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September 24, 2007

Under The Knife

Angels on the Mound and Pad Probs

by Will Carroll

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Just go listen. Powered by the last week of what's been a great season, on to the injuries:

  • The Angels have clinched their playoff berth, winning the AL West; now, they have to get ready for the playoffs. With Kelvim Escobar both tired and hurting, Bartolo Colon's solid start was exactly what they needed. It gives them time to figure out if Escobar, their No. 2 starter, is going to be able to go in the playoffs at all, and gives them an option if he can't. Escobar's inflamed shoulder could be as bad as what Colon was dealing with last season, though this couldn't be confirmed. Colon has been mostly bad this season, but he has shown that his shoulder can hold up in short bursts.

    The team will also have to decide how to structure the position player side of the roster, especially if they determine that Vladimir Guerrero can't play the field. Guerrero's triceps problem is keeping him from throwing, limiting him to DH duties for the time being. One possible fix would be to "deep drop" Howie Kendrick from his position at second base on plays in right field, so that Guerrero would only be making very short throws to a cutoff man. However, Kendrick's arm is average at best. Another solution that's been discussed is using Chone Figgins at second and Kendrick at third to do the same sort of thing with a better thrower. According to sources, there's almost no chance of Guerrero getting back to throwing or throwing well this season, so the decision the team makes could be a very important factor in determining how far they go in October.

  • Jayson Stark has the keys to that back closet of Cooperstown where we keep the Weird Injury Wing of the Hall of Fame. He's going to have to add another one after Sunday's nearly unbelievable injury to Milton Bradley. Sadly, the video's not easily linked to--ESPN has it in their video section as of Monday morning, but you'll have to dig for it. The Padres are saying that Bradley was baited by the umpire, and from what I could see, that's possible. In trying to restrain Bradley, manager Bud Black slung him a bit, and Bradley went down with a sprained knee. He had to be helped from the field, and reports from after the game indicate that the knee was very swollen and painful. It was a scene reminiscent of Carl Crawford a couple of weeks ago, just more violent, and one more indication that in all the great baseball we've seen throughout the season, there's been something simmering with the umps. Bradley's likely done for the season, and it will be interesting to see if this episode has any bearing on his return to the Padres. Bradley was also involved in another incident, accidentally stepping on the hand of Mike Cameron. Cameron was sore due to that, but isn't expected to miss significant time.

    As if San Diego didn't have enough bad news, the team is also a bit worried about Greg Maddux's performance on Sunday. He'd had some back problems and never appeared loose or comfortable on the mound. Expect the team to work on Maddux hard, so that they can get one more look at him before the playoffs, not to mention that they first need to make the playoffs.

  • At 3 1/2 games back, the Brewers may not need to test Ben Sheets again. While the hamstring strain is minor, Sheets has been a symbol of the season for the Brewers--talented yet coming up short--and his absence this past weekend was huge. Sheets will test his leg with throwing sessions this week, but in all likelihood, he's done for the year. The only "TBA" slot on the Brewers projected starters list this week is Friday, though pushing Yovanni Gallardo back a day is always an option. If Milwaukee is eliminated, you can count on seeing Sheets next season, but there will be a lot more questions and expectations about the team and its ace in 2008. One quick note on Gallardo--while it looks like he's made a 30-inning jump in IP this season, remember that he also pitched 12 frames in the Southern League playoffs, which should factor into the year-over-year stats. The same is true for Fausto Carmona, as I learned in my recent interview with Chris Antonetti.
  • The Red Sox understand Manny Ramirez, as much as that's possible. While Ramirez and his agent think that he'll be playing in the next couple days, the Sox aren't quite as ready to lock that in. They still want to see Ramirez hit some more first, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him in a low-leverage pinch-hitting situation to start while continuing to work in the batting cage. The team is in the playoffs, and even with the Yankees closer than they've been in weeks, there's no sign of panic. Taking their time with Ramirez and re-setting their rotation for the playoffs are two signs that while their fans might be freaking out, the front office is having no such anxiety.
  • One of the more interesting discussions I've had in the past couple of weeks was with a fellow writer who thought that the Yankees might leave Roger Clemens out of their playoff rotation. There's an argument for it, though no team pays that much money to leave someone off the roster. I'd imagine that Clemens will be shadowed in any start he makes, perhaps by Ian Kennedy, but I'd be stunned if he didn't make a start during the Division Series. Beyond that, especially if the chronic hamstring problem crops up early, I can see Clemens being pushed out when rosters are reconfigured, assuming the Yankees make it that far.
  • While the Rockies have sneaked back into the playoff picture, losing a legitimate an MVP candidate for even a bit isn't going to help things. Matt Holliday has been playing through what sources call a "very mild" oblique strain. "It's more of a grab than a stab," I was told. Holliday had a bit of an exacerbation on Saturday, and wasn't in the starting lineup for Sunday's game, though he was said to be available. It was more a situation where Holliday could have hit in an emergency, but was to be rested if possible. With the team still in contention, the Rockies' medical staff and field staff will be working overtime to try to keep him available, so that he can both help the team and try to chase down Chipper Jones for the batting title.
  • The wording throughout the MLB.com article discussing Rich Harden is notable, in that it seems that Harden has shut himself down while the team wanted to see him get in one start before the end of the year. I'm not sure if this is the writer saying this, or just that it's oddly worded, but Harden's situation bears a closer look. Any planning for next year is going to have to be conservative, though there's almost no way to replace his potential upside, even if they can replace his innings. Harden's perception of his own problem appears to be the key here, with the continuing need for reassurance perhaps the biggest barrier. If this seems a lot like Mark Prior circa 2005 to you, I can see where you're getting that vibe.
  • The Tigers are out of contention for the division now and essentially out of it for the Wild Card, so it was no surprise to see that they decided not to push Jeremy Bonderman. There was some discussion of him starting on Tuesday, but after a Sunday side session produced some soreness in his pitching elbow, he was immediately shut down. As with Harden, this is going to be a big offseason for Bonderman, and the team will need to create more depth in the pitching staff to counter any uncertainty. If Bonderman does come up lame, it will be a big blow to the rational management of pitchers. If someone who was used with nearly every precaution can still get injured, then the Darwinian model of "throw them out there and see who survives" might end up looking like the more logical method. One of the things I'll be doing this offseason is looking for success models for young pitchers below the injury nexus. The Tigers are also ready to shut down Gary Sheffield. He'll need offseason surgery (a Mumford, most likely) that will free up space in his shoulder to help him avoid the type of problems he dealt with all season long.
  • The latest leg problem for Joe Mauer won't end his season, though it will occupy his offseason. Mauer now has a hernia in addition to his litany of leg issues, but will play through the last week before having surgery. There's no reason to think this will have any effect on him in the long-term, though the leg problems and possible cascades remain a major concern. The problems worked almost straight up his leg this season, ending with the hernia. While the Twins insist that he'll be their full-time catcher, they're really playing with fire if they don't get him more rest or more time at DH to take some of the workload off his legs. I'm not advocating a full-time move, just a shift to a lighter catching schedule.
  • The Cards want to let Albert Pujols get his 100/100 again, so they'll allow him to push through the calf strain. Added to his chronic foot problems, Pujols is mirroring Mark McGwire in many ways, and with his age-29 and age-30 seasons coming up--the ones McGwire missed with foot problems--the Cards have to be a bit concerned. Just as Pujols' numbers are better than McGwire's through that age, medical technology has come a long way as well. Pujols has had ultrasound on his feet previously, something not possible for McGwire in his time. A lot of players would take an off-year with a 986 OPS, but you can expect Pujols to come back aggressively and angrily. The Cards have also shut down Jim Edmonds with a groin strain, though he may pinch-hit if needed.
  • Here are the other adds to today's Shut 'Em Down list: Dmitri Young (who's still having post-concussive syndrome), Mark Buehrle, Carl Crawford, Rafael Furcal (he may need off-season surgery on his ankle), Corey Patterson, and Brandon McCarthy.
  • Quick Cuts: A UTK salute to Rondell White, who is reported to be retiring at the end of this season. He's the poster boy for guys who will be remembered more for their injuries than what they could do on the field. It's part of baseball's obsession with what could have been instead of what was, but White was a good player. ... I feel like Jon Gruber, but this postseason font MLB is using is terrible. ... Carlos Zambrano cramped up after getting a bit dehydrated, but there's no long-term problem. He's ready to carry the team into the postseason for the second time in his Cubs career. ... Orlando Hernandez is scheduled for an important side session mid-week to decide whether or not he'll be able to go in the playoffs. ... Adam Dunn left Sunday's game with a sore knee. He told Trent Rosencrans that it was "hard to stop," which sounds like a bigger problem than just soreness.

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