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August 27, 2007

Under The Knife

Bad Weekend

by Will Carroll

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In pennant races, little things get amplified. A win in April is worth as much in the standings as a win in August is, but as the days wane, the pressure intensifies and the opportunities to make up ground grow short. As good as It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over is, it lacks the data on how injuries affected races, something I believe to be very important. As you look at the chases in that book, realize that in the past, absent big coverage from the dailies, we don't know much about how injuries impacted the outcomes. There's no database of injuries. Rest patterns have to be reconstructed from microfilm or Retrosheet. Today, it's the little things--games missed, starts lost, or the hard work of a training staff getting someone back a day early--that make or break teams. I don't think it was much different in the past.

Two notes before we start. First, this is your first reminder that in September, the DL effectively ceases to function. The list is there to give teams roster relief and when teams can already go to 40, there's little benefit in disabling someone and some financial reasons not to do so. It makes things tougher to get a handle on. Second, there's a lot to cover here from the weekend, so pardon me being a bit shorter with each of the notes. I honestly can't remember this many injuries to this many important players in a single weekend.

Powered by "Superbad", on to the injuries:

  • How much pain was Jair Jurrjens in as he left the game on Sunday? There was a telling shot of him biting his glove. That's acute and notable. Although the young pitcher's shoulder appeared to do something on the mound, an MRI Sunday evening showed no damage significant enough to require surgery. You can read that as a Grade II strain, likely of the rotator cuff. Jurrjens has a history of shoulder strains in the minors, but MLB.com reports that the previous pain he had was lower, while this pain is in the back. Every symptom points to an acute cuff problem as the result of seasonal fatigue, though he's at about the same innings level that he's been at the previous two seasons. Jurrjens may have a ceiling on his workload.

    The Tigers had Kenny Rogers throwing on the side Sunday, but he hasn't reached a point where they are ready to send him on a rehab assignment. Given the time of year, there's not likely to be a rehab assignment, though Triple-A Toledo is headed for the playoffs, yielding a couple extra possibilities. Finally, the Tigers aren't sure what to do with Gary Sheffield yet, though the calendar appears likely to save him from the DL. His shoulder hasn't made significant progress on a program of rest and treatment.

  • I'll let others debate the how and why of Marcus Giles' knee injury and focus on the what. Giles sprained his left knee--the non-pivot knee, it was described as--on the controversial play Friday night, but it doesn't appear too serious. By Sunday, Giles was saying that he was ready to play. Someone might want to explain how the 15-day DL works to young Giles, as well as the fact that he's scheduled for an MRI on Monday to see how the knee looks inside.

    The Padres do hope to get Michael Barrett back. He's been out post-concussion, but hasn't had much problem since the symptoms cleared a couple weeks ago. While he isn't likely to be activated before roster expansion, he'll start playing with Triple-A Portland over the next couple days. Finally, Chris Young is making small steps and will throw on the side Monday. He could be back in the rotation as soon as this weekend.

  • Billy Wagner is a funny guy. He apparently was trying to find a sling to wear into a press conference to talk about his "dead arm." If you think back to the spring when Wagner was talking about using his changeup more to help save his arm from this exact scenario, it makes me wonder how much he actually threw it. (Where's Dan Fox when you need him?) Wagner has the luxury of time and a division lead, getting his arm ready for October now, though his competitive instincts will likely have him out there quickly. The Mets will have a committee take care of late innings until Wagner is ready to return.

    The knee injury that the Mets traded for with Luis Castillo isn't being solved by grass. He's making some progress and seems likely to play early this week, but the Mets need to know, since dropping Ruben Gotay is their likeliest roster move ahead of the September 1 expansion. They'll need some pitching, even with Pedro Martinez riding in like the cavalry. Martinez's start today in Port St. Lucie is a big one.

  • Here's the dilemma for the Brewers: they're fading from the race now, but can't risk the future of Ben Sheets. He's ready to pitch this week in a must-win series with the Cubs, except he's developed a blister during side sessions. If they put him out there, they risk overextending an already sapped bullpen, even though the roster expansion is imminent. They also risk having the blister get worse, since it's most affected by curveballs, the same pitches that put his injured tendon at the most risk. Expect Sheets to start, with Chris Capuano likely to essentially shadow him from the pen.
  • If Sheets does throw against the Cubs, it seems that he'll be pitching to Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs confirmed Sunday that they plan activate him as soon as Tuesday. Soriano will be back in left and leadoff and according to sources has "no limitations." There's some recurrence risk, but the "no limitations" does seem to indicate that his small quad strain is sufficiently healed that they won't have him on the same types of restrictions that he was with his previous hamstring strain.
  • Chase Utley went 1-for-6 during a doubleheader Friday in Double-A Reading. He's expected back on Monday, pushing Tadahito Iguchi to the bench rather than the expected third base, but the bat-control issues he showed in the minors are sure to challenge him in the majors. That could mean that Iguchi has a couple more useable weeks, assuming Charlie Manuel doesn't stubbornly keep Utley in the lineup if he's not hitting like a healthy Utley. The Phillies should get Adam Eaton back, for what that's worth, and could pitch on Tuesday against the Mets.
  • Chipper Jones is dealing with another iteration of his chronic groin strain. This version affects him more when batting right-handed, so you'll want to check the starters for the next couple days. The Braves face Scott Olsen next, so I've done a little bit of the work for you. Andruw Jones was also out Sunday, a scheduled rest day designed to keep his knee and arm as healthy as possible.
  • I'll give you the grain of salt necessary for this one right up front. On Friday, a source told me that a friend of theirs overheard Derek Jeter at a restaurant, complaining that his knee "clicks." Since twisting his ankle about a week ago, Jeter's had some problems, which Joe Torre wrapped into a statement in which he called Jeter "beat up." I can't vouch for my source's friend, but the story does match the symptoms. It wouldn't surprise me if Jeter's knee didn't have a mild cartilage tear, one that might catch or click, resulting in some swelling and soreness. Jeter might seem timeless, but he's 33 now and these types of problems happen. It shouldn't affect him much and in the worst case would be fixed by minor off-season surgery.
  • As the Dodgers fade from the chase, I'm not sure if they can't look back to the trade deadline as where it all went horribly wrong. The front office issues have shaken Tommy Lasorda loose from his career of talking Cubs fans out of trees and back into a more active role, according to several sources. "He's Tom Hagen now," I was told.

    On the field, the problems revolve around finding offense. They won't get it with Nomar Garciaparra. While he could come off the DL mid-week by rule, the calf strain will take a lot longer to heal. He's not running yet and there's some suggestion that if the team falls much further out of the race, Garciaparra will be shut down in order to free up some at-bats for younger players in September.

  • A couple years ago when Joe Mauer injured his knee on the Minnesota turf, I said that his legs were the only thing that could hold him back. A batting title and a rack of awards later, the legs are still the only thing that could hold Mauer back. This year, he's had a series of problems, but all of them could be traced back in some way to the initial knee problem. It's not unlike the cascading series of problems that felled Ken Griffey, Jr. in the early part of the decade, though far less dramatic and traumatic. He'll end up playing less than 100 games behind the plate this season, but the reduction in time there doesn't appear enough to keep from having more problems like this. The current hamstring soreness is likely to cost him several games, though again, he's unlikely to hit the DL due to impending roster expansion.
  • The Angels have had a bushel basket of injuries in a lot of UTKs this season so why should this busy weekend be different? Juan Rivera should be back when rosters expand, though his running is no better, which makes him a bench player and occasional DH at best. Bartolo Colon was effective, but a bit wild, in his first rehab start. One observer called him "not close" to a return. Chone Figgins is going to miss at least a couple more days with wrist problems. Surprisingly, throwing is as much a problem as hitting for the wrist. Casey Kotchman will lose time after a hand injury. While he won't go to the DL, Kendry Morales figures to pick up a lot of playing time. The Angels have seen how much a hand injury can affect a batter for the next month and they have the Mariners in their mirror. Finally, Mike Napoli is about a week away from restarting his rehab. The Angels' Salt Lake affiliate looks to make the PCL playoffs, so Napoli will likely be there by the weekend.
  • If someone could check the ratio of UTK mentions to wins, the best number would likely go to Roy Oswalt. He's had a lot of small things go wrong over the past few years, but yet for the most part, he'll miss a start and go right back out to bulldoze batters. He threw well in side sessions this weekend and will slot back in to the rotation on Wednesday. If the Astros have Oswalt and Troy Patton in the rotation, does that make them the Comedians of Comedy...or at least "Ratatouille"?
  • The Pirates continue to have all sorts of injury follies, something the incoming CEO should really address. Chris Duffy is headed for opinions on his chronic shoulder problem, something he's had for better than two years. Surgery is likely, something he's thought he needed since 2005. Salomon Torres came back from a severe sprain of his pitching elbow, but was clearly pitching in pain. He's back on the DL and could be headed for Tommy John or retirement. Finally, the "win now" pick of Daniel Moskos last June is looking rough. He's been shut down due to fatigue and for mechanical work. It seems odd to hear that he'll be working with his pitching coach, Wilson Alvarez, on slowing down his delivery. I talked with Kevin Goldstein about this situation and every negative thing the Pirates are saying about Moskos' delivery could be said about Tim Lincecum's delivery.
  • At least the Pirates don't have their top pick headed for Tommy John surgery this year. That honor falls to the Yankees, with Andrew Brackman starting his career in pinstripes not in the Bronx, but in Birmingham. The Yankees had full knowledge of Brackman's injury before signing him to the big bonus. I'm pretty sure Brackman will be the tallest pitcher to have Tommy John surgery, though sadly there's no master list of those that have undergone the procedure.

Quick Cuts: The pitch counts work. Period. End of story. Why? Because the team that won the Little League World Series wasn't the one with some freak of nature pitcher, it was the one with several very good pitchers. Little League should be about fun and player development. This weekend, it was ... Hank Blalock will start a rehab assignment midweek after some improvement in his throwing. He's expected back as the Rangers essentially audition him for next year's third-base job ... Michael Young missed Sunday's game with mild back spasms, but it's no long-term problem ... Mark Prior is saying he wants to be ready for Opening Day 2008. He should, you know, start rehabbing soon ... Brilliant ... Aaron Boone is headed for knee surgery, ending his season and reminding him never to play basketball again ... Ozzie Guillen has lost patience with Scott Podsednik's constant muscle strains. The rib-cage strain will cost Podsednik most of his playing time in September even after it's healed, according to several reports ... Aaron Cook is throwing well and could get a start later this week, though he'll be on a strict pitch limit when it happens ... Jason Simontacchi will head to Birmingham to have a bone spur in his elbow removed, ending his season ... Rocco Baldelli has been shut down for the season due to continued leg problems. There's been some discussion of retirement.

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