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April 4, 2008

UTK Wrap

The Initial Butcher's Bill

by Will Carroll

So we've made it through the first work week of the season, and instead of TGIF, the injury blotter is filled to overflow. It's not any worse than last year, not much worse than any random week, and sadly, not any different than the next twenty-something weeks that we'll do this. It's easy to overreact to any small thing in the first week, injuries or otherwise, simply because there's nothing to compare it to and because of the perceived importance. The one thing I'm noticing is that medical staffs are actually a bit more conservative and risk-averse in the season's opening days. Since the first game on the schedule is as valuable in the standings as the 162nd, with the only difference being available recovery time, I'm not sure whether that's an optimal strategy, so I'm taking a harder look at that. Maybe there's something in the data. Let's get to the injuries:

Pedro Martinez (30 DXL)
I heard two words from almost everyone that I spoke with after Pedro hurt his hamstrings, and those words won't make Mets fans happy: Philip Hughes. Martinez's overextension and sensation of a pop resemble the injury that felled Hughes in the midst of his no-hit bid last season. It's important to remember that Hughes' injury was a bit overblown; his recovery was delayed by a significant ankle sprain as well as the reinforcement of the rotation when the Yankees added Roger Clemens. This should, therefore, be a much quicker recovery. The worry is that Martinez's mechanics might be altered, putting more pressure on his fragile pitching shoulder. The Mets aren't quite sure how bad the strain is yet, but we'll know more tomorrow once the swelling runs it's course. Martinez is headed to the DL, but if you had him on your roster, you should have already had your backup plan in place for your fantasy roster. Right now, it looks like Orlando Hernandez is Plan B for the Mets, who won't need a fifth starter until April 12th.

J.J. Putz (20 DXL)
In Putz's own words, it was "the best of the bad news." Costochondritis sounds much worse than it is, but it's inflammation of the connection between the ribs and the intracostal muscles. According to th Mariners' own release, the case Putz was diagnosed with was "mild." That doesn't exactly mesh with the "ice pick" feeling Putz described just before he gave up a Josh Hamilton bomb, so it will be interesting to follow this. If it is just a mild case of costochondritis, Putz should miss just over the minimum; my 20 days estimate is conservative and based on some safety built in to prevent any sort of recurrence. We should be able to see Putz throwing again relatively quickly, which will give us a better gage in roughly a week for when to target his return to action. One of the most interesting parts of the story is that while everyone was trying to figure out who would replace Putz in the interim, John McLaren zagged on us, using Miguel Batista on his throw day. It was a brilliant move in my opinion, although it appears that the saves will be parceled out to a committee.

Victor Martinez (5 DXL)
Before we talk about the other Martinez injury, let me toss in a quick not about DXL-it covers the entire time period of an injury. In this case, Victor Martinez has missed one day, and I'd expect him to miss about another four given the information at my disposal. DXL doesn't function as a countdown, but a measure of how serious a given injury is. That said, the Indians are probably having a bit of deja vu-Martinez injured his quad in last year's opener, and this year's injury is just on the opposite side of his leg. The team isn't talking about the DL yet and most of the sources I talked to said "a week or so." I speculated that Martinez could come back more quickly playing first base or DH, and he did pinch-hit last night. While DH used to be the sole domain of Travis Hafner in the past, Pronk's lack of production is making him a bit more movable from that slot. Overall, it doesn't appear that Martinez's strain is significant, and that he'll miss a minimum of time. The larger concern is keeping him healthy and keeping this from becoming a chronic issue, making it harder to keep him behind the plate, but he's already close to a return. (There's video of the injury linked into this story.)

Jorge Posada (0 DXL)
"Barking." If I hadn't heard the term before, I would have thought that Brian Cashman just wanted to hear Erin Andrews say it on air. The term is one of those like "tweak" that gets used for soreness, stiffness, and/or swelling. Posada's shoulder is bothering him and it's no more or no less important than that. Joe Girardi and the team decided to play it safe and keep Posada out against A.J. Burnett, a pitcher he's had limited success against anyway. The most worrisome part is that this soreness is coming so soon into the season. If this was July, I'd barely take note of this, waving it off with a simple "he's an older catcher, what do you expect?" If Posada's dealing with one of those things, then we'll all look back on this as what it was, a good opportunity to take a day off. If, however, this is the first sign of something-and I'll go on record that I don't think it is-then we'll at least know where it started. One thing I will do is slightly reduce my expectations for him on his playing time. This goes with Joe Girardi's history both as and in using a backup catcher.

Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
Before leaving his first start with an arm injury, Zambrano was looking great. He really seemed to be ahead of every Brewer, not just blowing them away, but also confusing them. Looking through the MLB Gameday log, it doesn't look like he was doing anything different, though I'm comparing Gameday's new features to my own faulty memory. When Zambrano came out, my initial thought was "blister," but the reports are that Zambrano was merely cramping up. It's not a serious problem, though painful, and it points to Zambrano's questionable conditioning and a potassium deficit. I'd recommend drinking a cola before the game instead of having a banana. Video showed Zambrano having difficulty flexing his hand as his forearm tightened up, which is very similar to the episode he had a few years ago, and blamed on computer use. He came back well from that, so we'll assume that the Cubs will get their ace back on the mound next time it's his turn.

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 he 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 in 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 untightened since. Drew didn't play in the LA exhibitions or the first couple of games, but he made it back by midweek. The worry here is that Drew is headed to making that playing in 140-plus games in three of the last five years, but 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. (Does Crisp in center mean Terry Francona likes his defense there, or that his arm won't play in right?) My assigning zero DXL to Drew is a reflection of the day-to-day nature of the injury rather than the fact that he actually won't miss games.

Josh Beckett (7 DXL)
The Red Sox have Beckett penciled in for Sunday's game against Toronto after he looked fine in five innings of work in Ft. Myers. The team is waiting to make sure that he recovers well from that outing, and that his back stays in the same condition it was in going into this last non-game work. There don't seem to be any real limitations on Beckett beyond those of his stamina since he threw all of his pitches and, according to observers, "looked normal... a bit less velocity, but he does that when he's not challenged." I'd expect that Beckett will have a strict pitch limit when he gets his first start, but missing just one start has to be looked at as a win for Beckett, for the Sox, and for the medical staff. Keeping Beckett healthy the rest of the way is going to be a bigger challenge.

Scott Kazmir (20 DXL)
The word from the Rays is "one more bullpen session." Kaz-who really needs a better nickname-was able to get through a 45-pitch session that included changeups without any issues, and on Saturday he's expected to mix in his breaking stuff. If all goes well, the next step will be some sort of game action, though it's not yet known whether that will be a simulated game, an extended spring training appearance, or a minor league start. The guess is that he'll have two games of some combination thereof before rejoining the Rays rotation sometime towards the end of the month. This conservative course might be frustrating, but it's the smart choice.

Mike Hampton (5 DXL)
Have you ever heard one of those ads for mutual funds, saying "past performance does not guarantee future results?" You could say the same about players. Oftentimes, our perception of a player lags behind the reality. Randy Johnson isn't dominant, Derek Jeter has lost another step defensively, and David Eckstein is still gritty but just not nearly as good as he once was. With health however, the past is a key. History seems doomed to repeat itself, once tagged as "injury prone," the label's hard to shake off. Like Moises Alou, J.D. Drew, and Kerry Wood, Hampton gets all the Elijah Price jokes. The problem is that the tag is true, and when Hampton breaks down with a knee sprain, a shoulder problem, or, this time, a pectoral strain during warm-ups before his first start, it can't come as a surprise. Someday, we'll have genetic indicators for how well someone can hold up, and we can quit questioning their character. Injuries have nothing to do with how good or bad you are as a person, just like most baseball skills, and health is a baseball skill. Hampton's headed to the DL, to be replaced in the rotation by Jo-Jo Reyes.

Jason Bay (0 DXL)
There's an interesting analysis of Bay's swing over at a site called Baseball Intellect. I'm not one who can break down hitting, so I'll avoid the points made there. What I do see is a pretty notable physical change-in the 2006 video, watch his knee, or actually the way his femur rotates, putting a great deal of torque on the knee. It's not there in '07, with a much softer plant. Knowing the problems he had at the end of 2006 led to surgery, and that his struggles throughout 2007 involved the cartilage in the left knee, this might be an important point. If you're counting on Jason Bay in the way that the Pirates are, it might be time to check out his knee in 2008.

Quick Cuts: The Tigers are waiting to see how Gary Sheffield's finger reacts to time and treatment before making any decisions on him, but it looks like he could be headed to the DL. Detroit has taken hit after hit this spring, and they continue to be bad at preventing injuries. ... Francisco Liriano made his first start of the season on Thursday. Unfortunately, it was for the Ft. Myers Twins and not the Minnesota version. Despite throwing well-delivering eight strikeouts-the Twins are making some noises that Liriano could be down longer than just a couple of starts, because they don't trust his arm right now. ... BP's John Perrotto was on the scene in Pittsburgh, and tells me that Freddy Sanchez was removed as a precaution due to the playing conditions; Jack Wilson might blame those same conditions for a mild calf strain. ... Kevin Slowey left his first start of the year with what's being reported as a biceps strain. Given how well Liriano pitched, this might be the opening for him to slot in. ... Brad Lidge didn't look too solid in his rehab outing in High-A Clearwater, giving up a homer, double, and walk. He did get a couple strikeouts, though. ... Chad Cordero will throw on the side this weekend and could be back in the Nats' pen shortly thereafter. I said in the pen, not back in the closer role. ... Orlando Hernandez had a nice rehab start in High-A. He'll have one more before coming up to essentially replace Pedro Martinez in the Mets rotation.

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