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June 29, 2007

Under The Knife

Almost Halfway

by Will Carroll

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As we near the midpoint of both the year and the season, we get to that stage where the numbers become a little more meaningful. In this niche of the baseball world, we're hard at work poring over the DL data that's collected behind the scenes, looking for patterns and explanations. We'll have much more on this as we head into the All-Star Break, but what's clear is that there are no easy answers here. There's no one thing, like the weather, the new stretching program, or whatever snowclone of "the oblique strain is the new black" is in play for 2007. We aren't yet to the stage in medhead-style performance analysis to where we even have rules or phrases like "OBP is life." We just have piles of data, collected by hand and swimming in a database. There's gold in there somewhere.

Powered by the countdown to the iPhone, on to the injuries:

  • Pedro sighting! Pedro sighting! Hey, that's what it sounded like, and not from the bloggers, but from the ink-stained beat writers that follow Pedro Martinez and the Mets. The team decided to deviate from the previously planned series of side sessions and moved Martinez to what was in essence a simulated game. Martinez threw a series of 15-pitch sets (roughly equivalent to one inning's work). During the middle session, he was allowed to mix in his breaking stuff, but most impressive was his changeup. While his mid-80's fastball (as opposed to his mid-80's hairstyle) is going to need more fast to make that change effective, it showed clearly that Martinez is further along in his recovery than we'd been led to believe. The timeline for his return is still early August, but if he can extend himself more over the next few outings, a minor league rehab can't be far off, though one wonders if the type of thing that the A's are doing with Rich Harden might be noted in Flushing. Since the team wants Martinez ready for the playoff push, not late July, his rehab schedule will be informed strongly by the standings.

  • Someone explain to me why Arte Moreno, a man who was savvy enough to make dropping the beer prices his first act as owner of the Angels and who has made few missteps along the way, hasn't seen fit to properly and completely pad the walls of his stadium? He's hardly alone, but somehow I expect more from an organization like the Angels. If getting swept by the Royals wasn't bad enough, Reggie Willits slammed into the wall and injured his knee. He stayed in the game, but the bruise began to get more painful and swollen, as bruises do. Willits isn't likely to need more than a couple days off, but it's an injury stack that has the Angels scrambling a bit as they slide. It could have been significantly worse and with something as simple and effective as increased padding, there's really no excuse for injuries like this. "Preventable" is a word that I'm very hesitant to use with most injuries, but this type, if not this one, simply don't need to happen.
  • Aramis Ramirez missed a game Wednesday due to the schedule. Actually, he missed the game because of his knee, but the schedule will determine a lot of when Lou Piniella will look to rest the third baseman and his aching knee. With Thursday a scheduled off day for the Cubs, Ramirez is essentially resting two days in a row, which the medical staff thinks will help the various ailments that plague him. When he's in the lineup, he's fine, but the knee is a problem of maintenance and management. Knowing one of the ways they'll manage it might help those of you in daily leagues more than it will help Cubs fans on the days when Mark DeRosa slides over to 3B.
  • Randy Johnson wasn't greeted kindly by the Dodgers as he came back from the DL. Limited to 80 pitches this outing, he didn't reach it in three innings of work, leaving after just 70. If there's a positive to be taken away from the first outing, it's that he didn't appear distressed or injured, just rusty. The velocity was there, but the command and movement wasn't. That's typical for pitchers coming off layoffs. Johnson will have to show more of both next time, as well as recover from the start well enough to stay on schedule. Given the nature of his back problem, his availability is going to be called into question a lot, making his shadow (last night it was Dustin Nippert, despite the short outing he had after replacing Johnson) a potentially valuable commodity.
  • A.J. Burnett came back as well, but while he got better results than the Big Unit did, he certainly didn't come back the way he expected. He put up six Ks in the first three innings, but then visibly wore down and got hit hard in the fourth. He only went 75 pitches, but the sharp dropoff in his last inning of work is notable since the problem isn't the raw pitch count, but the fatigue and stress of pitching. Burnett shouldn't be significantly deconditioned despite the layoff, so the lack of stamina is worrisome. He'll need to build on it quickly but slowly, a contradictory statement that is often true for pitchers and what makes it so hard to control their comebacks without being over-conservative. I'll wait for his next start before even guessing about his efficacy in the medium term.

  • While I'm looking forward to Friday's matchup of Rich Hill against Yo Gallardo (that's right, I'm calling him Yo), Gallardo might be looking forward to working out of the pen. I'm sure Gallardo isn't looking forward to it in the sense that he's excited about it, but that's where the team thinks he can both help the team now and in the future. This is a bit of pitching depth, a bit of gamesmanship as the Brewers front office flaunts that depth in advance of the trading season. It's also part of his long-term management. Gallardo has lived up to the hype in his first two starts, and has made those of us who favored him over Homer Bailey look good so far, but the team can limit his innings by putting him in the pen for a while. It will be fascinating to watch how Mike Maddux uses him and maintains his viability as a starter, but Maddux is in the top tier of pitching coaches for a reason. His work this season with Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano is reason to think he might rank with or even above Dave Duncan and Don Cooper. Speaking of Capuano, it's his return from a strained groin next week that will push Gallardo to the pen. It was a minor strain to begin with, so Capuano should be fine out of the gate.

  • Most Phillies fans e-mail me asking for information on Brett Myers. Meanwhile, Tom Gordon is rehabbing comfortably below the radar. He went through his second simulated game at the Phillies Clearwater complex and reports have been positive about his stuff and his shoulder. Gordon is likely to start a rehab assignment sometime next week, starting in Clearwater and then moving up, likely to Double-A instead of Triple-A due to travel. Gordon's return will time out with the All-Star Break and the aggressive timetable will have him back before Myers, possibly well before if recent reports that Myers won't be ready to even start a rehab assignment for the next two weeks bear out. What that means for the closer role in Philly remains to be seen.

  • The A's are waiting to see how Rich Harden does when he gets another shot on the mound Friday. (Quick note: His last fateful outing wasn't his first outing; instead, I mistranslated one of my notes. I meant to say one inning.) Elsewhere, the news is good. Huston Street is making progress, which is something new, while the results for Justin Duchscherer seem to be coming quicker. Duchscherer's sessions from the mound have gone so well that he could be out on a rehab assignment before the All Star break and back just after it. It's an aggressive timetable, to be sure, but...well, hold on and I'll discuss this in the next note.
  • Brandon McCarthy is going to make his next start Monday in a Dallas suburb, but it will be in Arlington with the Rangers rather than Frisco with the Rough Riders. Jon Daniels was quoted as saying that he could aggravate the blister as easily in Double-A as he could in the majors without the effect of helping the big club. I think this is the spread of the meme that Gary Huckabay codified in his article this spring regarding the Giants. Pitchers who can help the big league club should do so when they're not placed at any significant additional risk. As we're seeing with pitchers like Homer Bailey or even Rich Harden, there's a value that is wasted by keeping a player in the minors that has to be balanced with both the developmental and economic needs of the franchise. I believe that understanding this concept and managing it properly is going to be one of the defining characteristics for progressive organizations in the next five years.
  • The Blue Jays have been felled by injuries as much as anyone, but they're still in second place. Is that success or failure? I don't think it's meaningful actually, but I do think it will be meaningful how well they play in the second half. They're getting most of their parts back in place and with Lyle Overbay and Reed Johnson both coming back soon, only B.J. Ryan and Gustavo Chacin will be still on the shelf from their group of expected contributors. Overbay has begun swinging, and Johnson is slightly ahead of his schedule and could start a rehab assignment next week as he returns from back surgery. Overbay is more of a question mark hinging on how his swing rebuilds itself as he gets up to speed.

Quick Cuts: Great article from Jayson Stark. I'm already at work trying to answer one of the question he raised ... Chris Carpenter's simulated game went well. He'll head out on a rehab assignment at some point early next week, most likely to Single-A ... Justin Morneau is expected back in the lineup this weekend ... The Indians might not lose David Dellucci for the entire season. It sounds more serious than it is when you hear he had a hamstring tendon removed. This is actually a common football surgery, one with solid results ... Chris Snelling isn't cursed. He just can't stand up to the demands placed on his body by the game. Someday, we'll understand genetics better and we'll think of Snelling. He's reinjured his knee and ended his current rehab ... Terrmel Sledge got a bit lucky. His thumb isn't fractured. With Brian Giles back, the Pads can afford to give Sledge some time off ... I'll be off Monday. Have a great weekend.

Related Content:  Will Myers,  A's,  Back,  The Who,  Work,  Gamesmanship

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