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April 7, 2008

Under The Knife

What's In Use

by Will Carroll

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There's an interesting note in the latest drug suspension. Robert Hernandez, a minor leaguer for the Cubs, was popped for stanozolol, a common anabolic steroid. What makes this notable isn't that he's 19, or that he's Venezuelan, or that he's playing under the tutelage of Chiefs manager Ryne Sandberg, but that he's the first player to have the drug named in his suspension. The Commissioner's Office has decided to give out this information for players in the minors who aren't on the 40-man roster, and can do so because that information where those players are concerned isn't subject to collective bargaining. Naming the drug is important in that it can help weed out the "bad vitamin" excuse; if we're going to test, we should be naming the drugs and the amount found in the urine to give some context to the suspension. A fifty-game suspension is harsh, but every player at every level should be responsible for anything they put in their body. With Hernandez, it's also worth noting that he's been living with and mentored by Cubs pitcher and countryman Carlos Zambrano.

Powered by Drew Estate, on to the injuries:

Erik Bedard (0 DXL)
How does an injury that doesn't cost a player any days wind up here at the top? Ask any Mariners fan, and I'm sure they're as worried about Bedard as they already were about Felix Hernandez. Bedard's been very good for a couple of years now, but he's at that point where watching him is paired with a sense of dread, like a Scorsese film with Joe Pesci-you just know something's going to go wrong somehow. Bedard missed his start on Sunday with a sore hip, but the injury wasn't serious enough to push him back more than a couple of days; he's currently scheduled to take his next turn on Tuesday. Given his struggles in his first start, showing little control and going 106 pitches in just five innings, there's now at least some explanation, though Bedard was coy when asked whether the hip had bothered him before the weekend. If Bedard comes out solid against the Rays on Tuesday, John McLaren and his staff can exhale, but if Bedard is shaky again or, worse, if his homers this spring were the result of something physical rather than the flukes of Arizona in March, the M's are going to have serious pitching issues.

Gary Sheffield (0 DXL)
Sheffield was back in the lineup on Sunday night, insisting that he could play through a torn tendon in his right ring finger. While he looked solid enough at the plate, swinging the bat without discernible pain or any visible alterations, this is a tough thing to play through because of its impact on a hitter's bat control, and Sheffield's powerful, almost violent swing is going to compound the problem. The trick is that it's his ring finger on his top hand, and while he's not a Hriniak/Lau type of hitter, there's not as much pressure there. This injury becomes one of pain tolerance, adjustment, and constant maintenance. There's a wide variation of possibilities, but given the Tigers' struggles in the first week, they'll need Sheffield to make quick work of whatever he'll need to do to kick-start the offense in Motown.

Pedro Martinez (30 DXL)
Peter Abraham asks the smart questions of the right people in this article; I'd been waiting to see what Phil Hughes thought for a week, and I guess his blogging is slowing down now that the season's started. The interesting point of Abraham's article is the discussion of the "popping" that Martinez says he felt. While upper-or "high"-hamstring strains can take longer to heal as a matter of anatomy, it's much more likely that he felt a tendon give way. This tendon is likely one of the ones that can be removed, often getting used in ACL repair. If this is the case-and it's admittedly just an educated guess based on conversations with a source and a follow-up with a doctor I trust-then I'll stick with the low end of the four to six weeks quoted and hold to my estimate of 30 DXL.

Aaron Rowand (5 DXL)
Rowand injured himself diving for a ball, ending up with severely bruised ribs. That something like this might happen should surprise nobody; maybe you didn't see this specific injury coming, but Rowand is the kind of player where it's always going to be something relating to hustle. Diving for a ball, running into a wall, popping his hamstring going first to home... you never know exactly what it's going to be, and just have to hope that he keeps the time missed to a minimum. He obviously won't stop-perhaps can't stop-doing the risky things that end up putting him in this position. This one won't cost him significant time, but we all know it won't be the last. The thing is, he's talented enough to play normally, and a vocal leader can't do much from the training room.

Lance Berkman (3 DXL)
When your conditioning-challenged slugger uses words like "paralyzing" and "jolt" to describe the pain coming from his neck, that's bad. Sure, he said it "wasn't paralyzing," but it's a mindset thing; that word is in play because he realizes how bad this could be. With any neck or even upper back pain, there's a significant guarding effect, making it hard to break that pain/spasm cycle. Once broken, then the medical staff can get in there and get to work on the root cause. All the symptoms that Berkman has been describing, especially the issues he has with certain head positions, point to some sort of herniation in the lower cervical spine. That sounds worse than it is, and once again goes back to the pain management and the pain tolerance in play here. The most likely scenario is that Berkman misses a few days as they calm this down. The worst case is significantly worse-season-ending surgery-but that's a ways off; just keep it in the back of your mind.

Jeremy Hermida (14 DXL)
Hermida could have come off the DL on Sunday if things went by the calendar, but injuries have their own clocks. Hermida's hamstring is still limiting him, and the Marlins have elected to keep him on his rehab assignment for at least another few days. There's some indication that he could play just up the road for High-A Jupiter in what amounts to some extended spring training action for the rest of the week. This isn't a setback per se, but it does represent a week of production lost for Hermida, who's now hearing "J.D. Drew" attached to his name a bit too often. Expect Hermida back by the weekend, although his slow healing might indicate that the injury's going to be a concern for a while after that.

Francisco Rodriguez (0 DXL)
So Frankie Rodriguez, a guy I've predicted doom for over the last five years, is pitching on a sore ankle. He's discussed changing his mechanics to soften the landing on the injured leg, and has seen some reduction in velocity. Why am I not worried? Because the velocity isn't lost, and he'll get it back. If he reduces the pain, he'll go right back to throwing cheese, and could likely do it at any given point given the need. This isn't "reaching back," this would be his going from 80 percent to 90. Also, the change in his mechanics likely reduces the forces acting on his joints, and that's seldom a bad thing. A sprained ankle isn't something that should linger too long, and if Scot Shields or Justin Speier can get Mike Scioscia's confidence in the meantime, Rodriguez could take one of those Mariano Rivera-style breaks and come back perfect. You'll seldom get me worried by a pitcher throwing less hard due to a conscious adjustment; it's when they have to adjust to throw as hard that I prick up my ears.

Josh Beckett (0 DXL)
The Red Sox didn't get vintage Beckett in his first start of the season on Sunday; he wasn't sharp and seemed to tire early, but aside from that, he seemed OK. A pitcher can be healthy and ineffective, to be sure, so Beckett not showing any signs of a tight back, having his normal work, and leaving the game without any new physical problems is one positive that the Sox can take from the outing. The Sox medical staff will now go to work to make sure that Beckett's back doesn't tighten up between starts, and analyzing video to note whether there were any mechanical changes that pitching coach John Farrell will need to work on. I did like that he appeared to be keeping the ball down; usually when a pitcher's back is tight, he won't bend through and will leave the ball up. (Yes, once again, Gameday is becoming a great tool for monitoring injury.) Beckett's first outing ends up a net positive, and from an injury standpoint it looks as if we can stop watching Beckett quite so closely for now.

Barry Zito (0 DXL)
The difference between Zito in Oakland and Zito in San Francisco seems like they're not the same person. For me, it's more interesting to see the change in him over his five innings of work. With the amazing MLB Gameday it's easy to see-in the first inning, Zito never threw his vaunted curve, and by the time the fifth came around, he threw three inside for balls to Gabe Kaper, and had to come across with his average fastball. Kapler turned on the cookie and crushed it. The pattern recurred two batters later when it was Ryan Braun's turn to take Zito deep to left. Even with Prince Fielder in between, Zito wasn't throwing his curve with any control, leaving it on the third base side of the plate. For all the talk about Zito's mechanics, it seems to be more an issue of pitch selection and control in his first two starts. Simply put, he's lost command. Worse, Zito and pitching coach Dave Righetti not only aren't on the same page, they're not even reading the same book.

Nomar Garciaparra (21 DXL)
Blake DeWitt, eh? It's not Andy LaRoche who's making the Dodgers not really notice that Nomar's out of the lineup. Heck, they may actually be a bit happy about Garciaparra's wrist staying sore and pushing his return back from 'imminent' to 'end of the month.' The wrist was originally thought to be a day-to-day issue, but it's now threatening to cost Garciaparra all of April and give him little time to solidify his hold on third base in the now-closing gap between his expected return and LaRoche's return from his thumb injury. That's because LaRoche is healing a bit faster than expected, and has to have the inside track once he proves he can hit again. The question then becomes what the Dodgers will do with all this new-found depth at third. As far as Garciaparra, wrist injuries linger, and he's not exactly known as a quick healer.

Quick Cuts: John Smoltz left his start with shoulder tightness; I'll provide more info as it becomes available. ... The Tigers have enough problems without their bullpen taking another hit, but things seem to be hitting critical mass for Fernando Rodney. The Tigers want him to try throwing one more time, but Rodney thinks he's headed for more surgery. ... B.J. Ryan is making progress in Florida and could be back with the Jays by the weekend. ... Ty Wigginton thinks he can avoid the DL despite a broken thumb. He'll meet with the doctors today to see if they agree. ... Omar Vizquel's return from knee surgery is slowed by pain, definitely not a good sign. He could miss at least another week. ... Randy Winn missed Sunday's game with a bruised ankle. How'd he do it? According to reports, he hit himself with a bat during his follow-through. ... There are lots of wild rumors as to why Russell Martin's first week is one to forget, but there's no evidence that it's a physical issue. ... Felix Hernandez looks downright skinny. I'm not sure what, if anything, that means. ... Tom Verducci and others have documented the Year-After Effect. After watching Mark Buehrle and Justin Verlander become poster boys for the issue, I wonder how long the YAE hangs around. Bill Burke and the guys behind the curtain are working on this, but if any of you enterprising souls have a guess or proof, I'd love to hear it.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Work,  Broken Wrist,  Year Of The Injury

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