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March 21, 2008

UTK Wrap

Getting Closer

by Will Carroll

Perhaps the only thing that can compete with the building excitement for Opening Day is a Bruce Springsteen concert. It was a great show, if far from sold out here in Indy, with the return of Danny Federici reminding us all just how much difference one guy can make. Teams have learned that too, though between bad luck and teams that don't invest enough in prevention, I'll still have plenty to write about this season. Here are the ten biggest injuries of the week:

Nomar Garciaparra (10/$0.10 million)
Garciaparra said on Tuesday that his wrist was getting "progressively better," but remember that the worst source of information on a player's injury is often the player himself. On Wednesday, an imaging showed a small fracture. Sources tell me that the "microfracture" is something along the lines of a stress fracture, but it can't be called that because there's a known cause. Garciaparra is still going to continue his rehab, with the goal of swinging a bat by the weekend. We know now that there's a more severe problem than just a bruise, and an increased risk that he won't be able to meet his current goals. With Andy LaRoche out for what I estimate to be about half of the season--between healing and regaining his stroke--Garciaparra's ability to recover has to be balanced with the need for the team to have an adequate backup. New information is mixed on whether he'll be ready on Opening Day, but if he's not swinging by the start of next week, he'll likely open the season on the DL. I'll give him ten days to be safe. Yes, the exceptionally low Injury Cost surprised me as well.

John Patterson (0/0)
It took some debate as to whether to put some days on John Patterson. The Nats' former ace was released on Thursday after the team determined that he wasn't getting better, and that the injuries had finally taken their toll on him. Patterson was never able to get above the mid-80s with his fastball and seemed confused by the team's demanding that he use it more often. It's not that he isn't back to his 2005 form after multiple arm surgeries; it's that the Nats saw him as a worse option than their various options for the back-end of the rotation, like Matt Chico or Tim Redding. Given the shallow pitching of many teams and the chance that Patterson could show some effectiveness down the line, he's likely to latch on with a team like the Cardinals or Red Sox that have shown a tendency towards taking chances on retreading projects. One observer that I spoke with thinks that Patterson is going to need to reinvent himself as a pitcher to be effective again.

Josh Beckett (0/0)
When the Red Sox say that Beckett's "arm strength hasn't suffered," they're not just saying it. The team is at the forefront of objective measurement of their pitching staff and its capacities, doing things that few others are. Beckett made it through a 45-pitch side session without incident, which leaves only the recovery at issue. Beckett hasn't traveled to Japan with the team; the flight could have exacerbated his back-muscle problem, and by leaving him in Florida to play in minor league games, the Sox preserve the option of putting him on the DL with a retroactive move, reducing the days that he would miss (if any). It's a common move, one you'll see around the league in these last weeks. At this stage, Beckett is more likely than not to avoid the DL altogether, but it's smart to leave the option open. Beckett hasn't had any setbacks during his recovery, so his next step will be to pitch in a game sometime this weekend.

B.J. Ryan (0/0)
Is soreness a setback? Only if you had unreasonable expectations for Ryan's comeback. After his second bit of game action, Ryan had some trouble recovering, dancing on that thin line between "sore" and "painful." This highlights the problem that Ryan was going to have anyway, which was his ability to recover between appearances, not his performance in them. Ryan was not initially going to be utilized on back-to-back days, even in closing situations, until later this year; most estimates anticipate that those limits on Ryan will last until sometime in mid-May. Even then, all the guesses were just that: guesses. Thus, Ryan didn't have a setback, but there is now some question about whether this could become one. Ryan's ability to recover needs to allow him to be available to pitch somewhere over a certain threshold. While I don't know what the Jays' threshold will be, we can assume it will have to be something more than what they'd expect from a starter. Is he useful once every three days? Four? That's what he's had to come back from his appearances so far, three and four days, with the soreness coming immediately after the third outing. This one bears watching, and if you're in a fantasy league, Jeremy Accardo bears owning, especially if you pair him up with Ryan.

Rocco Baldelli (60/$2.52 million)
We finally have answers about Rocco Baldelli, but not only is the mitochondrial disease he's been diagnosed with a mystery to most of us, it's also a mystery to many doctors. At this stage, no one knows how this is going to affect Baldelli's life, let alone his baseball career. For the time being, I'll say that Baldelli will miss 60 days, though it's possible that this will be the last we see of Baldelli. Given the condition, a lot of people who questioned Baldelli's heart during his injury struggles owe him an apology. For more information on mitochondrial disease, check out my interview with the CEO of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation over at BP Radio.

B.J. Upton (0/0)
The Rays' medical staff was expanded to three this offseason, a move that more teams are making, and one I think is smart. Unfortunately, even with the expansion, the Rays have been using those resources fully, something I'm sure they didn't want to have to do. My Rays source always seems to be chirping in with injury update after injury update, with only a small respite for discussion of Jonny Gomes' future as a professional wrestler. The latest injury is to B.J. Upton, who took a hard pitch off of his upper arm. The official diagnosis is "triceps contusion," not exactly a surprise given how it happened, but the issue is more the response to it. Upton reportedly had significant inflammation and a loss of grip strength, so getting that down and making sure that it's no more of an issue of discomfort is key. At this stage, it looks like a typical outcome for a HBP: painful, but only problematic in the short term.

Rich Harden (0/0)
For once, I can talk about Rich Harden and not detail how poorly things are going. I might seem like a little dark cloud, continually talking about the bad things happening to players, but I like talking about the good things, the rehab that worked, or the player who comes back stronger. So far, things are going well for Harden, who is looking as effective as we all thought he could be. He's still very risky, in large part due to the unknown nature of both his injury and the out of the blue comeback. He could be back on the shelf as quickly as he came off it. While sources are quick to give credit to Harden's work ethic and to the medical staff's work with him this spring, they also acknowledge that Harden's mechanics and body type work against him. For now, we'll just enjoy what we can for as long as Harden can stay healthy. That's no knock on him; I could say it about any pitcher, though few have Harden's upside.

Kerry Wood (0/0)
Someone suggested to me this week that Dodgers prospect Clayton Kershaw should be nicknamed "Kid K." That's just bad mojo, given how Kerry Wood did while saddled with the name. While back spasms aren't something any pitcher wants, the episode that Wood went through this week was mild, and by the end of the week, they were just a memory. The problem was entirely muscular, and the kind of thing that happens with both age and the exertion of spring training. Wood is going through his first camp as a reliever, which is putting new demands on his body. Wood still hasn't proven he has the resiliency to take the defined closer role, but he does seem to have the stuff. He's shown good velocity, command of all of his pitches, and seems to be adjusting to the role well. I'm at a loss as to why Lou Piniella and the Cubs seem compelled to have one "closer." They're lucky enough to have three or four guys who all have the stuff to put in late-inning, high-leverage situations. Given some of the challenges that Wood will have with recovery, roles here might be comfortable, but restrictive.

Adam Loewen (0/0)
He has a screw in his pitching elbow. That's how you have to start out any thought about Adam Loewen going forward. At this stage, it's the standard excuse, but given all that's going wrong in his mechanics, that's a sentence that O's fans will be hearing a lot. The screw--and the problem with his elbow--seems to be leading to a cascade issue that is affecting not only his control, but also the health of his shoulder. Spring training stats don't mean much, but a lack of control and velocity this spring are certainly worrisome about a guy who many inside and outside the O's organization expected to take over Erik Bedard's team ace role. Loewen's not only young, he doesn't have as much experience pitching as most his age. Several sources I spoke with are very concerned about the downward spiral we're seeing from him, and new O's pitching coach Rick Kranitz's inability to help so far.

Quick Cuts: Next time someone talks about pitch counts not being important, show them this. ... Still worried about Albert Pujols and his elbow? Tony La Russa says that he'll need to rest Pujols at least two or three days--a month, that is. ... Carlos Delgado is back after taking a bat shard to the arm and needing several stitches. It's not an issue now. ... Jim Edmonds will start the season on the DL, according to sources. His calf is healing slowly, and he has yet to resume baseball activities. ... Kevin Millwood looked solid in his spring training debut. His hamstring strain is healed, making him the likely Opening Day starter for the Rangers. ... Chris Capuano had his non-pitching shoulder repaired over the offseason, but now it's his pitching elbow that's painful. He's headed back to Milwaukee for tests. ... The Tigers are shutting down Fernando Rodney pending some medical tests. Things don't look good, and one observer described him as "toast" last week. ... Ever heard anyone ask Tommy John how he ended up having surgery? The answer will surprise you. My interview with him will be on BP Radio soon.

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Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (03/21)
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UTK Wrap: Measuring In... (03/14)
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UTK Wrap: Meltdowns an... (03/28)
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