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August 8, 2007

Under The Knife

Appreciation

by Will Carroll

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That's that. Last night, as Barry Bonds hit the home run and began to trot the bases for the 756th time, I clapped. You don't have to like him, but I hope that for at least a moment you can appreciate him. My only quibble with Bonds is that he's become a third rail for the steroid problem, a player who, like Pete Rose used to do, inspires some people to lose reason and to dig in their heels. Bud Selig avoided the moment, but I hope that baseball doesn't miss the opportunity it has to look to the future, to make sure that no player brings the dark cloud of perfomance enhancers into the game, or to make sure we can say "Hey, he hasn't tested positive" about the next record holder and really believe it.

With all the wall-to-wall Bonds coverage, something I know I've contributed to, I'm now curious--how was Hank Aaron covered after he broke Babe Ruth's record? Did the press, a far different beast then than now, marvel as he passed 725 or 750? Did anyone notice 755? He broke the record early in the season, so how did teams react when, clearly at the end of his career, he came to their ballpark for the last time?

Powered by the sight of Brian Schneider behind the plate and on one knee, clapping along with the fans, on to the injuries:

  • The news that Alfonso Soriano has a "small tear, about one centimeter" shouldn't come as any great shock. It's a muscle strain, which is by definition a tear. The size of it is significant, in that's it's pretty small, especially for a wiry, lean guy like Soriano. Given the location and severity, there's a chance that Soriano comes back at or near the minimum, though he would have a severe recurrence risk if he does that; the safer estimate of one month still stands. There's no change in his prognosis, and I feel that the Cubs' record over the next two weeks is going to determine his timetable as much as his healing.
  • The Tigers have been in free-fall for a week as their rotation has fallen apart and their offense has lagged, but it looks like they'll be getting back a couple of the missing pieces over the next few days. Whether that's enough to right the ship remains to be seen, but putting the name "Gary Sheffield" or "Joel Zumaya" on the lineup card is seldom going to hurt a team's chances of winning. Sheffield took batting practice on Tuesday, and is due to come back Wednesday, but statements from Jim Leyland sound a bit pessimistic. It doesn't sound as if Leyland or Sheffield feel that he's near 100 percent, and I'm not sure if Leyland feels Sheffield will be his best option. If nothing else, Sheffield is getting closer.

    On the other hand, Zumaya has been having no problems. His finger has recovered perfectly from surgery. As I said at the time, this was a binary injury--either he'd come back from it all the way, or he wouldn't come back at all. Zumaya's back, burying any questions with a Tuesday bullpen session that should put fear into hitters everywhere, as well as putting a sting in his catchers' palms. He could head out for a rehab assignment by the weekend, meaning he could be back in the bullpen sometime next week.

  • The Dodgers have pushed back Derek Lowe's next start to Saturday, giving him additional time to recover from his hip soreness, and giving the medical staff additional time to try and minimize the problem. The issue now is the recovery. Lowe came out of his last start and quickly got stiff and sore, though he didn't have significant problems within the game itself. Figuring out how to correct or minimize the problem while not altering his mechanics on the mound is going to be tough. Since most of the orthos and therapists I spoke to thought that Lowe would only heal with rest, this is going to be difficult to manage while keeping Lowe effective. The Dodgers' pitching woes appear to be only getting worse as the team continues to fade.
  • Jason Giambi is back, and given the way he hit in the minors, it appears that at least for now, the foot that put him on the DL is healthy enough to let him hit. The Yankees will use him strictly as a DH, a move that will cut some flexibility from their roster, but that isn't exactly one of Joe Torre's strengths anyway. Players normally take much longer than this to come back from similar injuries, so Giambi's in uncharted waters here. The risk of recurrence is off the charts, but the reality is that he's healthy enough to play now, albeit in a day-to-day situation. Each day that the foot holds up and doesn't get worse is a positive, though until he's about a year out from this, I don't believe the risk will abate. For this season and perhaps the rest of his career, Giambi is going to be a guy you can't count on to be there the next day, meaning they have to squeeze whatever value they can out of him in the meantime. Doing that and endeavoring to keep him healthy at the same time is going to be an interesting and expensive balancing act.
  • Ryan Freel and the Reds decided that he should go ahead and have the surgery to fix his knee. With Josh Hamilton on a rehab assignment and expected back soon, it was the right time and situation. In the longer term, this should be insignificant for Freel and mean nothing for his style of play. For Hamilton, coming back from a wrist injury, it's far more important that he continue to get experience. I'll be curious to see how the Reds handle him next season. Will he still get the special assistance? Will they consider starting him in the minors? Will their success with a guy almost everyone had written off become an advantage that they can use and exploit? All good questions, but there are tons of other questions that the Reds will have to consider this off-season. One thing they won't have to worry about is Aaron Harang, at least for now. His back spasms have subsided, and he'll be back on the mound soon. This episode is a bit of a wakeup call for the big man, and I expect he'll work hard, as he has since his time at San Diego State, to keep this from becoming a bigger problem.
  • It's a simple solution and one that's going to work--Scott Rolen is going to rest more. That rest should help his shoulder and yes, it's as simple as that. This type of solution is difficult, because the fan that comes to the game when Rolen is sitting out won't see the bigger picture, which is why general managers, trainers, and managers around the league have to hold their ground on things like this. It's an easy mental exercise to figure whether 81 games of 100 percent Rolen is more valuable than 162 games of 50 percent Rolen, but the actual algebra is far more complex. (If someone can figure out how to automate the type of work that Tom Gorman did in BP06, please let me know.) Tony La Russa is going to have to work in concert with Rolen and the medical staff to find the right balance, and there are few managers I'd trust more to exploit matchups than La Russa. That said, the communications challenges that La Russa and Rolen have had are likely to come into play. Rolen is now a part-time player, one without a solid platoon partner, and that's going to be a challenge for the Cardinals as they try to cling to life in the NL Central.
  • Eric Chavez is going to make the trek to Dallas (to see Dr. Drew Dossett) and Los Angeles (to see Dr. Robert Watkins) to confer with the top spinal specialists in hopes that he can get the definitive word on what's going on with his back. Depending on the diagnosis and treatment, there's a chance we've seen the last of Chavez this season. What's more important is whether this back problem has been part of the reason that Chavez has gone from a guy who was an MVP candidate a couple years ago to a guy with gaping holes in his game. There's even been some speculation that the forearm problem that has plagued him for two seasons could be more a symptom of a spinal problem than an injury in and of itself. Clouding the picture is the A's team-wide injury problem spanning the last two seasons. When a back injury to Bobby Crosby was diagnosed incorrectly--and to be fair, I'm told it's an easy one to miss--the team seemed to lose some confidence in its medical staff. Paired with the results they've had this season, I'm not sure if the A's won't take a hard look at a staff that had previously been among the best in the league. As much as needs to be done to rebuild the A's this offseason, this might be the most important and addressable situation for Billy Beane and AGM David Forst.

  • A.J. Burnett didn't want to make his last start of his rehab assignment, but did it and did it well on Monday in Triple-A. The Jays aren't showing much hurry in getting Burnett back; while he showed good control and velocity in his start, the Jays have yet to announce that they plan to get Burnett back in the rotation. There's been some rumor that Burnett could be exposed to waivers, and given his contract it would be hard for me to believe that some team wouldn't grab him, or that it might not be a better situation for him given the statements made by the team. It's expected that Burnett should be back in the Jays rotation around Saturday, but this is a very fluid and confusing situation.
  • Quick Cuts: There might have been no Commissioner there to greet Bonds, but I can't imagine that Willie Mays being there wasn't more appropriate anyway. ... Tom Gorzelanny's velocity got better as the night went on. Why? I think he was a bit scared in the first couple innings. He certainly looked fine to the nine hitters he struck out, but he bears watching closely. ... Miguel Cabrera was back in the lineup, but his swing showed everyone that he's not all the way back yet from his elbow problems. ... Rondell White returned to the Twins lineup, went 1 for 3, and said he'll retire at the end of the season. I think I'll clap for White as well. ... Dear Blue Jays: When having a beanball battle, do not bring a knife to a gun fight. ... Dodgers prospect Tony Abreu could miss the rest of the season. The team suspects he has a sports hernia, but this shouldn't affect his long-term value significantly. ... Josh Willingham is dealing with kidney stones. It's an intensely painful problem, but thankfully not a serious or long-term one. ... Rocco Baldelli could re-start a rehab assignment sometime in the next week, putting his possible return to the Rays about the time rosters expand. I think he'll be active by the time of our next Ballpark Event in Tampa Bay. ... Tim Redding might have the best goatee since Jim Neidhart. I'd have almost liked to have seen him give up 756, just so 50 years from now, people could say "wow, did they all look like that back in the double-oughts?"

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