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July 17, 2007

Under The Knife

Planet Earth

by Will Carroll

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I spent the weekend taking angry e-mails from people who thought I'd sullied the name of Hank Aaron in my piece from Sunday, but among them, I did get a note from reader Luke Kasdan, asking me in an e-mail if I was surprised by the comments that Gary Sheffield had most recently made. "I wish that everyone would just look at this as a matter of players from a hip hop culture. The post-Deion Sanders athlete that's been taking over all sports-the more in-your-face descendant[s] of Muhammad Ali-are of all colors." Kasdan's nailed it, but I'm not sure whether to blame Sanders or Ali or anyone.

Why? Because sports are no different than America, and in today's world, the entire culture has seemed to race for the lowest common denominator, reaching for the bottom of the pyramid while people increasingly seek their own niches or tribes. Players today aren't the players of yesteryear in any way, shape, or form, and shouldn't be thought of as outside of the general culture. Nevertheless, I often feel like the guy who yells at kids to get off his lawn these days, aghast when I hear a nine-year-old hitter in the cage singing along with 50 Cent, and wondering whether he's just parroting lyrics, or really understands them. Change isn't all bad and isn't all good, but to some extent I do think all of today's athletes are the children of Ali. Sadly, they're focusing on some of his words, and not many of his actions.

Powered by Prince's Planet Earth, on to the injuries:

  • Dear Padres fans, I still love you. The reason I didn't talk about Jake Peavy had nothing to do with my lack of respect for Peavy nor for your fine team, and everything to do with the lack of new information available. Things are different today, so let's discuss the Padres and their ace. Peavy was pushed back from his Sunday start to Tuesday due to some discomfort in his throwing biceps. The Padres smartly dialed him back, knowing that he worked hard up to the All-Star Break and then didn't get much of a break, what with his having to take the start in San Francisco. Add in that he was slightly off his normal program, and it's not too surprising that he might not be quite as sharp as usual. All looks good after another look at the arm by the medical staff, and he'll slot back in Tuesday night against the Mets. I'll be watching for normal mechanics and velocity to determine if he's completely past this small problem.
  • The Brewers placed Ben Sheets on the DL with a sprained middle finger on his throwing hand. It's a distal knuckle, and if that plus Sheets' "heard something pop" quote made you think of Joel Zumaya, I wouldn't blame you. This injury is different, however-it's not the tendon itself that's torn (in which case this would be a strain, not a sprain), but the sheath of connective tissue that holds the tendon in place. He'll have more tests to determine how the tendon is affected functionally, but there's a broad time frame ranging from a two-week minimum to six if there's a complete tear. Expect Sheets to be back somewhere in the middle of that range, with the presence of Yovani Gallardo buying him some time. The medical staff also gets something of a gold star for the guy brought up to replace Gallardo in the pen yesterday-Manny Parra has been rehabbing for the better part of the last two years, so seeing him at the major league level is a great payoff for the organization's investment of time and care, even if the circumstance behind it isn't ideal.
  • Chris Carpenter is back in St. Louis, though it's far from the way most thought he'd return. Carpenter will see team doctors today to try and determine why his elbow became swollen. The delay in bringing him back home was as expected-they needed for the swelling to go down, and working with the team's Florida staff made sense for continuity. That the swelling took several days to diminish is not a good sign at all, however, and if it's true that this is "merely" arthritis, it would indicate a very severe case of it, one that could be career-threatening. One similar situation that came to mind was that of A.J. Burnett just before his Tommy John surgery. Dr. Jim Andrews left a bone spur in Burnett's elbow in, because he said it "helped protect the ligament." Was this the case for Carpenter's elbow? There's no indication that there's a ligament problem here, so we shouldn't jump to any conclusions, but this looks to be a very serious setback for Carpenter and the Cards.
  • No word from Chipper Jones on the news that John Smoltz is ready to come off the DL. Smoltz made it through his normal pre-start work and will be activated for a Wednesday start. The questions remaining are how he may be limited and if the shoulder will hold up over the course of the next few starts, or if this is just another episode with his chronic shoulder inflammation. Normally, this problem has cropped up much later in the season, so making it through a couple of starts will be a big test for Smoltz. As for limitations, it doesn't appear that there are any. A source told me that there's no specific pitch or innings limit for Smoltz, just "common sense." That sounds like a good plan.
  • The Red Sox seem to have all the time in the world, though with the number of minor injuries they're dealing with, I'm sure their medical staff doesn't feel relaxed. Curt Schilling is one of my biggest FAQs right now, so the positive steps he's making help my inbox as much as they help the Red Sox. Schilling's progress with his recovery has been slow and steady, something that will continue through his rehab starts and into his first few starts for the Sox. Schilling will have strict pitch/inning limits in his two planned rehab outings, including three innings or fifty pitches on Saturday. That's not that stringent, and is certainly higher than most initial starts, as well as something of a jump from his 30-pitch side session prior to this. There's plenty of opportunity to see what Schilling will bring back to Boston in the next two starts, so there should be no surprises when it comes time to activate him. Right now, all signs are very positive.
  • Barry Bonds pulled himself from the lineup, much to ESPN's chagrin. Bonds is dealing with some of his most serious leg problems of the year, and it's something of a chicken-or-egg problem. Is the slump he's in caused by leg problems, or are the leg problems more of an excuse for the prolonged power outage? Bonds' knees are never healthy-simple running and stopping is enough to cause him pain and swelling. What's new here are the problems with his ankles. It's something of a cascade, with the changed gait to protect his knees ending up putting the stress lower in the leg. I got a chance to watch him up close a couple of weeks ago in Cincinnati, and one of the things I noted was that he was stopping after making a catch, instead of running to slow down as he did previously. While I thought it was a positive at the time, in retrospect he should probably go back to that to save some wear and tear. Look for Bonds to come back from the rest with some relief, but it's not going to be lasting. He's got enough to break the record. Much beyond that, I'm just not sure.
  • Moises Alou had a great start to his rehab, getting a homer, a single, and a walk while DH'ing in the GCL. It's not much of a test really, and we'll need to see him play a full game in the outfield to really gauge where his quad is and how close he is to returning. There's some speculation that, if healthy, Alou could be traded to the AL so that he could DH, opening up a permanent slot for Lastings Milledge. That's a big leap in a lot of respects, especially for a playoff contender. Given the depth situation in Flushing, I doubt this scenario will come to pass. Look for Alou to get in the outfield as soon as today, but no later than Thursday. How that goes will determine his timeframe for a return to the Mets.
  • The Rockies will send Brian Fuentes to Single-A to see how much progress he's made from the shoulder/back strain that many think led to his near-meltdown before the All-Star break. Strained lats have vexed several pitchers in the past few years. Fuentes' has healed to the point where he can throw, though there are questions about both his velocity and control. How does a shoulder problem affect control? Fuentes is adjusting his mechanics to compensate, leading to an altered release point. A small change in the release point can lead to huge changes in location when the ball crosses the plate (or doesn't, which is part of the problem with this kind of lack of control). We'll know quickly if Fuentes is all the way back, or if this injury was the cause of his pre-break problems. If he's back, there's still no guarantee he'll get his job as closer back, though Clint Hurdle has said in other situations that he doesn't like someone to lose their job due to injury.
  • Huston Street made it through a big test, throwing a couple simulated innings and using all of his stuff. My fellow oenophile is on track for a return next week with no apparent restrictions. There's some concern about using him on back-to-back days, so Bob Geren might be a bit careful with him. Street will have one more side session Wednesday, then a one-inning outing at a MLPTBNL (minor league park to be named later) before his expected activation on Monday. The A's have indicated that he will go right back into the closer role, even with the possibility that he won't always be available for the next day's game or save situation.
  • Al Reyes went an inning in a rehab outing in A-ball. While he gave up a leadoff homer, he was fine otherwise and reportedly showed no problems with his pitching shoulder. The Rays will wait to see if he has any problem recovering from that outing, but expect to activate him before Tuesday's game. Reyes should slot right back into the closer role, though according to several sources, he's actually not being shopped. The presence of Reyes has reportedly been a positive influence on the young pitching staff. By the way, I agree with Joe Maddon.
  • Quick Cuts: David Wells might go on forever. He debuted what appears to be a knuckleball in Monday's game. ... Jon Garland's next start is in doubt due to FLS (flu-like symptoms). ... Nick Johnson is in the midst of a course of cortisone injections he's taking in the hope that he can restart his rehab. Two sources tell me this is a "desperation move-50/50 at best." ... Add 'quick healer' to Ichiro Suzuki's skill set. He was back in the lineup at DH just one day after getting drilled in the quad by mid-90s heat. ... Ryan Dempster will make a minor league rehab outing tonight, and should be back with the Cubs by the weekend. Word is that Kerry Wood might not be far behind. ... Bill Hall will need a few more days than the minimum to come back from his wall-climbing ankle sprain. That's still better than expected. ... Tom Gordon was activated, but won't immediately get the saves. He will soon, though, assuming the Phillies cooperate and generate some leads. ... So, it's about naming names, not accomplishing anything. Senator Mitchell, you're no Senator McCarthy, are you?

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