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August 24, 2007

Under The Knife

Helping Hands

by Will Carroll

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The nature of the baseball season is why I write this column on a daily basis. It's a constant, Kinsella wrote years ago, both over the river of time and over the day-to-day run of the schedule. If you blink, you'll miss something.

That's why it's so difficult to do with baseball what I can do with football and, why this week more than any other, I was carried by my sources. When I couldn't make calls, they called me. Before I could ask for help, they gave it. There was actually an item this week that should have carried a co-byline. Then again, this column should honestly always carry a co-byline. Whether it's the the data guys behind the scenes, my interns, or the sources who give me the information and opinion that helps shape what I do, it's never a solo job. The tide of baseball is washing over me again. It's both comforting and a bit strong, but it feels like home.

Powered by helping hands, on to the injuries:

  • Reader Bill Wellman nailed me today. A couple weeks ago, I discounted the idea that Edgar Renteria was hiding the severity of his ankle sprain. Wellman pointed out that many people believe that Renteria's horrific 2005 campaign was the result of a hidden injury. I said in early August that absent solid information, I have to go with what I know. That's a good rule, but in this case, I was wrong. While I still don't have hard evidence that Renteria was or is hiding something, it is enough in doubt that tossing the blame onto the medical staff might be a bit premature. I'm not absolving them; it's their responsibility to figure things like this out through pre-activation testing and working so closely with an athlete that they can read things that often the athletes themselves don't realize. I'll miss these types of things from time to time, but readers like Wellman make sure that I'm looking back to see why and to learn from them. Renteria is back on the DL and isn't likely to return until mid-September.
  • Pedro Martinez has one more start scheduled for this Sunday, once again in Single-A Port St. Lucie. Many seem surprised that the Mets didn't push him to a higher level for what is likely his last rehab start, but the Mets have consistently been focused on what Martinez does from the mound rather than the results. Martinez will be pushed up to around 90 pitches, though once again, they'll be looking for his comfort level as far as stamina goes, so do not be surprised if he comes out closer to 80 than 90. A decision will be made early next week, based largely on the results of this outing, as to when Martinez will slot into the Mets rotation. Just don't be fooled by anyone who tells you that stamina is going to be the deciding factor. The Mets are smart enough to know that they're not getting 110 or 120 pitches out of Martinez in any one game this year.

    The Mets are also hoping to get Paul Lo Duca--whose planned rehab start in Brooklyn was rained out--back soon. The washout shouldn't affect his schedule significantly; he is on pace to be back with the Mets next week.

  • The Mets have stretched their lead to five games in the NL East, so the Phillies have to hope that the return of Chase Utley will give them a boost. The boost might actually come from moving Tadahito Iguchi over to third base, an idea that the Phillies seem to be struggling with. One source told me that the Phillies front office had discussions about sending Iguchi down to the minors to test him at third, rather than doing it at the major league level. That's not going to happen, but assuming Utley can return to a productive level, having both in the lineup should be a boost. I just don't think that, given Utley's injury, and the type of production reduction we normally see from hand and wrist injuries, that it will be enough to get them back in the race, especially given their pitching problems.
  • When someone writes the biography of Albert Pujols, there are two things that will be interesting to me. He's one of the most fascinating baseball figures of this generation and the best player whose entire career has occurred during the years in which I've covered baseball, but the two things that are almost never discussed are his surliness with the media and his chronic injuries. Pujols is dealing with yet another injury, this time to his hamstring, though there are some odd details. Pujols is said to have had his hamstring "go numb" while running the bases, which suggests some kind of nerve involvement, perhaps in his lower back. Pujols, perhaps better than anyone in the history of baseball, plays well through injuries, as his recent home run bender has shown. When someone asks how good Pujols is compared to the greats like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds, one question will need to be answered: What if he'd been healthy?

    The Cards will get a good look at Mark Mulder this weekend as he pushes up to Triple-A for his third rehab start. He'll be back with the team by September 1 at the latest.

  • The Angels are comfortably in line for a playoff spot--if sweating their lead in the AL West--yet have a load of issues that make them vulnerable. Not only is their rotation in a bit of an upheaval, their bullpen is now beginning to show some signs of wear, something we haven't seen from this Angels team in the Mike Scioscia era. Scot Shields has been something of a constant over the past four seasons, playing the part of set-up man extraordinaire. Very few relievers stay at that level for that long, so changes in his strikeout rate, groundball rate and fatigue level (as proxied by velocity) need to be looked at before the "is he hurt?" chorus starts up. The Angels are also going to be watching Bartolo Colon this weekend. He'll start in Triple-A on Saturday, but this doesn't look to be a one-and-done rehab assignment as had been expected. The key for Colon will be his stamina, so it's likely he'll need at least two and probably three starts in the minors before Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher feel comfortable slotting him back in.
  • "We've got to be very careful," Lou Piniella said of Alfonso Soriano. "One more problem and he's out for the year." Piniella's statement to Cubs.com was at the tail end of a positive report. Soriano is running well and could be activated as early as next week instead of the expected September 1. So why Piniella's statement? I'm not sure exactly, but talks with sources and with some of the doctors, trainers and therapists that advise me on medical issues brought one consistent opinion. All seem to think that the strained quad is worse that let on and that it's a chronic issue. One thought that Soriano's initial injury this season, to his hamstring, might have had some quad involvement. A physical therapist thought that Soriano's legs were too tight and out of balance. "He's always hurt himself running. Maybe he should talk to Jose Reyes' guy." For now, the Cubs have to be careful. While Soriano should be helping his fantasy owners soon, those same owners are going to have to consider his legs strongly when it comes to keeper season.
  • /

  • It's almost too easy to pick on the Pirates, but this amazing story from BP's John Perrotto is devastating. I can't tell you anything about Clayton Hamilton or his injury, but I can tell you that this situation is a strong indication of just how broken the systems are within the Pirates organization. Any medical staff can miss things, but the good ones have systems that minimize those misses through checks, balances, and most importantly communication. The Pirates' new CEO is going to have to not just try and rebuild an organization, its morale and competitive instincts, but he's going to have to build things that should be assumed to exist in any functional organization. The problem for the Pirates is that they clearly don't have even these minimum standards.
  • David Ross is ready to start a short rehab assignment in Louisville, hopefully ready to come back after his concussion. The symptoms have abated, according to sources, and that's the key thing. As we've learned with catchers, it's the post-concussion symptoms that are both the most serious and the most unpredictable. If Ross is able to return without any problems, then all's well that end's well. For those of you who watch the Reds daily, keep an eye on both the usage pattern of Ross and how he reacts the next time a foul tip comes off his mask.
  • Quick Cuts: Jon Lester is not hurt; the Sox sent him down in a roster shuffle, so quit asking. ... Kenny Rogers has a bullpen session set for Saturday. If it goes well, he'll be back in the Tiger rotation next week ... Octavio Dotel is playing long toss, but there's still a mid-September timetable on his return to the Braves. ... The Padres' Chris Young will get a cortisone shot in his back, but he's still expected to make his next start. ... Hearing some bad rumblings regarding Zach Duke, so be careful. ... Hank Blalock is behind schedule on his rehab from shoulder surgery, putting his return this season in some question.

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