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October 11, 2007

Under The Knife

LCS Injury Report

by Will Carroll

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You might notice that this is going to be a relatively short column. The reason is that team health is paying off in the short term and not just the longer-term horizon that we often cover here. While keeping the dollars spent on the field is a good strategy at any time, the long haul of the 2007 season appears to be rewarding the teams that could hold up under that grind. The Angels are gone in large part due to injuries and the inflexibility that injuries imposed on them. The Yankees collapsed in large part due to age, fatigue, and the striking absences of Derek Jeter's clutchiness. I could go on and on, but let's focus on the positive. We have four teams that could be finalists for the Dick Martin Award-with some overlap, since Red Sox trainer Paul Lessard left the Diamondbacks to move to the Sox. While some teams plan well for injuries, those same teams are also beginning to plan for health, putting more resources towards their medical staffs, testing, imaging, facilities, and preventive care. It may not be sabermetrics in its purest sense, but it's one way in which these teams have differentiated themselves from their opponents.

Powered by Jamba Juice and cough syrup, on to the playoff injuries:

Cleveland: The Indians come in to the LCS much as they went into the LDS, with no concerns at all healthwise. Losing David Dellucci was adjusted for with the Kenny Lofton trade, one that has to be counted as another Mark Shapiro success. Aside from Dellucci, the only question marks involve Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt, who are both showing some signs of fatigue, as both were throwing with velocities that were slightly down from their usual in Game Three. This is more a worry than a real concern, although overuse of these relievers might force Eric Wedge to turn one of his less reliable relievers like, say, Joe Borowski. In the field, there's nothing to say. They're healthy, well rested, in condition, and as healthy on October 10 as they were on March 10, perhaps more so. I've always dreamed about the day when I'd have nothing to write about in regards to injuries; for the LCS, the Indians have given me a preview of that day.

Boston: Aside from the two known and minor knee problems for the Sox' big sluggers, there's not much here to worry about. There's been no sign that the knee problems that have been hopscotched around to afflict key Red Sox hitters-David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, or J.D. Drew-have had any effect on them during their pennant chase, while Ramirez certainly didn't show any signs of the oblique bothering him. We can also discount any effect that the wrist injury that Kevin Youkilis had, though I imagine he won't relish facing Fausto Carmona again.

There are some fatigue issues with the Japanese pitchers as well as Jonathon Papelbon, though the closer seems much stronger at this time of year than he did last season. There's a bit of a concern, Roger Clemens-style, about whether the normally trusty Tim Wakefield can get a full start out of his balky back, though reports are that he's pitched "just well enough" to earn Terry Francona's trust. On the other hand, I believe Eric Gagne has something wrong with his arm. His slot in his one LDS appearance was inconsistent, and his velocity was terrible. I was watching and working that game with John Marzano, and he agreed that Gagne doesn't look right on the mound. That said, Gagne won't be allowed anywhere close to a hold situation, making me wonder why he's even on the roster.

Colorado: Matt Holliday's scab is healing nicely, eliminating the one concern they had coming into the Division Series. Now, they have a problem of abundance. By going farther than expected, but wisely keeping the rehabs of various injured pitchers going, the Rockies now could use Aaron Cook (oblique) and Jason Hirsh (fractured leg) in the NLCS. After Cook made a nice case for starting with a seven-inning gem in instructional league, he was briefly listed as the Game Four starter, but several observers thought this was more of a placeholder than a plan, and as it turned out, he was left off of the playoff roster. However, center fielder Willy Tavares returned to the roster, although he probably won't get the Game One start. The rest of the rotation and bullpen also face some fatigue questions in various forms, so the field staff will need to keep a close eye throughout the playoffs to not overextend someone and see a loss of effectiveness. Jeff Francis could be on the cusp of being this year's overworked playoff arm if the Rockies use him in as many as three games in the LCS (and possibly beyond). Ubaldo Jimenez showed a quick drop in velocity in his start, so he bears watching due to his already-iffy mechanics.

Arizona: Are there any real concerns for the D'backs as they gear up for the second LCS in their short existence? Not really. The rotation is well rested, and the bullpen is solid and deep. There's flexibility and depth in the position players and bench. In other words, Ken Crenshaw and his staff have nothing to do. That certainly wasn't the case in-season, because his group's diligent work all season long has kept the team this healthy. Aside from the loss of Randy Johnson, my injury-tracking stats bear this out, and Johnson's case is one where my data haa a massive failing. If there's ever been a team at full strength heading into the playoffs without even a fatigue problem to mention, here it is. I'm not sure that we'll see enough baseball to translate it into a value for the playoffs, but the fact that they're here could be all the effect anyone needs. One key move will be to use Micah Owings for Game Four rather than coming back with Brandon Webb on short rest. The idea that sinkerballers pitch better on short rest doesn't seem to have much traction so far in this postseason.

Quick Cuts: Gary Sheffield had his shoulder surgery, and while the damage was a bit worse than expected, he's still on track to be ready around spring training. ... Keep your eyes open for reports on players sneaking in for surgery. Derek Jeter (knee) is one that wouldn't surprise me. ... On the other hand, Kelvim Escobar has passed on knee surgery and will try to rehab it. It's something to keep in mind, though it's not serious either way. ... Rich Harden is throwing at the A's facility in Arizona. He could even make an appearance in instructional league action, which would be a nice indicator of how he's progressing for those of you beating your heads over your keeper lists. ... Here's a scary story about Casey Kotchman, especially with his history.

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