April 9, 2008
Under The Knife
When Monuments Collapse
Derek Jeter (5 DXL)
It's always hard when someone's mystique takes a big hit with an injury. Derek Jeter is one of those players that, like his hero Cal Ripken, seems indestructible. I imagine some Yankees fans couldn't imagine center field without DiMaggio in the same way that a modern Orioles fan will always see Ripken at short or a Pads fan automatically sees Tony Gwynn in right field. Like all of them before him, though, Jeter's human, and subject to human frailties like a quad strain. Jeter injured his in the way that many do, running hard trying to beat out a close play. The strain is considered mild, but because of its location high on his leg, near the groin, caution is in order. Jeter is expected to be back by the weekend, in no small part because the Red Sox will be the opponent. The effect will be noticeable in his quickness, both out of the box and afield, so look for him to miss a single or two due to missing that step. The Yankees also appear to be considering pushing Jeter to the DL to make sure the problem doesn't get worse, a tough one not only because of who it is, but because this is a clear "tweener" injury. He should be ready to play, even if at less than 100%, before the 15-day minimum. It should be noted here that Girardi likes to have a full bench, which could factor in.
Jorge Posada (TBD)
The Yankees got more bad news than just the Captain's injury this week, as Posada had more problems with his shoulder. He couldn't complete a game behind the plate, and now his swing is even more affected by the pain, eliminating DHing as an alternative option. Worse, Peter Abraham is reporting that Posada says his arm feels "dead," noting that the problem is at the back of the shoulder. The Yankees will send Posada for imaging and tests, and have made the call for a replacement, fueling speculation that he's headed to the DL. It's too early to put a real expectation on how long he'll be out, though it's not too early for some pundits to already start pinging Brian Cashman for re-signing an older catcher. I'd remind them that this is a new injury and that Posada wasn't showing this issue in spring training. Posada actually points to an awkward throw that he made on April 1 as the root cause of this injury.
Jimmy Rollins (0 DXL)
Rollins didn't sprain his ankle as much as he "stuffed" it, according to a source who spoke with him. Rollins injured himself sliding back into second of a pickoff attempt, and described the injury as a "shock" from the solid contact with the bag, as if "he stomped down on the floor." There was pain and some initial weakness, but Rollins didn't have much swelling, even after the game. Rollins insisted afterwards that he could have stayed in the game, but the Phillies sensibly pulled him as a precaution. Rollins is expected to miss no time, getting back into the starting lineup on today. Keep an eye on this, however-ankle injuries linger, and Rollins has a history of minor ankle problems, and it could hold him back on the basepaths for a bit. If you see him running, you'll know this episode has passed.
Francisco Rodriguez (15 DXL)
I know that I just said that Rodriguez's altered mechanics didn't bother me, and I know that I just said that his reduced velocity didn't bother me. What does bother me is that in a classic case of a cascade of injuries, the Angels closer has now injured his push ankle, something that's likely to send him to the DL. With Scot Shields already back and pitching effectively, it's a smart move for the Angels to put their closer on the shelf for a couple weeks now, let him get both of his ankles healed up, and make sure that he doesn't injure himself by making any further alterations. The episode gives me a new respect for Rodriguez's self-awareness; it's perhaps a tell on how he's survived with what appears to be such a violent motion. Rodriguez thinks a DL stint will help, but the Angels are known for playing down a man in the bullpen, so I doubt a quick decision will be made. In this case, I think Rodriguez is right, and that a couple weeks off should help immensely.
John Smoltz (0 DXL)
"A knot." That's how Smoltz characterized his shoulder after coming out of his second start. Believe it or not, but that's a positive sign-when the muscle tightens up, creating the palpable sensation of knots, its doing so to protect itself. The muscle tightens up, stopping contractions and creating the discomfort as a way of saying that it's time to stop. Smoltz listened, and with some massage, treatment, and rest, he should be ready to go again. Positive is a relative term here, of course; you'd rather that Smoltz didn't have the knots in the first place. Given the choice, however, knots are preferable to tears. The trick will be reducing the need for the muscle to need to protect itself while keeping Smoltz effective over the course of the season.
Rich Harden (5 DXL)
Justin Duchscherer (15 DXL)
It hardly seem sporting to blame the long plane flight from Japan for Harden's sore lat muscle. I mean, I'd understand if that was the cause, but given a couple of weeks and two solid starts since the flight, it seems less like the culprit and more like a handy excuse for the oft-injured Harden. The latissimus dorsi muscle, the large muscle of the upper back, is one that has given Harden problems before, as well as being at the root of other pitcher injuries such as Ben Sheets and Jake Peavy. He's slotted in for Saturday, though this is described as a "tentative start." Having seen the mechanical adjustments and solid results by Harden so far this season, I'm optimistic for him to make it, though the A's will keep the kid gloves on as well as the hard limits. The A's are also without Duchscherer, who was pushed to the DL by biceps tendinitis. Duchscherer's mechanics have been a bit off all spring, although that's no surprise after his off-season hip surgery. He's still adjusting, so a minor injury like this is something that often comes along, but likely should have been dealt with by the pitching coach much earlier. Chad Gaudin will fill in the rotation slot for Duchscherer, though it's less clear how the A's will fill Harden's slot if it's more than just a setback.
Matt Garza (20 DXL)
It was not the way that Garza wanted to start his career pitching for Tampa Bay-he was ineffective for seventy pitches, then called for the trainers. Garza was feeling pain in his hand, the result of what the team is calling a radial nerve irritation. He said that he'd also dealt with this last season, and that it would go away, but the Rays have to be a bit unnerved (no pun intended) to now hear that this is a recurring problem. One can only wonder if it was a known issue when they made the deal, but in the meantime Garza heads for the DL, and there are a wide range of possibilities for how long he might be out. Given the conservative tendencies of the Rays, I'm going to put this one in the middle of the possible range. The best case is that this goes away as Garza says has happened before, and that he gets his work in on the side without any additional issue cropping up. The worst case is that the nerve needs to be decompressed surgically, something I don't have any points of comparison for. One doctor I spoke with said the same thing, and wouldn't speculate on how long the player would be out post-surgery; that's never a good sign. Expect Jeff Niemann to get Garza's starts in the interim.
Jason Schmidt (60 DXL)
The Dodgers took their chances with two fragile veteran pitchers last year, and neither paid off. Randy Wolf has since moved on and has done well in two starts for the Pads, but Schmidt is still working his way back for the Dodgers. He threw a fifty-pitch bullpen session and it went well, but he's still not throwing breaking balls; he's on track for a June return, assuming he suffers no setbacks. With the Dodgers already taking a hard look at the back end of their rotation, it's going to be hard not to call up Clayton Kershaw in the interim, even knowing that Schmidt might be the eventual answer. Once Kershaw is there, then the question becomes where Schmidt fits, big contract and all.
Tom Gorzelanny (0 DXL)
Things aren't looking good for Gorzelanny. The abuse his pitching arm took last fall is clearly affecting him this season, with little life or velocity... or perhaps not? With PitchF/X now that absolute gold standard for velocity measurement and accurate enough to trust for movement, we have a tool that allows us to test our perception of a player. There's little doubt that Gorzelanny isn't throwing as well, purely in terms of results. As for the rest, I'm curious as to your perceptions. I'll have more analysis of the facts tomorrow, but in the meantime, why is it that PitchF/X is the gold standard, you ask? It's consistent across parks, something we've never had before. The system is calibrated by one entity, which means an end to the days of having to figure out what kind of gun, where it was pointed, and other variables. We've all seen that the Fox gun is normally a couple mph high, but there's also the inconsistent minor league numbers, often reaching us with a couple extra mph due to hype. (This is one reason I never take minor league velocity numbers as anything more than a suggestion.)
Quick Cuts: Curtis Granderson was cleared for baseball activities, and he's begun throwing and swinging a bat. Expect a return later in April. ... Brad Lidge took just one day of setting up to reclaim his closer role. Better news for Phillies fans is that there was no pain or swelling in his repaired knee after his outings. ... Just to be clear, I was making no implication about Carlos Zambrano on Monday, I was merely noting that he was friends with the suspended Cubs minor leaguer. ... Bartolo Colon looked great on minor league Opening Day, then promptly strained an oblique. It's considered minor enough that he'll miss only one start at this point. ... The Rays lost one pitcher (Garza) but got good news with Scott Kazmir throwing batting practice for the team. He'll do a simulated game later this week and is on track for a late-April return. ... Michael Barrett felt his elbow "pop," leading to speculation that he's headed for Tommy John. Images will determine if that's the case, but the Pads are already moving to Plan B. ... Randy Wolf has been amazingly efficient in his first two starts. He's made a solid adjustment that bodes well for his future effectiveness. ... Francisco Liriano made it through an 88-pitch start in Triple-A, but it doesn't sound like that will be his last one there.