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March 24, 2008

Under The Knife

Cascade

by Will Carroll

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Curtis Granderson (20)
Granderson has a fracture at the base of his second (middle) finger. It's an important area for grip strength, and the lingering effects of the injury will be exposed when he returns, making this a double whammy. Early reports indicate that the team thinks he can start swinging a bat in two weeks, but as we saw with Chone Figgins last season, swinging a bat doesn't necessarily mean swinging it well. There will be some need for Granderson to get tuned up, either in extended spring training or with a quick rehab assignment. (The Tigers have a tendency to do these in warmer climates at the start of the season, so I'd guess extended spring training is the most likely.) I'm estimating that Granderson will be out slightly beyond that expectation, or about three weeks into the season. Whether he's effective at that point or not remains to be seen, though we'll get more of an indication when he does get a bat in his hands again.

Scott Rolen (15)
Just as I was about to press 'send,' word came in that Scott Rolen will miss a month with a broken finger; Rolen also reportedly tore the nail off of the middle finger on his right hand. (It was a bad week for middle fingers in the AL.) The fracture is at the tip, and should heal faster, though this is more serious than the minor fracture that Alfonso Soriano very nearly just played through. My guess is that he'll miss a couple of weeks, but as always, these things have a tendency to linger a bit. Marco Scutaro is the most likely replacement at third base for the Jays.

Eric Chavez (30)
For Chavez, it's another major setback. He was attempting to come back from several off-season surgeries and re-establish himself as a solid player. Chavez's back is the current problem, with one side of his back significantly tighter, to the point that ATC Steve Sayles says, "he can't bend over." That's bad, but since the same muscles are involved, we have to also assume that his trunk rotation is likely a problem as well. Chavez is going back to square one with his back, and could miss more than the month I'm currently estimating. It's his response to the treatment that will determine when--or even if--he's back. If there's any positive news, it's that this is a single problem, one that the medical staff can focus on. A spinal specialist I was able to speak to off the record who has not treated Chavez felt that this was a binary problem: "Either the involved side loosens up with treatment and modalities, or the reduced range of motion and spasm can bring the uninvolved side into deficit."

Vladimir Guerrero (0)
Aside from the inherent snickering that saying someone's "stiff" generates, it's just not very telling. Vladimir Guerrero left a spring training game on Thursday with a stiff knee; in itself, that's no real concern. That he still hasn't played come Sunday is a bit more problematic; the Angels otherwise played with what amounted to an Opening Day lineup. With all the concerns about his knees and back heading into the spring, Guerrero has done nothing to assuage those concerns, aside from stating he doesn't want to DH, which now nevertheless seems like the prudent course for Mike Scioscia. The Angels offense is counting on the medical staff to hold things together not just over the next week, but over the course of the next thirty weeks.

Scot Shields (15)
Guerrero isn't the Angels' only problem. Aside from John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, the Angels are now having to deal with the possibility that Scot Shields will also start the season on the DL. They've shut him down, making it likely that he'll have to be disabled in order to build up arm strength. Shields started the spring with a sore shoulder and now has a sore forearm, very high and near the elbow, and in precisely the location that tends to be described as "elbow" when all is said and done. It's a classic cascade, going from fatigued to sore, then from sore to changed mechanics, and those changes ultimately leading to a more significant injury. The loss of command Shields showed at times last year had many worried that his heavy workload had led to some sort of elbow issue; this latest episode is not going to change any minds about that possibility. Justin Speier might have just gotten a bit more valuable.

Chris Capuano (180)
Yovani Gallardo (10)
The news is bad for Capuano, as it looks as if he'll need another go-round with Tommy John surgery now that the Brewers are reporting he has a torn ulnar collateral ligament. This is a surprise, since Capuano's motion had always been considered clean, and there had been no previous indications of elbow problems, even when Capuano seemed to lose it at the midpoint last year. The surgery he had to repair his glove-side shoulder certainly was expected to assist him; no one at this stage seems clear on how or why this happened. With Yovani Gallardo starting the season on the DL (but expected to be back by his third scheduled start), the Brewers' pitching depth goes from theoretical strength to employed need. Manny Parra seems to have won the fifth slot in the rotation, giving Doug Melvin and his staff a couple of weeks to figure out how to best align things for when Gallardo is back. So far, Gallardo has had no problems during his rehab from minor knee surgery, and should come back at or near full strength.

Scott Baker (0)
Baker was expected to be a contender for the top slot in the Twins rotation, vacated by Johan Santana. Instead, a strained lat has kept him sidelined long enough that the role, which belongs to Francisco Liriano in everything but name, will go to one of his rotation-mates. They're all roughly the same, using different methods to end up at about the same effectiveness and upside. There's some argument among scouts and front office types about whether the Twins have a bunch of twos or a bunch of threes. Baker doesn't have blazing stuff, and a bad lat isn't going to help anything. He made it through a 33-pitch minor league outing, and could pitch in an A-game sometime this week. Before that happens and before the Twins make a retroactive move, they'll have to be 100 percent sure that he's ready to start the season. Their decision will help you make yours.

Matt Belisle (0)
UTK details the most important ten injuries of the day, followed by a brief discussion of the others. Deciding which ten to include is often easy, but sometimes, the injuries that don't seem important on the surface are the ones actually altering a team. An injury to Matt Belisle doesn't sound like much. It's a sore forearm that's kept him off the mound for a week, but that doesn't seem to be a long-term issue. In that week, Belisle has been passed by both Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, leaving him in a battle with Josh Fogg for the final starting slot. Belisle can relieve while Fogg "can't"--or at least hasn't done it successfully enough for Dusty Baker to have confidence in him. So a small injury might open up a slot for two solid young pitchers, ones that few if any argue won't be better long-term than Belisle. Nothing against Belisle; I'm sure he's living the dream as well, but when you're a replacement-level starter, you can't afford to let someone else replace you.

Ryan Doumit (0)
Ronny Paulino (0)
The Pirates seem to be shifting towards using Doumit more at catcher, in something of a platoon with Paulino. Paulino would do well with more rest; his size makes it tough for him to be effective while catching more than 120 games, but over a season, this kind of split would cost him opportunities. It's tough to tell exactly where the balance lies for Paulino--more effective over fewer at-bats--until we get a sense of just how much he'll be rested. For Doumit, it's the opposite. More opportunities is certainly good, but he's had such trouble staying healthy that the team shifted him out from behind the plate hoping that his bat would play elsewhere. Since the team now has Steven Pearce trying to lock in the "I'll replace Jason Bay" slot in right, Doumit's shift is more an acknowledgment that despite the increased risk of injury and poor defense, his bat really didn't play anywhere else.

Quick Cuts: The Giants almost came away with the Dick Martin Award last year, but if we gave one out for spring training, they'd be in trouble. Ray Durham is already feeling his chronic hamstrings tighten up, Omar Vizquel is coming back from knee surgery and is a "coin flip" for Opening Day, and Kevin Frandsen has an Achilles strain that could put him on the DL to start the season. With no depth, the infield is a major issue for the Giants. ... Reports have Brandon McCarthy out of the Rangers rotation into May. Look for him to start throwing in the next couple weeks. ... It looks as if Mike Timlin is going to start the season on the DL due to his finger laceration. It will be a retro move, so he'll be back quickly. ... Keep an eye on Kris Benson. Rotowire is reporting that it's nearing decision time for the Phillies and Benson on whether he stays or goes. With his arm keeping him from throwing much this spring, it's going to be a tough balance to make given the Phillies lack of pitching depth. ... Note to those emailing me about the accuracy of Alex Rodriguez being "worth" more than Bear Stearns: Rodriguez isn't saddled with debt. I guess Bear Stearns isn't clutch, however.

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