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July 20, 2007

Under The Knife

Never Mind the Bollocks

by Will Carroll

There's simply a ton of injuries to deal with and my nephew's evidently going to make his appearance sometime soon, so let's get right to the injuries:

  • Is it no surprise that Chris Carpenter is going to have Tommy John surgery, or is it a complete surprise? Reports from when he had bone spurs removed indicate that there was no problem with the ligament, but as we've learned, teams don't always tell us everything. I noted some similarities between A.J. Burnett and Carpenter in a previous column, and those seem to match up here. Carpenter doesn't have a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, which is why the opinions-all four-were so divergent. A ruptured ligament is easy; no one questions it, and the surgeon simply repairs it. With a partial tear, the debate is always how much needs to be torn before the surgery is necessary. A source tells me that Carpenter had a significant but not complete tear. There's been no public acknowledgement on who will do the surgery, though team doctor George Paletta seems the most likely candidate after handling Carpenter's first elbow surgery as well as most of the Cardinals' other recent surgeries. Carpenter signed an extension last winter, and also obtained insurance on his arm. The shoulder was excluded, but the elbow appears to be covered, though one source tells me it has a reduced coverage amount, perhaps half of his salary. Carpenter is out for the season and will miss most of 2008 as well; he'll be back to 100 percent just in time for the extension to kick in.

    From that setback, the news can really only get better, but there are still more than a few issues to sort out. Scott Rolen also saw Dr. Paletta, and was going to get a cortisone shot in his bad shoulder. Rolen has had intermittent problems with the shoulder since having surgery, making some think that the surgery either didn't fix the problem, or that he's had some degeneration since being opened up. The fact is that this is what we should have expected in the first place. Rolen's shoulder was returned to function, but it's a far cry from being truly repaired. At some point, we have to accept that there's going to be diminished capacity that can't be fixed with a shot.

    At least the news is better with Mark Mulder. With Carpenter done, Mulder's return this season assumes greater importance, assuming that the Cards are trying to stay in it this season, but it becomes even more important to them for next year. Mulder made it through a 70-pitch bullpen session that was said to be very positive. Mulder is still quite a ways away, not throwing breaking balls and stuck, in his words, "throwing not pitching." There's no real target date for a return yet, but progress is something, and the Cards definitely need something.

  • Philip Hughes had no problem with Double-A as he was coming up the first time, and had no trouble when he was passing through again on rehab. Hughes looked solid, getting good results over four innings in Trenton, and coming out with no problems after 57 pitches, just under his planned limit, and appears headed to Triple-A for his next start on Monday. While everything looks good, the question now is how many more starts will he have before coming to the Bronx? It sounds as if it will be two, to make sure he's got his stamina back. Watch to see how many pitches Hughes goes on Monday. A normal expectation would be to see him at 75 and follow that up with a second start at 90-100. If the Yankees are pushing him, he'll go more towards 80. Brian Cashman is trying to keep pressure off of their young stud, but it's not helping. Every Yankee fan is looking to Hughes' return for the same kind of lift the team got after Roger Clemens' return.
  • Let's face it, old guys like naps. A couple of days off worked wonders for Barry Bonds (and seriously, how good is Clay Davenport?), and a short DL stint seems to have done the same for John Smoltz. While most of the country was watching a matchup between Cole Hamels and Chris Young that lived up to the hype, I watched John Smoltz's comeback game. He looked phenomenal, both in terms of results and with his mechanics, command, and velocity. Smoltz's problems should be with endurance and fatigue-he's going to be very good in short bursts, but unlikely to hold up under the normal load of a starter. Should the Braves perhaps move him back to the pen? Probably not, given their already thin rotation, but they will have to start getting creative to keep him healthy and effective. It's another nail in what I think is the strict five-man rotation's coffin.
  • Derrek Lee isn't to blame here, the system is. After fouling a ball off his ankle and needing a couple days off, he took the opportunity to drop his appeal and serve a suspension. So, Lee is simply making use of a loophole, reflecting the way that the system is broken. The ankle isn't seriously injured, and after the five days off there should be no problem at all. In the short term, he's not likely to be stealing any bases, but he's been doing less of that this season anyway. I also need to give Lou Piniella big credit for his handling of Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs never seemed to panic when Big Z had some mechanical problems and when handed a big lead on Wednesday, Piniella did what Dusty Baker never learned to do-he lifted his pitcher after 80 pitches to save some wear and tear. It's a small thing now, but he just saved innings for his ace, something that may pay off in late September or even October.
  • "He's done," the source told me after watching Jason Jennings pitch. A very knowledgeable man that I trust on pitching, he thinks that Jennings' shoulder is "catching," reducing his velocity and changing his mechanics enough to reduce movement. He also doesn't believe that Jennings made any improvement after a DL stint, implying that there's more going on inside the arm. Jennings' results back up this assertion, and point to perhaps another period on the DL in the near future. With Jennings' impending free agency, it will be curious how the Astros handle this. Will they acknowledge their trade for Jennings didn't work, or will they try to get whatever they can from him in a season that's lost?

    The Astros did get a break-or rather, nothing broke, as Lance Berkman was saved from a bad hop off of his eye by his trusty pair of Oakleys. There's an ad in there somewhere, and as someone who's taken some shots off my Oakleys in the past, there's a reason that there's nothing else I'd put on my face. I'm sure that right around now, Berkman feels the same way.

  • Erik Bedard was pushed back due to a stiff neck, but there's nothing more to it than that. Bedard will come back today, and no one seems to think that there will be any problem in either the short or long term. Bedard has been filthy all year long, with his improved control, command, and efficiency all being reflected in his higher strikeout totals. I was a bit worried about his fifty-inning increase year over year, but the efficiency seems to be counteracting that workload issue. It's something that makes sense, but honestly, it's also something I've never thought to take a real look at. (Note to self: here's offseason project #131.)
  • I normally avoid talking about minor league players. For one, we have Kevin Goldstein to handle that beat. For the other, it's nearly impossible to get consistent information. I'll give you an example. When I was calling about Phil Hughes, I got a return email that discussed not only Hughes, but several other Yankees, including Dellin Betances. Betances had been sent to see the team doctor after "his arm fell off," according to the email. Oops, one letter does make a difference. What was intended to be conveyed was that Betances' arm "felt off." It was a good lesson in the fallibility of sources, and to double-check everything.
  • Quick Cuts: Just chilling. ... Is Kerry Wood about to become the Cubs' version of Willis Reed? In a season where something like this could be the difference in a tight division, don't underestimate the power of myth. The reality is that Wood is throwing well, hitting 94, and recovering well. He hasn't really been tested yet, though that should come soon. ... The Brewers aren't thrilled that Yovani Gallardo is starting in place of Ben Sheets. They were hoping that using him in relief would limit his innings. They don't have a choice now, and as good as Gallardo has been, it's proof of just how much the Brewers value their young pitcher that they don't just run him out there. ... Marcus Thames sold out for the team, making a phenomenal catch, but straining his hamstring in the process. Is one catch worth 15 days on the DL? Interesting question. ... I don't understand half of what Tom is talking about here, but I think he's saying that pitchers today are pretty good and lasting longer. And that Bob Feller should shut the hell up.

    Related Content:  Phil Hughes

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