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June 26, 2007

Under The Knife

Hurry Up, or Wait?

by Will Carroll

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"The most expensive middle reliever in history." Jon Heyman's throwaway line about Roger Clemens is still funny, but given Joe Torre's new pattern of using his aces, seeing Clemens and Andy Pettitte as occasional middle relievers is something I like. A couple of years ago, when I talked about roster multipliers, the "throw day reliever" was one of the things that I thought could help expand a roster. From a health standpoint, there's absolutely no reason why this shouldn't work, assuming that it's managed properly, but from a roster management standpoint, it's a way to get rid of that sixth or seventh reliever as a way to expand a bullpen. Joe Sheehan has pointed out again and again that benches are one of the weakest points of the game right now, so maybe the throw-day reliever needs to be studied. If any of you Diamond Mind gurus have some free time, I have some ideas for ways of figuring out usage patterns. If throw-day relievers, superutility guys, two-way players, Lasorda outfielders, and plus-catchers (my five types of roster multipliers) can be worked into the game, it wouldn't be something new; it'd just be using previously used tactics in a new way. If nothing else, it'd be fun to watch.

Powered by Ryan Adams' new album, on to the injuries:

  • Miguel Tejada is suggesting that he'll need only the minimum fifteen days before returning to the lineup. His broken arm is going to tell him differently. For players that seldom get injured (if ever), this is a very typical pattern, one that holds a lot of danger. They get hurt, initially resist going the DL, and then once on it expect to be off of it quickly. While healing does begin in a fracture in the first week, and despite new technologies to stimulate bone growth, getting a broken bone ready to play baseball at Tejada's level doesn't happen that quickly. (Remember just a few years ago when suggestions that Mark Mulder was using a pharmaceutical to return from his hip problem was considered controversial?) The Derrek Lee recovery is the clear comparable here, and while the mechanism and severity for the injuries is different, it's not so different that we should see a two-month difference in their recovery period. Lee's lingering issues with his wrist lasted nearly all season, and it's been reported that Lee can still feel the problem, even though it doesn't limit him now. It seems that Tejada is the one wanting to rush back. With the Orioles trying to turn their fortunes around, allowing his ego to trump the team's need for him to be healthy in the future would be a wrong first step in the MacPhail Era.
  • Everyone seems to have been watching Rich Harden tonight. Whether it was readers or scouts, all the medheads were watching to see how he performed in his first relief appearance since coming off of the DL. What everyone noticed was Harden shaking his arm, as if he couldn't get it loose. I went back to check, and yes, it's something that Harden regularly does, but only before he's had problems. After the game, manager Bob Geren admitted that Harden was "achy", giving them the better-safe-than-sorry move of getting him out after just one inning instead of the planned two. If there's a good sign, it's that Harden was in the low to mid-90's with his fastball. The bigger test than throwing hard is going to be recovery. Harden was not expected to throw back-to-back games at this stage of his rehab (and we do need to consider this as rehab), but an extended absence would need to be considered a major negative. We need to see Harden back on a mound by Thursday to say that this is working as planned. The late word from Oakland is that Harden is sounding very negative, comparing his shoulder pain now to what he had prior to going on the DL.
  • As I've let you know here, Chris Carpenter is ahead of schedule. Not just ahead of the conservative schedule that the Cardinals gave him, but ahead of the expected schedule for return from this type of elbow surgery. That was proven today, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tells us that Carpenter might be headed on a rehab assignment as early as this weekend. Moreover, this could be a very short assignment, as quick as one or two starts. The only question for Carpenter is one of stamina, but as with Harden, the Cards know that having him in some capacity is better than not having him at all. Getting him back for a shorter outing, even one that would necessitate a "shadow" (a long reliever who might have to step in) would shorten an already overworked bullpen, but it might nevertheless be enough of a positive to encourage the Cards to shorten his rehab stint. With the Cardinals at a tipping point as far as their catching up with the Brewers, getting their ace back before the All-Star break might end up their biggest decision of the year.
  • Randy Johnson came out of his sim game feeling positive, or as positive as the Big Unit gets. Despite a herniated disc in his spine, Johnson had no trouble during or, more importantly, after a 40-pitch session. Johnson mixed in all his pitches, though he was not throwing at full speed. The team is now thinking that he could be back in the rotation in time to close out the Dodgers series this week, though that Thursday return would necessitate some juggling of the current rotation. Going forward, the back is going to be a problem, perhaps even a chronic one, meaning that both Ken Crenshaw's staff and Johnson's doctors are going to have to work hard to keep him functional. Johnson has pitched with chronic back and knee problems for years and maintained his effectiveness, so this is nothing new. While his age and the increasing number of chronic problems are negatives to be sure, I'll take Johnson's track record of having done it as a counterbalance. Don't be surprised to see him limited on pitches from here on out, and expect some missed starts or pushbacks, but also don't be surprised when Johnson pitches well when he does make it to the mound.
  • The Rays think that B.J. Upton has healed up enough to start a rehab assignment this week. The lingering quad strain and some question about his future position remain in play, though sources don't think that he'll have much problem coming back quickly. "Making sure he can move without pain and getting some swings is all that he needs," one source told me about the expectations for his rehab, which could start as soon as Wednesday. Quad strains tend not to recur as much as other leg injuries, so Upton shouldn't have much if any issues with the leg once he makes a healthy return. The conservative bent of the Rays medical staff is a plus here, as they make sure that Upton is completely healthy and will avoid a return trip to the DL.
  • Reader J.G. emailed to ask why Rafael Furcal is having lingering problems with his ankle. "It was just a sprain!" he moaned. Furcal's ankle was "just" a sprain, let's remember what a sprain is-it's a tearing of ligaments inside the ankle, which is a complex, weight-bearing joint. The LA Times is reporting that Furcal's left ankle is giving him problems going up the middle and batting right-handed. This is the opposite of what you might expect, and tells us that the problem is not with starting, but with stopping or increased weight-bearing. The longer-term concern and one that might already be in play is some arthritic changes in the ankle, a common side effect of chronic ankle problems such as the one Furcal is dealing with. That's bad for a speed player, though worse for a power guy, so Furcal is dealing with a bit of a double whammy. His PECOTA comps include a lot of guys who had precipitous drops after injuries, so that shorter contract might end up being one of Ned Colletti's smarter moves.
  • The Reds haven't had much to cheer about this season, and with trading season imminent, it's worth noting that one of the disappointments of this season has been the failure of Bronson Arroyo to match last season's success. While Aaron Harang's season is being lost on a bad team, Arroyo simply looks lost. Jayson Stark of ESPN is working on a story about the effects of heavy workloads on playoff pitchers, a piece I'm really looking forward to reading, but while Arroyo didn't make it to the playoffs, the 35-inning increase sure appears to be catching up to him. In my preseason health report on Arroyo, I discussed the innings pitched increase, but discounted them even when dropping a red light on Arroyo. While efficiency hasn't been as big a problem, his workload is. His MLB game log shows that where the problem really started was with a 129-pitch outing in May. Since then, Arroyo has struggled, and he appears to be tired. The Reds are going nowhere fast, so figuring out how to get Arroyo back to where he was last year should be one of their big tasks this year.

Quick Cuts: I don't agree with Mark Kriegel's positions very often, but I do this time. ... Barry Bonds stole his fifth base this weekend. Those steals have often been a solid indicator that his knees are feeling good. When his knees feel good, pitchers feel bad. ... Generic biotech drugs like HGH are good for the sick people that need them, but they could be problematic for baseball. Justin Morneau is back with the team and is expected to start Thursday. ... Ryan Dempster will throw in the bullpen today to determine whether or not the oblique strain will send him to the DL. ... Anyone still worried about Ben Sheets? Me either. ... Cristian Guzman is out for the season after thumb surgery. I honestly hadn't noticed he was ever back.

Related Content:  A's,  Back,  Quad-a

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