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July 5, 2007

Under The Knife

Hamstringing Along

by Will Carroll

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I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea that an inning isn't an inning. We all look at things like innings pitched, batters faced, and pitch counts, knowing full well that all innings aren't created equal, a pitch's cost changes, and that facing Barry Bonds is different than facing Brandon Phillips. Even the question of "what is a stressful inning" changes the very definition of stress so completely that translating it within the major league context is difficult. That makes translating minor league pitching or worse, college data nearly impossible. The Padres have signed their first-round pick, and knowing how hard he worked, they're going to limit Nick Schmidt. As with any recent prospect, they're watching his workload, and as with every recent pitcher, we have no idea if that process of monitoring is helping or hurting. There's no logic or heuristic to help along the process, so instead we rely on the age-old wisdom of a scout or coach who says "he knows it when he sees it." They're right some of the time, but wrong some of the time as well.

We're ignoring the process, churning out omelets and ending up with scrambled eggs while ignoring development systems, process, genetics, biomechanics, and who knows what else, all because we're afraid of what we'll find. There's a restaurant in Spain, El Bulli, where the chef, Ferran Adria, is almost as much of a scientist as he is a cook. There's plenty more to read on him if you want to-I recommend it-but watching a video on him made me wonder if there isn't a way to use his techniques to follow process in the world of pitching. It's just a stray thought, but at least it's a thought. It would be better if we just used the available resources in a more efficient manner, but I'm reminded of something a surgeon once said to me about a particularly bad knee injury: "You can't unscramble eggs."

Powered by the dream of a dinner at El Bulli or maybe just Alinea, on to the injuries:

  • The Yankees have dealt with more than their share of injuries, if you go by the theory that there is a share, but they've been especially beset by hamstring injuries. This was famously dealt with after the Philip Hughes injury by firing the new conditioning coach, but the injuries haven't stopped or even really slowed from what might be considered a more normal pace. Alex Rodriguez's injury isn't any more or less related-who's to say that what he did in spring training didn't contribute to his injury? The fact is that Rodriguez, for all his talents and faults, has been a durable player, something one source said was the result of his work ethic and idolizing Cal Ripken. Rodriguez's hamstring strain is a small one-"Grade I, maybe," I was told-and the result of a collision and the odd motion that he took in both avoiding and reacting an accident. Rodriguez will need to protect the hamstring over the next week to make sure that he doesn't re-injure it while it heals. It appears that taking the All-Star break to heal rather than to play an exhibition game is the smart play.

    I mentioned Hughes earlier, and there's some good news on that front-he could start a rehab assignment next week. His ankle is healed, so now the biggest challenge for him is rebuilding his stamina. If he starts next week, he could be back in The Bronx before we flip the calendar, but expect a very deliberate, conservative plan for him.

  • No one's saying officially yet, but mark it down that the A's will have Rich Harden back in the starting rotation come Saturday. All indications and sources point to Harden's side session as being his final test for returning to the rotation. There's moves to be made by the A's, all relating to this, but no one seems to know if the team will simply swap out a starter (most likely Lenny DiNardo) and have him "shadow" Harden in his first few starts, or if the team will elect to freshen up its bullpen with new arms. There's also no clear indication as to what the limits on Harden might be. Having only gone a couple of innings in his relief/rehab outings, it's hard to imagine that Harden can go much beyond 50 pitches. It's important to note that getting Harden in before the break won't immediately overtax the pen; if they're extended by a short start, they'll have the break to recover. There's also word on the wire that Huston Street is on track for a July 20 return. Street hasn't yet thrown from the top of a mound yet, so I'm holding back a bit on that date's firmness.
  • Chris Carpenter fought through the errors behind him and got his work in during his first rehab start. While the numbers don't look superficially good, Carpenter came through his 1 1/3 innings and 32 pitches with no soreness, and showed normal velocity and all of his pitches. Carpenter is expected to make at least two more rehab starts, and given his pitch limit, it could actually be more, squelching the hopes that Carpenter could be back with the team next week. At this stage, stamina is the one thing that Carpenter doesn't appear to have back. Once he gets that, it's Carpenter that will be back at the top of the Cards rotation.
  • "Hit on the screws" is a phrase you'll occasionally hear. Kenji Johjima was actually hit on the screw-the one that remains in his hand, that is. Johjima has a plate screwed into his second metacarpal, there to fixate a previous fracture. I'm honestly not sure if it hurts more or less to take a foul ball come off of your screw, but given Johjima's reaction, I'll guess it was no less painful. There's no early indication that there's further damage; the plate may have actually saved him from another fracture. The hand is still swollen and painful, so Johjima is likely to miss at least a few more games while it heals up, but at this stage, it doesn't appear he'll head to the DL.
  • You have to wonder if the Chipper Jones drama might bubble up again now that John Smoltz is doing just what Jones said he shouldn't do all year-miss a start. Smoltz's shoulder is the culprit again, forcing Smoltz to leave the team and head back to Atlanta for tests. Smoltz is insisting publicly that the problem is minor, a recurrence of past problems that have only forced him to miss a start here and there, but looking at the facts of the situation, it looks a bit more serious. Since Smoltz came back to the starting rotation, he's worn down each year deep in the second half, each time experiencing the symptoms of impingement in his pitching shoulder. Those same symptoms have cropped up much earlier this season. Without a rest or a new treatment or medicine that can relieve the symptoms, there's no reason to think that this won't continue to become more and more problematic. The Braves and Smoltz have a tough situation that won't be helped by the increasingly problematic clubhouse chemistry. Expect Smoltz to resist the DL, making his next start-whenever that is-a very risky proposition.
  • The Marlins keep saying that they see good things coming from Josh Johnson, despite the early results in his comeback from ulnar neuritis. They went on record before his most recent start, only to see Johnson leave the game with forearm tightness. Give the Marlins points for being right-Johnson did look significantly better in the five innings he was in the game, and the mechanical adjustments he's made as he's gained confidence in the elbow should have been a big positive. All that was lost, however, when his forearm stiffened up, eerily similar to the tightness that preceded all this. You might remember that Johnson sat through an hour-long rain delay last year and was sent back out to the mound, ending his night with a stiff forearm. That was when Johnson was forced to the DL, so this doesn't look good.
  • Instead of heading to San Francisco for the All-Star Game, where many would have expected Mark Teixeira to go before the season, he'll head north to Frisco. The suburban Double-A club is the most likely destination for the quick rehab that Teixeira needs to test his leg and get some swings in. There's little expectation that the first baseman will have trouble with either. The slow pace of his recovery is more about the conservative program that the team had him on, rather than any real indication of the severity of the injury. Teixeira will move to another suburb, Arlington, when the Rangers start play in the second half.
  • This might seem like deja vu to Dodgers fans, as they watch Randy Wolf fade onto the DL much in the same way that Jason Schmidt did. There are differences there, however. Wolf has lost some velocity over his past few starts, and dealing with mild soreness for a while; he's been adjusting to try and stay effective. What he doesn't have is significant damage inside the arm. Wolf is in a danger zone, as many pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery do develop shoulder problems. The theory is that subtle mechanical adjustments cause the shoulder to take on more stress in their new delivery, but this isn't proven, and is so dependent on the individual as to make it very tough to determine. Wolf will miss at least a couple starts and could be out for as much as a month as they try to rest the shoulder and get him back to a point where he can pitch safely.
  • A nine-game losing streak is bad enough, but the Rays will now be without their closer, Al Reyes. Reyes has been a great value find for the team, and was really the one stable member of the bullpen. As with Wolf and other Tommy John survivors, Reyes is dealing with shoulder problems in the year following. The rotator cuff strain is said to be mild, but the Rays aren't taking any chances with one of their possible trading chips. They've sent him to the DL, and indications are that this won't go much past the minimum. The Rays are also being patient with B.J. Upton, who first had a very mild setback with his quad strain, then showed up with a fever. This will keep him at Durham through the All-Star break, but there's no indication that he won't be back shortly after that.
  • Rumors started popping out on Tuesday that Randy Johnson, now on the DL with a recurrence of his back problem, was going to take his Unit and go home, retiring instead of rehabbing. The rumor was not and is not true. I spoke to someone who has a very good handle on the situation that said "Not now. [Johnson is] obviously going to walk away somehow, but on [his] terms." Johnson's back problem is at the point where it's a matter of maintenance and management rather than finding a cure. Johnson's career-and the D'backs rotation-now relies on his willingness to pitch through the pain and the skill of the medical staff to keep his as comfortable as possible, minimizing the damage and maximizing his effectiveness. It's a tough balancing act, and one that will hold Johnson's innings to a level that will be problematic for fantasy owners, but could be one of the big differences between winning and losing in the NL West for the Snakes.
  • Quick Cuts: Here's an interesting tidbit. Harvey Haddix's famous 12-inning no-hitter took an estimated 139 pitches. That's not as many as I would have guessed. His game score was an insane 107, but if you look at the rest of his season at the invaluable retrosheet.org, aside from his next start out, he wasn't that effective. ... Felix Hernandez was pulled in the eighth inning of his last start despite having gone only 92 pitches. He said after the game that "I was tired from the sixth inning on." You read that right-he threw three innings while admittedly fatigued. ... Troy Glaus heads back to Toronto for an MRI on his injured foot. We won't know until the results how long Glaus might be out, but it looks bleak. ... Barry Bonds missed a game with sore knees, but this is pretty typical for him on road trips. I wouldn't be too worried. ... Chris Snelling had another knee surgery, this time a relatively simple scoping. He'll miss about a month with this injury. It's his eighth knee surgery, if you're counting. ... Anyone on Pownce? ... Mike Sweeney is heading for knee surgery which will keep him out about a month. He's been trying to avoid it, but the knee got no better with rest. There's a chance that the team will let Sweeney take his time with rehab, effectively ending his tenure with the Royals.

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