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July 24, 2007

Under The Knife

Tragedy

by Will Carroll

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Baseball has always been slow to change, but quick to react. Ray Chapman's name still resonates and some say his beaning led to the end of the Deadball Era. Helmets came into the game, ordered by baseball's most visionary and pragmatic executive, Branch Rickey, after a Pirates minor leaguer was killed, and were accepted in large part because of a terrible beaning suffered by Lou Boudreau. Unfortunately, safety improvements have all but stopped, perhaps because they were good enough to prevent--or the game was lucky enough not to have--another incident.

The death of Mike Coolbaugh touches me because I met him when he was with the Indianapolis Indians. I wonder if this will bring some change. I'm not sure if coaches need helmets and chest protectors--or maybe just Ribcaps--any more than pitchers do, or whether moving the coaching box back and pulling the coaches further out of the line of fire from hard-hit line drives would make things any better. I'm not sure if a technological solution, like small headsets, wouldn't accomplish more, allowing the coach to stay in the dugout. I just know that almost every person I talk to is shaken by this, but almost to a man they say that they're surprised that something like this doesn't happen more often. Just as with pitchers getting hit with balls that come back at them, something needs to be done. Sadly, it seems to take something like the Coolbaugh incident to make the game recognize a need for change.

Powered by the hope that we can prevent this from ever happening again, on to the injuries:

  • There are a lot of conspiracy theories concerning Pedro Martinez. Never mind that he threw a simulated game and is gearing up for his first rehab start sometime next week. All people want to talk about is that big gap in throwing over the All-Star break when he went back to the Dominican Republic. Many have asked me if he went back to take something--legal or illegal--to aid his comeback, just as many have insinuated he did in Boston to help him stay healthy. Martinez's continued work with Nao Presinal does raise some eyebrows here.

    While the laws and culture are different in the Dominican, I'm not sure why Martinez going home for the break to do some rehab should be treated any differently than Mark Prior being home in the San Diego area right now. Home provides a comfort level. There wasn't much, if any, coverage of Martinez in his local papers, something I'm not sure is odd, but we do know that in that gap between outings in Port St. Lucie, Martinez didn't lose anything. He threw a 50-pitch simulated game that included his full arsenal of pitches, including breaking balls. One observer said he looked "sharp" and that his velocity was "good-just good." The observer also said that Martinez's arm slot seemed "much higher, locked in."

  • Hanley Ramirez remains sidelined after his shoulder injury. I say "injury" here in the most general sense because no one--not sources, reporters, or even the Marlins--seems to be saying what the injury was consistently, moving back and forth between "separation" and "dislocation." Given both Ramirez's assertion that he can play quickly and the nature of the word, I wonder if this wasn't a subluxation, which is a lesser version of a separation. Normally, there is little if any associated internal damage with a "sublux" so if this is the case, the outlook would be much more positive for Ramirez. The bigger concern would seem to be that this is a recurrence of an injury, though the hitting he's done in the interim makes me think it hasn't been a problem. Ramirez is a big short-term risk, but his results coming out of the previous injury, one that only cost him five games, minimize that risk some.
  • Sometimes not knowing is worse. The Dodgers sent Takashi Saito for an MRI after he once again experienced tightness and soreness in his shoulder. Saito has had the problem intermittently since coming over to the Dodgers, and at 37, he's had some problems adjusting to a contemporary closer's workload. Saito did not relieve much in his Japanese career, and even then, he was used more as a long relief/swingman type than a closer. The Dodgers have Jonathan Broxton in place, so there's no need to rush Saito back, meaning it's very positive that the team thinks he'll be available to pitch no later than Wednesday. That said, you definitely want to watch him closely, and it's possible that Broxton will get most of the save chances in the immediate future.
  • The Detroit News asked Joel Zumaya if he was on track for an August return, and Zumaya told them he was "well beyond track." If you subscribe to the theory that relievers need to be a bit wacky, I guess Zumaya's your guy. On the heels of Fernando Rodney throwing a great side session, I've been told that Zumaya is a week to 10 days behind Rodney. Zumaya's first throwing session from a mound since surgery had no problems, and while he wasn't throwing at full strength, it was extremely positive. If we use Rodney's timetable--he should be on a rehab assignment later this week--then Zumaya should be back with the Tigers by August 15.

    One thing to note is the timing of this. While this is on the normal timeline, and there were independent observers, having both relievers coming back healthy would obviously some pressure off the Tigers to make any deal to help the bullpen. That could lower the price some are asking of them, so some element of gamesmanship from the Tigers' front office has to be considered.

    One other thing to consider is a scout's quick note to me that he thinks that Andrew Miller looks tired.

  • For those of you that thought "Jermaine Dye" when you saw Jose Valentin snap his leg with a foul ball, there are two main differences. First, Valentin's injury is a simple fracture where Dye had a spiral fracture; the spiral is not only unusual, it's one of the worst fractures to try to heal up to the full extent of returned stability. That Dye came back at all is pretty surprising. Secondly, Valentin didn't have nearly as much force in his swing. Something you have to remember when any player hits one off of his leg, ankle or foot, is that power hitters are going to hurt themselves much worse. Valentin should be able to come back this season, though it will be close. The six- to eight-week time frame on a tibia repair seems quick, even with latest technologies and medications.
  • It was the scenario that Astros fans dreaded. An MRI showed a fracture in the wrist of Hunter Pence, though I should explain what that fracture actually means. This isn't a normal fracture where the bone breaks with a noticeable crack. According to a source, this appears to be an avulsion fracture associated with a sprain. When Pence injured his wrist on a slide, the ligament pulled part of the bone away at its attachment. This means it was a severe, traumatic sprain that now has a weakened anchor. Pence will miss a minimum of six weeks, perhaps more depending on how the wrist heals and then reacts once he starts playing again. That time frame puts him back somewhere around the end of the minor-league season, though using him in Houston shouldn't be much of a problem since they'll be able to experiment a bit in September. The injury will cost Pence a real shot at the Rookie of the Year trophy, but let's hope it doesn't cost him a chance at being one of the best young hitters in the game for more than a couple months.

    The Astros are also trying to figure out what's going on with Lance Berkman's hands. Berkman appears to be headed into Ryan Freel's neck of the woods, naming his injury. Reader J.D. sends along this uncredited excerpt: "Lance Berkman has given the bruise on his left hand a name--George. And according to Berkman, George isn't as bothersome as he has been in the past few days. 'It's just a big knot,' Berkman said. 'And it's not going away.'" Yikes.

  • Scott Hatteberg will miss a couple of games due to a mild hamstring strain, though no one I spoke with seemed to think it was anything serious. The Red still think they could trade one or both sides of their first-base platoon, Hatteberg or Jeff Conine, to make room for Joey Votto down the stretch, though Votto could also move to either outfield corner if either Adam Dunn or Ken Griffey Jr. are among the Reds moved. I'll have more on this series of possible moves at The Mill, but for now, know that Hatteberg will miss a couple of games due to the leg injury.
  • Quick Cuts: Huston Street made his first appearance Monday night, coming in during the sixth inning with a big lead. While he wasn't perfect, giving up two hits, he looked solid. He'll stay in a middle-innings role for about a week. ... I swapped Brad Penny in for Derek Lowe in yesterday's report of a Dodger pitcher throwing an inning of relief on a throw day. My apologies for the mistake. ... Roy Oswalt will only miss the one start with the chest problem, and he's not happy that he's missing even that one. ... Brett Myers had a nice outing in Single-A, going 24 pitches and showing "good stuff." He's due to pitch again on Wednesday. It's unclear if the Phillies will have Myers go on back-to-back days before calling him up. ... Carlos Guillen is likely to miss a couple of days after fouling a ball off his shin. He's going to try and play Tuesday, but a source told me that was "wishful thinking." ... Ian Kinsler will start his rehab assignment on Thursday.

Related Content:  Back,  Beaning,  Gamesmanship,  Year Of The Injury

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