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March 25, 2008

Under The Knife

Predictability

by Will Carroll

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Andy Pettitte (0)
Pettitte is making some progress, though the Yankees appear to be making plans in case Pettitte is not ready for Opening Day. He was able to throw off of flat ground, but the team seems more willing to push his start back, essentially starting with their #2, and letting it cycle back around; the Yankees have stated they're not anticipating a DL stint here. There's no reason to doubt they'll stick to that, not yet, though all the statements appear to leave some wiggle room. Assuming that Pettitte has no further setbacks and is able to pass a couple of tests later this week, Pettitte should be good to go, just not go on day one. I debated whether this constituted any days lost, but don't feel that it reaches that standard. One reader asked why I discuss the numbers/roles at all, since all five have to pitch and it's not a matchup of #1 versus #1, etc. My answer is that usually it doesn't matter and that in most cases, I actually speak of the "scouting" roles, where the pitcher's upside is more important than his role.

John Smoltz (7)
Anyone who calls this injury a trapezius strain is missing the real story and I really have to question what they know about pitching. Instead, the signs are that there's some nerve involvement regarding this chronic injury. A brachial plexus involvement, a slight impingement due to a swollen disc in his neck, or something else? History tells us that Smoltz recovers quickly from this injury, the same one he's suffered with on and off since 2005. He recovers in a matter of days with rest and treatment, but more importantly, there's no real effect on his pitching once he comes back. It's problematic that it's cropped up so early in the season, but this is a known issue that's never become more than an annoyance for Smoltz and the Braves. The team will put him on the DL with a retro move, allowing him to come in for his first start on April 6, meaning he misses one start.

Josh Beckett (5)
It was no surprise that Josh Beckett was placed on the DL; the retro move was expected. All it really tells us is when Beckett will be back, because there have been no major setbacks, and while back injuries can linger, everything that's happened since the initial injury has been positive. The biggest remaining question will be about his stamina, but the Red Sox will be sure to not only limit Beckett's workload in the first few outings, they'll also be objectively measuring several parameters in order to make truly informed decisions about how to best find the balance between use and health. I spoke with a physician who said that minor back injuries actually end up as net positives most of the time. "It scares guys into shape," he told me.

Brad Lidge (5)
The Phillies have decided to open the year with Lidge on the DL. While the knee is making solid progress, this is one of those roster-driven moves that doesn't make a lot of injury sense. Lidge is able to pitch, but he's not yet ready to go full speed. Since he can't close, the Phillies elected to give him an extra week of time to build up arm strength, rather than having him work on the side or be available to relieve. The move frees up a roster spot for the time being, which allows Pat Gillick and his staff some extra time to sort tings out. This isn't a setback for Lidge at all, so don't read it that way. He's eligible to return on April 5, so he'll miss maybe a couple outings, while Tom Gordon will take the early save chances.

Kerry Wood (0)
The news is that Kerry Wood isn't hurt for a change. Aside from some minor back issues, Wood made it through the spring, claiming the closer job by pumping gas and avoiding walks. The one thing he didn't really do is establish any sort of stamina "rule"; the Cubs, let alone fantasy owners, really don't know if he'll be used in back-to-back situations yet. It's safe to assume that he'll have some controls and will be monitored closely, meaning that Carlos Marmol will likely not only get work, but some save opportunities along the way. One other thing to keep track of is how long it takes Wood to warm up. In the spring, you don't see pitchers getting "dry humped"-warmed up in the pen and then sat back down-and there are usually defined times where a pitcher will come in. Wood may be a closer now, but he hasn't proved that he's a fireman.

Francisco Liriano (0)
When I hear that a Latin player is "not communicating," my instant reaction is to wonder whether it's the team's fault. After checking with my sources, it appears that when Ron Gardenhire says that Liriano is "not communicating about his arm," it's on Liriano. Liriano had the same issue when he initially hurt his elbow, telling the team he was fine, pitching through pain in the minors, then tearing it once he was back in the bigs. The Twins haven't been able to change him in the year-plus that he's been rehabbing, either mechanically or vocally, apparently. I'm not sure that it's enough for them to send him to the minors, since that didn't help at all last time around. The Twins do seem to acknowledge they'll have to control his innings somehow, and skipping his first couple starts in some fashion might be it.

A.J. Burnett (0)
Maybe Burnett will be able to help Scott Rolen out with his nail problem. Then again, maybe Burnett's problem should be fixed before he's passing out advice. Burnett is still dealing with some after-effects after slamming his finger in a car door and breaking the nail. That sounds like a Mike Greenberg problem, I know, but at this point, Burnett is still having control issues, and is just starting to throw his curve. Perhaps an easy load in the spring might end up helping Burnett, but thus far this spring, the Jays haven't seen much to dream on. Until Burnett shows something more, we have to assume that he's still affected. Unless you don't have other options, I'd consider keeping Burnett on your fantasy bench the first time around.

Cole Hamels (0)
Spring stats don't mean much, so the seven-plus ERA isn't the story here. It's the command problems that caused that number that have the Phillies worried. Hamels is already coming off of a quick comeback last season from an elbow injury. At the time, the Phillies insisted that there was no structural damage, but many worried that the original injury was a precursor to bigger problems. His spring command has been spotty at best, a problem that can often be the outward sign of an elbow issue. It's tough to tell if this is just spring rust or a bigger proprioception deficit. Hamels bears watching early in the season, with a problem that his chiropractor won't be able to fix.

David Price (0)
The Rays don't have much luck with their first-round picks. They've had a lot of them, but while some are paying off, some are on the shelf. David Price will start his first campaign shut down for six weeks after imaging found a mild muscle strain near his elbow. No one seems terribly concerned, but it is nevertheless something to note. Price never had serious arm problems during his college career, so this may just be a case of trying too hard in his first camp. He'll start a throwing program in a few weeks, with the likely goal of a May move to High-A Vero Beach once he's ready. (Note: Price has a zero DXL since he's missing minor league games, which do not "count.")

Kevin Frandsen (180)
Yesterday, I talked about the problems the Giants infield was having staying healthy. It's worse today, with reports that Kevin Frandsen tore his Achilles during Monday's workout. Frandsen had been dealing with soreness and inflammation in the area over the week, but there were no indications that there was a loss of structural integrity. Achilles injuries tend to be traumatic, happening all at once, but with the previous problems, there have to be some questions about how this one occurred. The team didn't confirm the injury was a rupture, but if so, Frandsen's season is done and he'll need surgery. The only upside is that most players that have this surgery come back well.

Quick Cuts: J.D. Drew missed "Opening Day" with a tight back. I don't have much more on this due to his location, but I'm working on it. ... Be sure to note that over the last week, teams are doing two things-finishing rosters and resting regulars. Don't overanalyze minor injuries that are often used to keep guys off buses or to rest them. Also be on the lookout for DL moves that could be made to delay a roster decision. ... Kazuo Matsui is back at work. I will say nothing more about this if possible. ... Coco Crisp looks healthy, showing no signs of lingering problems with his strained groin. ... It's amazing how quiet the news world has been about Carlos Beltran's knees the last week or so. ... Mark Prior is throwing curves; contain yourselves until he does it against batters. ... J.J. Hardy has lost ten pounds due to "flu-like symptoms," worrying some that he might be weakened for the start of the season. ... He's not the only sick one-Nate McLouth is being tested for strep throat. ... Congrats to my friend Scott Long of The Juice Blog fame. He and his wife welcomed twins. Not Minnesota Twins, but two babies. ... There's a busy week ahead with the Memphis Event on Friday, but first I'll be lecturing to two classes at Indiana University on Thursday.

Related Content:  A.J. Burnett,  Back,  Kevin Frandsen

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