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March 31, 2008

Under The Knife

Opening Day Hurts

by Will Carroll

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It's Opening Day, we've survived the winter, and now we get the freedom and hope of the next 180 days. So, powered by the new Raconteurs album, on to the injuries:

Doug Davis (0 DXL)
Davis has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. While this is in no way good news, all indications are that the cancer was caught early, and his prognosis is good. He'll make two starts and then have the treatment, which is an outpatient procedure. There's absolutely no way to tell just how he'll handle those treatments and how long he'll be out. I'm listing him with a 0 DXL for now, since he's due to make a couple starts. The guesses are that he'll miss four to six weeks, which is reasonable, though this is going to come down to how much his stamina and arm strength is affected. I'll just wish him the best and encourage everyone to find their own charity to help fight cancer, though if you don't have one, may I suggest one?

Scott Kazmir (15 DXL)
The Rays ace made it through a bullpen session and seems on track to return, though it won't be when he's first eligible (April 4). Instead, Kazmir is more on track to throw somewhere-extended spring training, or even a minor league rehab start-once or twice before coming back around mid-month. My guess based on the conservative nature of the Rays is that Kazmir will make a controlled start in extended spring training, then shift to Vero Beach or Montgomery for the second outing (depending on the weather). Many people are emailing that they're worried that the Rays keep pushing Kazmir back, but again, this is more a function of the Rays conservative nature, their deep roster, and their need to have Kazmir make 30 healthy starts.

John Lackey (30 DXL)
"A week ahead of schedule." That sounds pretty good, but absent any context, I'm just not sure. Lackey's fantasy owners are all like drowning men in the water, grasping at anything that looks like it might keep them afloat until his return. The issue that I-and a couple of the people I trust-have with Lackey returning is the reason he was on this plan to begin with: rest. "If he's not resting the full amount of time, what's changed?" one doctor asked me. Lackey is in the hands of Lewis Yocum and he certainly has more information than we do, but it's still worrisome, if not to the point of shifting from seeming positive to negative. Lackey will start throwing, taking steps toward a rehab assignment by mid-month, and a May 1 return to action, but you can be sure that this one will be watched closely

John Smoltz (7 DXL)
Smoltz will miss his first turn through the rotation. While his team was in Washington for that odd one-game series to open up the Nats' new palace, Smoltz was back in Florida throwing for the Braves' Triple-A affiliate in camp. He went five innings, dominating the lineup and seemed to have command of all of his pitches. If he makes it to his throw day without any further pain or inflammation, Smoltz will make his next start with the big club. Smoltz's early-season shoulder injuries are a very negative indicator, so I doubt this will be his last issue of the season. The question is whether or not he'll be solid in the starts in between issues.

Andy Pettitte (0 DXL)
Smoltz wasn't the only big-name, big-dollar pitcher throwing in a minor league game on Sunday. Pettitte went 75-plus pitches and seemed to be pleased with the results. His stamina remains a question, meaning he'll likely be on a strict pitch limit of 90 or so when he makes his first start later this week. The back has tightened up in between outings, but has progressively been getting less serious as the treatments start to take hold. Keeping Pettitte at a productive level will be a maintenance job that adds to the workload for head trainer Gene Monahan and his staff, always a concern due to the "death spiral" effect. The Yankees have certainly had a more healthy training camp this year compared to last year, so we're a ways off from major concerns.

Derek Jeter (0 DXL)
When The Captain hurts himself, I worry. If you look around the game, I'm not sure there's a more influential player. Team captains from Little League on up pattern themselves on Jeter, and his savvy seems to be the basis for a lot of the young players in the game (most notably Troy Tulowitzki, among others). Anytime Jeter does anything, I figure a legion of youth are going to copy him, from the Gatorade and cologne on down to the bruised pinky. Happily, Jeter's fifth digit came out a lot better than Scott Rolen's third, and Jeter should miss no time and have no serious effect on his game for Opening Day.

J.D. Drew (0 DXL)
Don't blame the airplane. If anyone tries to sell you on the long flight affecting Drew's back, maybe they should pay attention to Drew's two previous Japanese games, where he hit home runs. No, Drew's back is simply one of those issues that Drew and the Sox medical staff deal with from time to time. The timing was terrible, but Brandon Moss stepped up. By this stage, everyone in the world knows that Drew is a bit fragile, but it's not like he's packed in bubble wrap just yet. If you look at his stats, he's played in 140-plus games three of the last four years. The worry now is not that the back tightened up just moments before Opening Dawn's game against the A's, but that it hasn't really un-tightened. Drew didn't play in the LA exhibitions, and he's questionable for the Sox's first game in Oakland tomorrow. The worry here is that Drew is headed towards making that 140-plus games in three of the last five years, but I'm telling you, if that happens, it won't be because of a minor back soreness. Drew's absence opens up at-bats for both Jacoby Ellsbury (who shifts over to right field) and Coco Crisp in center. (Does Crisp in center mean Terry Francona likes his defense, or that his arm won't play in RF?) Drew's DXL of zero is a reflection of the day-to-day nature of the injury, rather than that he won't actually miss games.

Orlando Hernandez (15 DXL)
El Duque will start the season on the DL, but that doesn't come as that much of a surprise, given that it was going to be close on the timing all along as he rehabbed from off-season foot surgery. It also helps that Mike Pelfrey had a solid spring. That one area of depth even after the Johan Santana deal allows the Mets to be a bit conservative with an older but versatile hurler. Hernandez is still working on getting his new delivery in sync, and that more than any residual soreness is the big issue here. No one, inside or outside of Queens, thinks that Hernandez is going to make 30 or more starts this season, so missing a couple at the start of the year isn't that big a deal. If you were relying on him, you're missing the point.

Chad Cordero (0 DXL)
The Nats went to Jon Rauch with a one-run lead in the ninth, and even Joe Morgan knew that means that something was up. According to Peter Gammons, Cordero's hamstring was stiff when warming up, and the team decided to sit him down rather than risk him in a cold Opening Night game. Cordero has had notable velocity loss this spring, and there had been some speculation that Rauch was actually the better closing option anyway. Given the Nats' injury problems and their inability to help any of their pitchers stay healthy, I'm very worried here. I almost set a DXL figure for Cordero, but waited to see whether or not this was just a conservative, cold-weather move by the ever-patient Manny Acta. We'll see, but this is one I'm expecting to update. It's also worth noting that the Braves made a similar move, leaving Peter Moylan in the game instead of using Rafael Soriano.

Johan Santana (0 DXL)
Take a deep breath, Mets fans-there's nothing wrong with your new ace. I just want to talk about the solid questions that Ken Davidoff asked in his weekend column. In it, Jack Morris questions Santana's use of the changeup, a pitch he described as his third best. I'm curious whether that adjustment was made in large part due to his elbow problems in 2004. More interesting to me is how Santana is using the pitch and when. Is he striking people out? Giving up those homers? With the new pitch identification in MLB.com's Gameday, we'll know instantly this year. I watched tonight's opener with Gameday open and really liked the information it was giving me.

Quick Cuts: Lots of players were placed on the DL, most with retro moves, as teams locked in their rosters. None of these should come as a surprise. The one move I found intriguing was Joel Zumaya going on the 15-day. I'd expected him to go to the 60-day DL, but I don't think this means anything. ... Elijah Dukes didn't last long, straining his hamstring in the fifth of last night's cold game. Willie Harris might see time in the outfield with both Dukes and Wily Mo Pena out. ... Prince Fielder's availability for Opening Day is in some doubt due to flu-like symptoms. With the weather looking rough in Chicago, it may not be an issue. ... Travis Buck, king of the nagging injury, is dealing with shin splints. ... Nick Johnson, testing Jeff Francouer's arm in the first inning at Nationals Park? Twice?! I've never seen that before. ... Wandy Rodriguez made it through his last test and will make his start in the Astros' third game. ... Thanks to everyone that was at the amazing Memphis event. The attendance was great, the Subteens rocked, and while we didn't see the ghost of Elvis at the HiTone, we felt him. I hope we can do that one again. As always, if you want to set up a Pizza Feed, all you need is a bit of moxie and a plane ticket.

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