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September 18, 2007

Under The Knife

Context and Need

by Will Carroll

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I've received a lot of emails over the last couple days asking about this player or that player and HGH. Almost every player that's made a comeback is now being smeared by the doubt that PEDs bring into the game. Absent any evidence or even the possibility of evidence, we're using conjecture and innuendo as our standard. The doubt is correct-we do now have to wonder about a miracle comeback, or a player that stays at a high level longer than we're used to, or a sudden seeming change in talent level. Just as correlation does not equal causation, however, a possibility does not equal a probability. Baseball shouldn't need a suspension of disbelief to enjoy, and the scourge of PEDs, no matter how small or large you think it is, has forced many to wonder so much that they can no longer enjoy the game.

You've been robbed, but if you look at the evidence, you'll understand that the scope of the problem remains relatively small. Your money is safe in banks despite robberies, you fly in planes despite crashes, and the Juan Salas and Guillermo Motas of the world shouldn't be able to steal your love of baseball. I'll also remind you that HGH has no proven effect of player performance. I've spoken to players that I know are using PEDs, some illegal but most quasi-legal, and over the course of a couple of years, not one has mentioned HGH. Once again, baseball is talking about the past, not the future.

Powered by the great beat writers I read every day, on to the injuries:

  • The Tigers lost a big game last night, and the possibility of a Jeremy Bonderman return likely hinges on how the team does in the next couple of games against the Indians. Bonderman has been throwing from flat ground lately, and could move onto the mound later this week. It remains a longshot that he'll return this season, but once again, the needs of the team will dictate the focus and intent of his continuing rehab. It will be interesting to see how the team handles him this offseason. The Tigers have done what appears to be a great job keeping their pitchers healthy, with really only Bonderman's recent problem as the one ding on their record; I'm considering Joel Zumaya's finger injury as unpreventable, and Kenny Rogers as a reasonable problem given his age. As a result, Bonderman might be their biggest test in 2008.
  • No one with the Yankees seems to concerned that Mariano Rivera got hit on the hand with an errant baseball. It's sore but not broken, and he'll be available soon without much effect. I'm not even concerned with the "mysterious" origin of the baseball, but Rivera's injury and the response allow me to point out that muted reactions like this, especially at this time of year, are sometimes planned. I'm not suggesting that the Yankees are covering anything up here, but you will see teams hiding things to gain advantages or at least not showcase their weaknesses heading into the playoffs. The trading deadlines are also stretches in which you see a bit more of this type of behavior, but late September ranks close behind.
  • Tom Gordon is having some minor back problems. His lower back tightened up, and had a bit of a spasm after his latest run of appearances, but it's actually a bit of a positive. How is a bad back a positive, you ask? First, it's not his arm. Second, it's purely muscular, and comes after a fatiguing usage pattern. Finally, it's an easily treated symptomology. All in all, less negative may not be exactly be purely positive, but you have to take your sunshine where you find it. I'd expect Gordon to be back on the mound later this week. He'd get more time off were it not for the playoff chase.
  • News flash-catchers get tired. Russell Martin has had to carry one heck of a workload this season, but the idea that "wearing down" somehow equals some kind of injury is just plain wrong. It's just a judgment call, one that is the product of knowing that there's some number of games that will have any player so tired that he loses effectiveness and increases his risk of injury. The problem for the Dodgers is that by playing Martin so much earlier on, they're left with this problem at the end of their season, yet knowing that they need him as badly now as they did in June and July. Add in that the dropoff to his replacement (Mike Lieberthal) is steep. Nevertheless, Martin's long-term future is one of the keys to the franchise competing for the next few years. So what's Grady Little to do? It's decisions like this that are why most managers have gray hair.
  • That sound you hear in St. Louis is the Cardinals cashing in their chips. It was a nice run, especially given all the injuries and off-field problems the organization had this season, but the dream of defending their title is now all but dead. Chris Duncan will have surgery to repair his sports hernia, and should be back for next year. In addition, Mark Mulder-who I noted yesterday has been terrible mechanically-will go for tests on his repaired shoulder. The Cards noted that it could be pain causing the bad mechanics or bad mechanics causing the pain, but both have discrete fixes, so getting to the heart of the matter this offseason will go a long way in telling whether or not Mulder can be productive next season. The bigger issue is the chance that Dave Duncan might leave the team if Tony La Russa does, which would drop the value of several pitchers in the organization.
  • The Mets have re-arranged their rotation, and in doing that, found an extra day of rest for Pedro Martinez. One of the things I've long said to look out for is a loss in velocity from start to start, and also the need for extra rest. So, there's the extra day, but happily, the need is missing. The Mets simply gave it to him rather than Martinez requiring it, so there's not as much concern as a result.
  • Rich Harden will throw a simulated game Tuesday, and is then expected to start on Sunday. Yes, start, which surprised me too. His pitch limit is said to be eighty. So why is Harden starting rather than relieving? My source tells me there's two reasons. First, to control his pitches, much as a team would when sending someone on a rehab assignment. Even relievers "start" to be able to get the work in, and have the warmup timed out for that pitcher, and for the ones following. Second, the A's realize that Harden's value to them is as a starter. They've seen that Kerry Wood is having some success as a reliever, but there are very few relievers nearly as valuable as a starter. The problem is that there's a range from "healthy starter" down to "stuck on the DL again." Relieving represents a middle ground, something that's better than nothing, but only once the chance to start is completely exhausted. The A's will take this chance to see what Harden can do, which should help them plan for next season.
  • Quick Cuts: Troy Glaus had nerve decompression done in his foot, which should partially clear up the problem, though plantar fasciitis is not a simple situation. ... Adam Everett is back for the Astros after missing much of the season with a broken leg. He's the team's leader for "Worst-Looking Injury of the Year." ... You know, we really should have some awards like that. ... How much credit does Brad Kullman get for acquiring Aaron Harang in 2003 for Jose Guillen? Besides from us, I mean. ... Lyle Overbay will have minor surgery to remove screws from his broken hand. It will end his season, though it should have no effect on him next year. ... There's late word that Chad Tracy will have knee surgery, ending his season, and that Clay Hensley will have shoulder surgery. More on them tomorrow.

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