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May 12, 2008

Under The Knife

Rain Delay Theater

by Will Carroll

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Reader D.M. wrote:

"Due to a rain delay I had the pleasure of watching the end portion of a no-hitter thrown against the Cubs in 1965, courtesy of WGN. I was only half-way paying attention to the game when I heard the announcer say, 'That was the 177th pitch thrown by Maloney.' I just about fell out of my chair. The game was a 10 inning no hitter, won by Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds on August 19th, 1965, he walked 10, struck out 12 and pitched *187* pitches for the win. It's just amazing to me the way he was handled. I guess I should cut Dusty Baker a little slack, huh?"

It's easy to bring this to a modern context, and let's be clear--I think the uneducated use of pitch counts is as bad as the irresponsible use of pitchers, but let's look at some additional facts: Maloney was coming off an extra day's rest and was used normally over his next two starts. He was facing a Cub lineup that had three 30-HR hitters and almost nothing else, allowing him to "coast" along the way. It's easy to look at just pitch counts, but it's not the right way.

Vernon Wells (45 DXL)
The Jays keep taking hits in what was seen as a make-or-break season for this version of J.P. Ricciardi's plan. Instead, they're six games back and in last place, so losing Vernon Wells until the All-Star break isn't going to help them make up ground on the Yankees in the battle for fourth. Wells fractured a bone in his wrist, believed to be the scaphoid fx (not a hamate), on a diving catch. Wrist injuries tend to sap power and bat control, two things that Wells can't afford to lose. The Jays will shift Alex Rios over to center field in the interim, using newly-acquired Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson in right field. Wells' return should come without significant difficulty; with new technology, seeing him at the end of June isn't out of the question.

Chone Figgins (15 DXL)
The Angels handle the DL as well as anyone in the game. They're willing to play a man down for a little while, see if the injured player would be back before the 15 days, and then, when they feel they know for sure, act from depth and strength rather than desperation. Much of the credit has to go to Mike Scioscia, the one constant through the team's recent success. The recent handling of Chone Figgins was no different. Once the team realized that he wasn't able to contribute and would need at least another week of treatment and healing, they pushed him to the DL and replaced him with Kendry Morales, the type of non-linear move that makes the Angels so good. They'd already shifted the lineup to deal with Figgins' injury and now acted to improve upon what they saw as a weakness. Small things like this add up to big success. As for Figgins, he should be back at or very near the minimum.

Jason Isringhausen (0 DXL)
The Cardinals reliever almost found himself on the DL this weekend. After another bad outing, Izzy slapped a TV twice. That's bad enough--I mean, what did that TV ever do to him?--but the worst of it is that his palm swelled so severely that the team considered disabling him. His performance certainly factored in on that decision, but in the end, the swelling went down enough that a roster move would have been questioned. Instead, Isringhausen will move out of the closer role, leaving it to Ryan Franklin or perhaps Chris Perez. I think I can tell when closers are struggling simply by monitoring the volume of email I get asking "Is he hurt?" The answer here is no, not that anyone is saying, aside from the hand. Isringhausen is simply losing it, something he's done in the past; he's always found it again somewhere along the way. The Cards will give him every chance to do that once more.

Joe Borowski (30 DXL)
Joe Borowski not only made it through the week without a setback in his throwing program, but it went so well that he'll end this week on a rehab assignment and could be back by this time next week. He showed both control and command to go along with improved velocity, but most importantly seemed to have no trouble with recovery between sessions. Borowski will have one more session today before heading to Double-A Akron. Since stamina isn't really an issue for a pitcher like Borowski, the rehab assignment will be short and mostly focused on pitchability, according to sources. There's some question about how he will be used once he gets back to Cleveland, but most believe he'll be the closer very quickly and Eric Wedge has said as much in the past.

John Smoltz (45 DXL)
John Smoltz made a baby step, or rather, a short throw in his comeback, playing catch and a bit of long toss, the first move in a longer plan to get him back on a mound. He'll come back as a reliever and likely the closer, which has some interesting implications for how his rehab will go, focusing more on "stuff" than stamina. Smoltz and the team have moved the target date back a bit into early June, a timeframe that could still move depending on how he recovers from more aggressive throwing. He's still a ways from that stage, leaving us with little to go on regarding his effectiveness or availability in the closer role. Sources I spoke to have serious doubts about his ability to recover quickly, meaning he might be the closer, but that Bobby Cox would have to go to Mike Gonzalez or Rafael Soriano on some occasions, assuming both come back as well. Right now, the Braves' pen is all possibilities and little certainty.

Alfonso Soriano (0 DXL)
Reading Nate Silver's weekend article in the New York Times brought Ken Griffey Jr. to mind as a comparable for Soriano. The Cubs have thus far kept Soriano's various leg injuries from reaching the same level as Griffey's during his Reds tenure, but you can see where this could quickly go from merely problematic to a situation where Soriano might have the same types of problems Griffey has had. Credit to the Cubs' medical staff so far: Soriano will be limited even more in running and his days as a 40-40 threat are gone. That's not terrible, and could have the effect of getting him to hit for more power, assuming the Cubs can keep holding his legs together.

Kevin Millwood (15 DXL)
The Rangers lost their "ace" to another muscle strain. Millwood headed to the DL after just 12 pitches in his last start, a groin strain being the culprit this time. His various leg injuries have certainly gotten more pronounced recently, making his five-year signing a problem given that he's just in the third year of that deal. The upside here is that Millwood has been able to come back previously and return to some level of effectiveness, but there seems to be some sort of tightening of the spiral lately. While conditioning programs are usually focused on speedy guys like Jose Reyes, Millwood might want to think about that this off-season. The question now is whether Steve Odgers and his staff are a help or hindrance.

Kason Gabbard (0 DXL)
I'm on record as thinking that the suspension system in baseball is a mess. The one thing I think has to be changed is the way suspensions are handed out for situations that end in injury. Kason Gabbard's capable of defending himself, but in his first start after coming off the DL with a back injury, Richie Sexson decided to attack him after a high pitch that wasn't close to his head. Gabbard left the game shortly after the brawl, the result of a knee to his leg, UFC-style, while he was being held down by Sexson. Word is that Gabbard will make his next start on Tuesday, but let's say he didn't. I think it's only right that in that kind of situation, a suspension for the attacking player should mirror the time lost to injury. It's better than this ridiculous system in place now, where suspensions seem random and are reduced after appeals. It's called a teleconference, Mr. Watson.

Eric Chavez (60 DXL)
I've talked a bit over the last couple weeks about how hard it is to keep baseball in the present; that for GMs, the hardest task is to analyze who the player is now rather than who they were or who you think they might be. Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux aren't who they were, but it's hard to separate two Hall of Famers from that image, since they're still playing. The same situation holds true for Eric Chavez. He was an MVP candidate, an automatic Gold Glove, and a first-round fantasy pick not long ago, making it even harder to see that his career is really hanging by a thread due to injuries. Now, Chavez is a guy who made it through his final test, running the bases on Sunday. He'll head to Triple-A Sacramento to see if everything holds together for a couple weeks before coming off the 60-day DL when eligible on the 27th. No one I spoke with seems very sure about his chances of keeping his various injuries from acting up. Getting Chavez back and productive is being treated more as a bonus than an expectation right now.

Rich Harden (0 DXL)
You know that scene in Bull Durham where Crash Davis tells Nook not to think? That came to mind watching Rich Harden's start on Saturday. Harden was clearly in his own head during his first start back for the A's, thinking about everything and not being able to find that natural, automatic "flow" that's necessary to pitch effectively. He wasn't effective, but he made it to his 90-pitch limit, his team won the game to stay atop the division, and, most importantly, he recovered well after the start. Harden didn't have his control, but he did have his mid-90's velocity. As I said before he came off the DL, I expect Harden will be able to hold it together and put together at least a couple months of solid pitching. First thing's first: he'll need to get his command back, which I expect will happen next time out.

Quick Cuts: Manny Ramirez has a sore hamstring, the result of running hard to beat out a double play ball. Remember that the next time he trots. ... John Lackey is expected to return on Wednesday for the Angels. He's looked solid during rehab, though he will be limited in his first couple starts. ... Yovani Gallardo will have knee surgery sometime this week. There's an outside chance he could return in September, but next season is much more likely. ... Jason Schmidt had his first rehab outing, going one inning at High-A. It was a 12-pitch outing, so this will take a while. He hit 89 according to one source, an encouraging early sign. ... The Nats are ready to send Dmitri Young out on a short rehab assignment. ... For those worried about Scott Kazmir's velocity, it's still not all the way back, but he was hitting 93 during his Saturday win. ... Sources tell me that Pedro Martinez is close to heading out on a rehab assignment. He'll need a couple starts to build up arm strength before a return around the start of June. ... The Jays put Jeremy Accardo on the DL with a strained right forearm. ... The Twins will be without Nick Punto for a while. He's on the DL with a strained hamstring. ... At what point does Larry Beinfest get some credit?

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