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August 17, 2007

Under The Knife

Coffee Up!

by Will Carroll

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Here's the amazing thing about life today-I'm sitting in my mother's hospital room while writing this intro. Wi-fi and laptops allow me to do my job from anywhere, even while trying to help her. We're listening to Justin King, a guitarist I found after seeing a YouTube video and downloaded some of his stuff from iTunes. Don't forget for a minute just how lucky we are. Once again, thank you for both your understanding and your thoughts. I'm trying to balance things out here, and keeping up with UTK is something I love. It's humbling to see how many people miss it when I go even a day without a column.

I'll go a bit Peter King here and say "Why would you put a Starbucks next to a hospital and not be open 24 hours?" I'm stumped, but powered by Triple Grande Americanos, on to the injuries:

  • As the Cardinals streak back into contention, they're relying once again on their "MV3" troika of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. There's no question all three are elite talents, but health questions plague all of them as well. Rolen's shoulder woes are well-known, but Edmonds is playing through a back/leg problem that sounds like a mild case of sciatica, which can flare up. The Cards' medical staff has been getting him through the problem so far, but without Edmonds in the lineup, there's a lot less punch in the Cardinals' offense. Like Rolen, Edmonds is going to need rest now and again, meaning that Tony La Russa is going to have to figure out how to mix and match his lineup over the next month to keep both players healthy and effective; love him or hate him, La Russa has been a master at doing that over his career.
  • The Brewers' collapse has been pretty complete, aside from the efforts of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Can one man give this team a boost? If it's possible, Ben Sheets is that man. He's not only coming back, he's coming back more quickly than expected. After a solid side session on Thursday, Sheets is scheduled to throw a sim game on Monday. Depending on the results there, he could go right back into the rotation rather than heading out for a rehab assignment. Doug Melvin and Ned Yost know that getting more Sheets-assuming he's the healthy and effective Sheets-could be the difference between winning and losing this season. The move sounds like panic, but the team understands the value of one game, there's no question that Sheets can be a difference-maker, and this move could get him two more starts during the regular season. (Here's another name to remember-Matt LaPorta. While other draft picks have been waiting to sign, LaPorta has been crushing the ball at Single-A. Seeing him in September is a big possibility.)
  • There's not a lot in the way of comparables when it comes to scapula fractures in pitchers. You have your good comp in Jarrod Washburn, and your bad comp in Kurt Ainsworth. Brandon McCarthy's injury will wind up somewhere on that scale, though most indications we're getting from the Rangers say that this was caught early. In what's been a disappointing season for both team and player, this injury is almost symbolic. It's a singular, freakish injury that couldn't be anticipated or prevented, and one for which we have little or no guidance going forward. The Rangers are playing for next year already, so they have no reason to push anything this season. McCarthy's likely done for the year, unless he pushes to get in a psychological victory.
  • Thanks to everyone who caught the small error in my last column regarding how long Joel Zumaya pitched. We know a lot more now after his second outing, one that (definitely) went a full inning. Zumaya put in a 1-2-3 inning and had a pitch that a source clocked at 98. Some places had it at 99, but either way, what we have is improvement. While he's still showing mid-90s on most fastballs, as he gets more comfortable and confident that there's no problem with the finger, the velocity is likely to creep up. Add in some adrenaline, and you could get the triple-digit heat that Zumaya has tattooed on his arms. There are still questions about his stamina and ability to pitch on consecutive days, something that won't be settled after his next rehab outing on Saturday, or perhaps not even by the time he gets back to Detroit on Tuesday. The news isn't as good for Andrew Miller. After struggling in his rehab start, the Tigers have decided to give him another rehab start. They have Jair Jurrjens-who officially just freaked out my spell-check-to take another start, using the depth they have to give Miller more time.
  • You know the old joke-"Doctor, it hurts when I do this", to which the doctor replies "Don't do that!" I didn't say it was a funny joke, I said it was old. It hurts Travis Hafner to run, so he's going to try not to do it. It's really that simple, though it's difficult to grasp for some people, yet something that shouldn't affect him given his position and style of play. You'll see some "digging doubles" turn into long singles, but there's no indication that there will be any more effect on his hitting than what we've already seen. Hafner was never much of a threat for triples anyway, but there's an interesting theory at work. Clay Davenport found a couple years ago that many of the great power hitters seemed to consciously put balls into the seats so they could trot rather than run. It wouldn't surprise me much if we saw Hafner doing the same thing.
  • It could have been worse for Carlos Delgado. The hyperextended knee that he suffered could well have meant a torn ligament or two given the way it bent, but Delgado's strong legs likely saved him. While it's an injury that will initially be very sore and was very scary, it tends to return to normal quickly. With the demonstrated strength in Delgado's knee-just watch the video and see how his thigh contracts to return the leg to neutral-he should be back in the lineup quickly and without any significant effect to his game.

    Pedro Martinez is also likely to be back soon, but not too soon. A third Single-A start will be monitored by pitching coach Rick Peterson. A positive outing on Monday will push Martinez for a final tuneup at Triple-A New Orleans next weekend, when they will be home against the Iowa Cubs. While most places have Martinez pegged for a return during the first week of September, the next two starts could be all that Martinez has before returning to Shea. The fact is that the Mets won't know what they have until Martinez gets on a mound in the majors.

  • Juan Rivera is finally making some progress. Once the team let him know that if they couldn't see him play some in the minors, he wouldn't be coming back in September, it got things going. I'm not sure if that means Rivera is pushing himself or if it means that he wasn't pushing himself before, but the result is the same in the short term. In general, Rivera shouldn't have taken this long, so seeing him pushed to Triple-A is a good sign. Mike Scioscia indicated to the press that Rivera's "getting comfortable," and should be back with the Angels before roster expansion. It's still not clear if he's going to be limited to bench or DH duties, but the Angels offense can use any help it can get.
  • No one really seems to be talking about how the Rockies have figured out how to develop pitchers. They're not sharing their secret, but it seems to be something along the lines of "get talent rather than buying style." There may not be any one style that works on Planet Coors, but it looks like good pitching can succeed there. Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook prove that, even if Cook is currently on the DL. It was a mild oblique strain that pushed him there, but it was the team's need to protect its talent that forced the move. This strain is more like the one that sidelined the Padres' Chris Young-mild, caught early, and to a player who's serious about his conditioning-so Cook should be able to return at the minimum with his normal repertoire and fulfill normal expectations.
  • Quick Cuts: Randy Messenger broke his hand after being hit by a batted ball during batting practice. It's just one of those things that seem to happen to struggling teams like the Giants. ... Hunter Pence will head back to Round Rock for a couple games, just to get some swings in. He'll be back in Houston quickly, rehabbing no more than a couple games. ... Endy Chavez is making nice progress in St Lucie, but the Mets may have to wait until September 1 to activate him. Keeping Moises Alou fresh is the other big factor for scheduling when Chavez returns. ... Zach Duke will throw in Bradenton next week, an outing that will decide whether he'll be shut down for the season. At this stage, there's nothing serious enough to think he's headed for off-season surgery, as some have whispered. ... Jeff Niemann is back on track to come up in September. He'll make a start for Triple-A Durham next week. He's likely to be one of the pitchers trying out for the Rays while also taking some pressure off James Shields and Scott Kazmir. ... The Padres' former #1 overall pick, Matt Bush, had his UCL "explode," according to one source. The recent convert to the mound didn't have a normal wearing down of the UCL, but he'll be having Tommy John surgery just the same.

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