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May 5, 2008

Under The Knife

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by Will Carroll

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Scott Kazmir (0 DXL)
As Kazmir struck out Julio Lugo on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, he was already approaching fifty pitches on what was expected to be a 100-pitch limit. I thought to myself that he was going to need to pitch to contact to get through five innings on that limit, but even with David Ortiz out of the lineup, there really wasn't a batter Kazmir could just let hit the ball, hoping it stayed in the park and where an improved defense could help him out. Instead, he looked out of gas--by the time he hit 60, he was trying to sneak a change past Manny Ramirez. Then he began to battle through and looked like the Kazmir we're used to seeing. He ended up hitting his limit after four, something the Rays clearly anticipated with their roster move and the need for an extra reliever. So how is this a positive? It was stamina that appeared to be the problem (maybe even some nerves), but facing a patient and powerful lineup was a tough assignment in his first start back. His mechanics looked normal, he had his normal easy velocity (if slightly off), he appeared to have command of all his pitches, and never seemed to be questioning his elbow. We'll have to wait and see how he recovers, but it was a solid return despite the result.

Chone Figgins (5 DXL)
The Angels dodged a bit of a bullet when imaging showed that Figgins' hamstring suffered only a mild (Grade I+) strain. While he's a speed player, he's also a much more complete player than he was when he first joined the Angels' lineup; calling him an athletic player instead of a speed player might be more accurate at this stage. Figgins will miss a couple more days while the medical staff works to get the swelling down and provide some comfort. The risk is that he'll go back out too soon and make the strain worse while it's weak and healing, so expect them to be very conservative here; Mike Scioscia has always been willing to play a man down. With Howie Kendrick due back soon, the Angels will have a bit more flexibility.

Joe Borowski (60 DXL)
Just when you thought it was safe to quit complaining about the Indians bullpen, Joe Borowski is back. Not back in the closer role yet, but he is back on a mound, having started a throwing program after being shut down for a couple of weeks. If the rest and treatment both did what they were intended to do, he'll have his velocity back to a more normal level. If not, they're quickly going to know that Borowski is lost to them in terms of value. Until he throws, we just don't know, though most of the people I've discussed this with--both external medical advisors and sources within the game--seem hesitant at best. He's scheduled to throw every other day for the next week, and then a decision will be made. If his velocity is back, don't expect him to go on a rehab assignment. The 60 DXL could be far too long, so watch this closely.

Chad Tracy (45 DXL)
Tracy will shift from extended spring training over to Triple-A Tucson as he continues his comeback from microfracture surgery on his knees. The progress has been slow but steady with no significant setbacks. Assuming his knees hold up, he'll come back to a D'backs team as a super-sub, working both corners and pinch-hitting. Tracy's going to need extra rest and treatment to keep him in playing condition, but the D'backs are deep and flexible enough that he's going to be an asset in the role rather than a handicap.

Dontrelle Willis (30 DXL)
It wasn't the pitching but the fielding that caused a setback for Willis. While sources called the problem minor, any soreness in the knee is going to be a handicap, not to mention that this fact will surely have managers dropping bunts down when Willis takes the mound again. The Tigers hope to see Willis go through his side session either Monday or Tuesday, then will likely add on one more rehab start before bringing him back. Willis is a big guy, and while we don't think of him as we do David Ortiz or Prince Fielder, his knees and gravity might make you see it a little differently. On the plus side, Willis' pitching hasn't been affected; one observer said he actually looks smoother in his complex delivery despite being more thoughtful about it.

David Ortiz (0 DXL)
Sore knees? That's all this is for Papi--sore knees. After minor knee surgery last year, Ortiz still isn't comfortable with the new wheels, but the surgery is to correct a symptom, not to completely fix the knees. There's still some pain and some inflammation, and for a guy putting as much stress as Ortiz is with every step and every swing, it's not a complete surprise that he's having issues. The task for Ortiz and the Sox medical staff is to figure out how to keep him at a level where his abilities can be maximized. Terry Francona will have to trust everyone in order to figure out how to utilize him, to know what days he needs rest, and I'm sure he'll be looking at the data to find the right matchups. If there's an upside, it's that the offdays Ortiz will get will free up the DH slot now and again, and that means Manny Ramirez or Jason Varitek could get some at-bats without the wear and tear of playing in the field. For a smart team, this isn't as much a problem as a puzzle. While there's no DXL here, if you look over the course of a season, Ortiz is likely to lose around 100 plate appearances.

Brian Schneider (0 DXL)
The Mets got Schneider back on the field and behind the plate after a scary incident with an infected thumb. Survivor fans out there got an object lesson last week in how swollen and troublesome an infected joint can be; Schneider's was just as bad. One source said while there was never a concern about the loss of the finger, the rapid spread of the infection had everyone concerned. It's one thing to miss some baseball, but it's another thing to be threatened by an infected cut, one of those things we all thought we'd left behind on the playground. Schneider appears to be back to full strength without noticeable post-infection problems, though the Mets will likely give him some extra days off after a week in the hospital.

Scott Baker (15 DXL)
Baker has been fighting a groin strain for the better part of two weeks, and only made it as far as the fourth inning in his last start due to the soreness. This long struggle has finally led to some imaging and a decision on whether or not he's headed to the DL. All indications are that he will go to the DL, in part due to the injury, and in part the availability of Kevin Slowey. The qualitative difference between Baker and Slowey is small; Slowey actually has a higher projected WARP. Depth can help make these decisions--or should. The Twins haven't used their advantages well over the past few seasons, at least from a medical standpoint.

Aramis Ramirez (3 DXL)
Ramirez missed the weekend games after taking a ball off of his hand and/or wrist on Friday night. No one seems exactly sure where it hit because there's no real bruising and the swelling goes either up into the wrist or down into the hand. The best guess an insider gave me is that it hit the wrist, which bent and put some of the force on the hand. While images came back negative for a fracture, he'll be re-checked early this week once the swelling goes down. Everyone I spoke with seems to think that once the wrist/hand gets back to normal and he gets his grip strength back, he'll be back in the lineup no worse for wear. There is some risk here, but the signs seem relatively positive.

Russell Martin (0 DXL)
It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Russell Martin at third base. All they have to do is look into the dugout and see Joe Torre, who made the same switch years ago. That Torre sees a bit of himself in Martin isn't that much of a surprise, but does moving Martin out from behind the plate help his injury risk? Normally, a position switch of any sort increases injury risk; while there's no solid explanation for it, I believe it's familiarity with the new position and getting the body ready for its differing demands. However, even with a slightly increased risk at third base, getting out from behind the plate is a significant drop in risk. Martin is very athletic and with his heavy workload in his first couple of seasons, anything is an improvement. There's a downside in that, by resting him, the Dodgers put the weak-hitting Gary Bennett behind the plate, though buying perhaps 10 or 20 extra games of Martin's bat makes that seem a fair trade. We can only hope that Minnesota is watching.

Quick Cuts: There was a point on Sunday where I had Tim Lincecum vs. Cole Hamels in one window, Johan Santana vs. Dan Haren in another, and Scott Kazmir's first start of the season in a third. Sitting on the deck with my laptop watching that? Doesn't get better than that! ... After a scary-looking shoulder injury, B.J. Upton is back in the lineup and showing no ill effects. ... Carlos Gomez took an Ivan Rodriguez throw off of his head on a steal attempt, leaving him with a concussion. He'll be back in the lineup once he shows he is symptom-free. ... Howie Kendrick will be activated after a rehab stint that went longer than expected, but his hitting wasn't the problem. ... Damian Moss had a laparoscopic appendectomy and will miss a month. Comebacks from this new technique have been uncomplicated. ... John Bale broke his hand hitting a wall while already injured. That's special. ... Doug Davis will throw a simulated game on Monday, and a rehab start is on tap for later this week. ... Here's a history question for you: When did pitchers start charting games the day before their start? Did teams keep these charts? Is there a wealth of knowledge somewhere in a filing cabinet?

Related Content:  Back,  David Ortiz

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