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September 21, 2007

Under The Knife

September Strains

by Will Carroll

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No intro today, as I'm finishing up work on getting the next BP Conversation up and ready. I spoke with Dr. Olivier Rabin, the Science Director for the World Anti-Doping Agency. He's one of the men who has been at the forefront of the fight against drugs in sport, and has been hard at work, developing the blood test for exogenous human growth hormone. I was able to go right to the source and get the facts that sports fans need to know about hGH, as well as the current and future status of doping in sports, instead of the usual hysteria and speculation surrounding those topics. It's an important, almost must-listen edition of BP Conversations that will be up on Monday.

Powered by BP Radio, on to the injuries:

  • It was a familiar scene, and not the way that Ken Griffey Jr. wanted to end his season. His 2007 season was a nice comeback, yet once again his legs betrayed him, and Griffey is now done for the season. However, the idea that it's once again a leg problem is actually in question. Some reports have the injury as a groin strain, some as a lower abdominal strain. Late reports from Cincinnati indicate that the final diagnosis is a "high groin strain." While the effect is the same in the short term, there would be some difference for next year. Another leg injury will be more of a negative, though it's clear this isn't the same type of cascade. In fact, after discussion with a couple trainers and doctors, it's almost unfair to call this related. It's not the chronic, interrelated problem here; it's clearly a traumatic, one-time event that's happened to a guy who's had chronic problems. Griffey should be able to come back in full health next season, assuming he's ready to go through an offseason of rehab once again.
  • In Milwaukee, it turns out that it wasn't just a cramp. Ben Sheets has a mild strain, enough to keep him out of his scheduled Sunday start. While his slot there should be filled by Claudio Vargas, the question then becomes whether Sheets will be able to get back out to the mound a couple of days later, or whether his season is now done. That's going to depend on Sheets and the medical staff, as Sheets is likely to be handcuffed to Roger Caplinger over the next few days. In light of their fight for a playoff spot, the team will focus on trying to get its ace to a point where he can pitch effectively without causing further damage. This becomes a true day-to-day situation, with continual evaluation leading to a decision on what day he can go--if any. Since it will throw off his normal preparation and perhaps the prep work of other pitchers, the team will have to hope that it doesn't affect the results.
  • The early spin from St. Louis has been that the surgery will be minor. For Mark Mulder and the Cardinals, though, that's just spin. While the labrum wasn't reinjured, the rotator cuff has a clear tear. What isn't clear is whether this is new or a re-tear. Either way, the result is the same. The bigger issue is whether the muscle tore again due to the stress of pitching, or whether it tore because it hadn't completely healed in the first place. Mulder should be able to be back by spring training, though frankly, his future on the mound has to be in question yet again.

    The Cards are also dealing with yet another injury, this time to Albert Pujols. His calf strain has hobbled him for a few weeks and has finally gotten to a stage where even he couldn't play through it. Some have questioned whether he has checked out on this season, a stressful one where he's played through injuries and a simmering feud with his manager. While there may be some element of truth to all that, one look at the stat line shows Pujols just short of the 100 RBI mark, and sources note that Pujols is stat-motivated. However, it also looks as if Jim Edmonds could be shut down for the season with a groin strain.

  • While Mets fans are in full panic mode, it appears that Carlos Delgado will be back this weekend, perhaps providing both some hope and an offensive boost for the last week. He's been taking batting practice over the last week, but observers tell me that he's still favoring the leg while running and hitting, which is not only an indication that there's still some problem with the hip itself, but also that he's perhaps setting himself up for a compensation cascade injury. Delgado may only have a week of regular season left, but the hip injury is going to have to make it through at least some playoff games should the Mets fend off the Phillies. There will be some risk of recurrence, something the Mets will need to take into account when building their postseason roster. The Mets have the same problem with Luis Castillo, who's chronic knee problem is acting up yet again.
  • The Padres wouldn't seem to need a boost right now, as they simultaneously chase the D'backs and try to lock down a playoff spot via the Wild Card. They could get it when Milton Bradley finally returns, however. His chronic oblique strain appears to have cleared up enough to get him back onto the field this weekend, though there's honestly no telling with this whether a recurrence is likely. A quirk of the schedule will help Bradley, as the Pads face four straight lefties starting Friday. While the Pads medical staff has done everything it can, there's no way of knowing just how compromised that muscle is. Bradley's offseason is going to have to be built around trying to compensate for what is now not only a chronic problem, but a career-threatening one.

    The Padres also seem very concerned with Greg Maddux. An MRI showed no structural damage, but the future Hall of Famer did have significant inflammation, spasms, and pain in his lower back. The injury occurred in his last start when Maddux caught a spike in the dirt during his pitching stride. The Padres aren't certain whether or not Maddux will be able to go as scheduled on Sunday, though he was seen playing catch on Thursday. He'll undergo more treatment and try to throw a side session Friday, so there should be some indication on whether he'll make that start shortly. Beyond that, the back problem could affect his availability for the playoffs, or at least his effectiveness.

  • At this point in the season, we start seeing a lot of players get shut down due to fatigue and the team's status. There's no reason to take a pitcher beyond the danger point when his team is eliminated from contention, or even worse, mailing in the last two weeks. There are plenty of warm bodies or auditioning prospects to take the load. What you don't normally see is a contending team doing this absent a huge lead. However, the Red Sox are, notably with Manny Ramirez, Clay Buchholz, and now Hideki Okajima. Okajima is clearly fatigued, a reflection of the transition from the Japanese game, even though their use of relievers overseas isn't often described as cautious. The rest should do Okajima some good, though a week off might not be enough to get him back to where he was earlier this season; I'm not sure anything is going to do that.
  • Eric Chavez doesn't do things halfway. After ending his season for shoulder surgery, Chavez is now facing a decision on back surgery. There's plenty of time to have it and recover, but doubling the surgeries doesn't have an economy of scale for rehab time. Chavez's disappointing campaign might be the beginning of the end or the type of wakeup call, combined with diligent rehab, that could give him a Mike Lowell-style rebound. I won't play amateur PECOTA and try to project how Chavez could come back next season, but from a medical standpoint, he should be able to have that chance to bounce back.
  • Quick Cuts: Impala! ... Think Clay Buchholz might make the playoff rotation? He won't. Playoff bullpen? Maybe. ... Add Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Broxton, Pat Neshek, J.J. Putz, Jonathan Sanchez, and Troy Patton to the list of pitchers done for the season or at least shut down until further notice. ... Is Judd Apatow the John Hughes of this generation? Discuss. ... Hunter Pence will miss some time with a sore back. He injured himself on a play at the wall, but it isn't serious. ... Scott Kazmir and Johan Santana both make starts tonight, both tied for the strikeouts lead in the AL. Due to offdays, Santana could theoretically get an extra start on the last day of the season, though that's unlikely.

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