't require the effort that someone like a Joel Zumaya or Jeremy Bonderman did (and even there, they only get half-credit for Bonderman).

Second, Verlander had an insane workload in college. According to Boyd Nation, Verlander's workload was huge, creating a noticeable decline during the three years that he pitched at Old Dominion. Having survived that workload may have given him some type of advantage. Translating PAP over from college is at about the same stage as translating college stats, and in this case, we may have missed something. He's still been worked heavily, and he still looks too skinny, but his easy motion, heavy fastball, and diving curve make Verlander something we're all looking for in a major league pitcher--he's a freak. I still worry about his risk, but I also know that freaks are real, and you want them on your roster.

Powered by Jack's Mannequin, on to the injuries:

  • Huston Street has shut things down again after further irritation in his pitching elbow occurred during his rehab. Street was in too much pain to continue with his program, which had progressed only as far as playing catch. He's headed for a third opinion on the elbow, and has essentially re-set the clock on his rehab, meaning that in the best case scenario he's now back after the All-Star break rather than before it. I expect Street will miss two months, about right, but perhaps a bit short. With Justin Duchscherer resting and not in an active rehab program at this stage, the A's bullpen will have to lean that much more heavily on the contributions of guys like Santiago Casilla and Colby Lewis.
  • Instead of writing something on A.J. Burnett, I'll just let reader C.G. vent, as he did to me:

    So in Burnett's last inning, he throws a nasty curve on a 1-1 count to Klesko, which Klesko swings over for strike two. After the pitch, he's hunched over rubbing his arm. The announcers are all over it--saying there's something wrong--and A.J.'s face tells the whole story. One would think the manager/trainer/catcher would come out to ask if there's a problem. However, he gets back on the mound and throws a 91 mph changeup, and does the SAME EXACT THING after the pitch, leaning over, shaking out his arm.

    Manager? Trainer? Nope. He walks back up the mound and throws another hammer to strike out Klesko, and this time, on the follow through, stays hunched over! Bonds comes up next, and he throws a 95 mph heater and Bonds swings through it. Did you notice how I neglected to mention that the manager or trainer or catcher or infielder or ANYONE came out to visit him after his last pitch to Klesko? So he gets Bonds on strike one, then throws ANOTHER curve that hangs, and rolls up to the plate, and Bonds rips it to right and FINALLY Burnett walks off the mound and calls out the manager and trainer. The announcers are in shock, and I'm tearing my hair out while wishing I had you a speed dial.

    C.G.'s dead-on with his description of the action. I watched this after getting the e-mail, and was stunned to see just what had been described. I've never seen Burnett behave this way, and while Jordan Bastain adds that Burnett was being "watched closely," the in-game reality was different. Burnett is reported to have a strained shoulder, but that doesn't match up with what I saw. That mid-90's fastball didn't look like there was any problem in the shoulder. Coming on the heels of a 130-pitch outing last week, Jays fans have to be worried about the always-worrisome Burnett.

  • The Braves are waiting to see how John Smoltz recovers from his side session before deciding when he'll slot back into the rotation. This is a telling piece of information with an interesting side note to it. The problem is clearly in the recovery and not in the pitching for Smoltz, indicating that while it's not a significant problem like a labrum tear, it could be a rotator cuff fatigue issue. Smoltz said a few days ago that "if it was the playoffs, I could pitch," and that seems telling. He could pitch, but he probably couldn't recover quickly enough to make his next turn. The Braves are being smart and conservative here, and protecting Smoltz from himself as much as anything else. The one thing that I noted was that my source told me about his side session being "high intensity, letting Smoltzie cut loose a bit," which is very different from the 'touch and feel' side sessions that were a hallmark of the Leo Mazzone program. Mazzone's program didn't actually reduce injuries, so I'm not sure this means anything more than trivia yet, but more information is almost always better.
  • Joel Zumaya responded to Jim Leyland's statements about his comeback by saying he feels great and could be back in six weeks. Zumaya is simply wrong here, but he means well. In fact, the information he gave tells us the real deal--he's due to revisit his surgeon around the All-Star break, and at that point he could begin throwing again. While he doesn't have to build up significant stamina, he does have to throw the ball hard, something we simply don't know if he can do. His rehab is going well for what it is at this stage, but we still don't have any information that tells us how he'll perform. Getting Zumaya back this season in some form is very likely, but in what form is as uncertain as anything in the game. I'm not going to bet against Zumaya, but there's considerable risk here.
  • Rickie Weeks is still dealing with the chronic aftereffects of his wrist surgery. While the problem itself isn't that serious, the way that it affects his swing is. Baseball players are a bit like race cars, in that the smallest thing can throw the entire system off. I won't pretend to know cars well enough to say that a hitter's wrists are like the driveshaft or the lugnuts of an F1 car, but they're important. Weeks is expected to come off of the DL at near the minimum two-week stint, but the Brewers may send him on a short rehab assignment to get some swings in and be sure that once he's back, he's really ready to be back. The Brewers are also dealing with a slightly similar issue with Ryan Braun, though his problem is more forearm related.
  • Several e-mailers have asked why I haven't discussed Barry Bonds lately. Bonds has been suffering with shin splints, one of the most painful and least treatable conditions you can have. Whether it's a muscular or a skeletal problem, there's no other cure or even reduction technique besides rest and time. Bonds' balky knees figure into the equation, but simply put, there's nothing to add here that's not already well known. Bonds is a tough guy to cover from an injury standpoint--he's inherently risky, refuses to be placed on the DL, and essentially comes and goes from the roster for rest and precaution as much as he does for actual injury-related reasons. When I can add something, I'll write more, but I think Barry gets enough coverage.
  • The boys at 1060west.net are more than a little worried about Carlos Zambrano. While his mechanics look different over the last couple of starts, they're not what they were in the past. He's tighter laterally, but the arm slot still appears to be down from where he was in the past. The fatigue they note in his last inning was visible, and his mechanics and velocity are fading; while 128 isn't 158, remember that the underlying principle of PAP is that every pitch thrown while fatigued represents an increased risk of injury. Zambrano is risking millions on every pitch while trying to prove that he's worth a couple more. It will be interesting to see if his mild improvements are counter-acted by his workload.
  • Quick Cuts: It looks like Mark Teixeira will be out until right around the All-Star break, which seems very conservative. ... Mike Jacobs is due to start hitting this week. He could be back in the Marlins lineup by next week. ... Anibal Sanchez is heading to Birmingham after a setback in his rehab. Sources tell me that the shoulder has actually degraded in rehab. ... Brad Lidge. Wow. ... John Patterson heads out for a rehab start on Friday. He could be back in D.C. about the same time that Christina Kahrl and I have our Ballpark Event there. Expect a couple other BPers to be on hand with Stan Kasten of the Nats. ... Adam Loewen looks to be headed for surgery on his elbow. He'll have the fracture in his elbow fixated with some device, such as screws or plates. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds. ... You know whose music really holds up? Rick Springfield. Yeah, Rick Springfield. ... Jered Weaver got some relief from a chiropractor, so his back won't keep him from making his next start.

    Related Content:  A.J. Burnett,  Back,  Trainer

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