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May 14, 2008

Under The Knife

Thumbs Down

by Will Carroll

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J.D. Drew (5 DXL)
Do we need to outlaw sliding catches? That's hardly the solution, but the seemingly routine sliding catch is getting to be a bit dangerous in the AL East. The Jays have lost Vernon Wells for several weeks, and Drew almost suffered the same fate on a similar play. Drew had imaging done after the game, and it came back negative, leaving him in day-to-day limbo with an injury that's bad enough to quickly swell and be painful, but not serious enough yet to consider placing him on the DL. The Red Sox have plenty of options for filling in if Drew is out for as much as a week, but they are already playing a man down with Julio Lugo's concussion. Drew is expected to miss a game or two, but his grip strength could be an issue after that. I'll be conservative with the DXL in anticipation of some bat-control issues even after a return.

Ryan Doumit (15 DXL)
If there's one early success that Neal Huntington could point to as a real sign that the Pirates organization has changed, it would be the way they've handled Doumit. At this time last year, he was living in an Indianapolis hotel, checking out every day because he expected the call to go back to Pittsburgh, a call that didn't come for quite a while as it turned out. He's an adequate catcher defensively, but the Pirates' previous administration was convinced that they could fill their hole in right field with Doumit or maybe Brad Eldred. Now he's back behind the plate, he's still an average catcher at best, but his bat more than makes up for it. It's hard to blame his injury-an apparently fractured thumb-on his defensive shortcomings; it was an awkward play on a high pitch that hit the tip of his thumb. The fracture is in the tip-or distal, the doctors would say-rather than in the joint, so it shouldn't take so long to heal, but the pain will be the biggest issue, since it's the thumb of his mitt hand. Manager John Russell said he had a player last year who went through this-I think it was Dusty Wathan, though I couldn't confirm that-so he's got more experience than anyone else I know with this. Doumit has been injury-prone in the past, but this injury is one of those things that simply happens. The Pirates will go with Ronny Paulino in the interim.

Jeff Keppinger (60 DXL)
I'm not sure if Keppinger is gritty or gutty, but people really seem to root for him. After it was announced that he'd fractured his patella, there was a flood of email, almost all stating something along the lines of, "Man, I was loving watching him finally getting his chance and succeeding!" Oddly, Keppinger was getting that chance because Alex Gonzalez was out with a compression fracture in his knee; Keppinger fouled a pitch directly off of his kneecap (the patella) and crumpled. Imaging confirmed the fracture, and Keppinger is expected to miss up to two months. That leaves the Reds scrambling; Gonzalez is nowhere near a return from his knee problem, and Brandon Phillips is the only guy on the roster with significant experience at short at any level, although Jerry Hairston Jr. has played there as a utilityman over the years. To replace Keppinger, Paul Janish is headed up from Triple-A. It will be interesting to see how Dusty Baker deals with this; he could get creative, or he could throw up his hands on a season that he's blamed on Wayne Krivsky.

Clayton Kershaw (0 DXL)
I hope I don't have to write about Kershaw much during his career. I'd say that about any young pitcher, but Kershaw could be special. The Dodgers look to be backing off bringing him up later this week, but I'm much more worried about how he's being used-or not used. Kershaw threw just 3 1/3 innings in his last outing, a reflection of the new limit they're putting on him to keep him from getting overworked. While I'll be accused of trying to have it both ways, the Dodgers might just be stunting his development by underutilizing him. Sure, I'm glad that they're not pushing him, but it seems these kinds of hard limits are being used in place of logic. Since they have one of the best medical staffs in the business, I can only hope that the front office is consulting with it on these decisions. I'd love for Ned Colletti to explain why he thinks this will work.

Josh Willingham (25 DXL)
Is it a question of disrespect that I've ignored Willingham and his back injury? The Hammer has developed into such an odd ballplayer that it's easy to ignore him in hopes that he'll just go away. He's an ex-catcher that's established himself in left, he's a power hitter that's not a strikeout machine, but he also isn't going to challenge for a home run title. He's 29 on a team of youngsters, and he's still short of arbitration, making barely more than the minimum. Regardless, Willingham is out with a lower back strain, a muscular problem that he's had trouble getting over. He puts a lot of torque on his back with his big swing, so even though there's no structural problem, the Marlins are smart to be conservative here. They'll continue to let him rest and get treatment in hopes that he'll be more ready next week.

Jake Westbrook (30 DXL)
The Indians' third starter is getting close to a return, though with Cliff Lee pitching out of his head, Westbrook's absence has been well covered. Westbrook made it through a 100-pitch simulated game... wait, 100? That's high. Checking on that number, it turns out the reported 100 included his warm-ups and some pitches in the bullpen prior to the simulated game. It's still a pretty high number, indicating that the Indians have confidence in his current health and that Westbrook didn't lose much arm strength while he's been out with the intercostal strain. He'll head for a rehab start at Low-A Lake County this weekend, and could be back in the Indians rotation by the end of the month.

Pedro Martinez (60 DXL)
There aren't many one-name guys any more, the stars who you just have to say their first name, and everyone knows who you're talking about. Albert, maybe. Manny? Only if you say "being Manny" behind it. Pedro is simply Pedro to most people, and the more I look at his career, the more I see Sandy-as in, Sandy Koufax. The difference is that Martinez has been able to overcome his shoulder problems due to the advances in sports medicine between the late '60s and the mid '00s. Forty years of trial and error, art and science, have allowed Pedro to do things that we can only wonder about with Koufax. He's scheduled to throw an extended spring training game on Wednesday at the Mets complex in Port St. Lucie, and he has had no problems with his hamstring since beginning to throw in earnest. He should be back with the Mets in very early June.

Chris Capuano (210 DXL)
Here's the first DXL mark that goes more than a season (defined as 180 days). Capuano did the right thing by trying to avoid surgery with a rehab program, but it didn't work out. Most significant UCL sprains are going to need a surgical repair at some point, and while I understand that Rule #1 is "always try to avoid surgery," the inevitability in this kind of case goes head-on against that. Capuano will have the surgery and begin rehab. We know he can do this because he's done it before, and there's no negative connotation to a second go-round. Expect him back next year, perhaps as early as spring training, but much more likely by the All-Star break.

Mark Buehrle (0 DXL)
Jeff Francis (0 DXL)
Both of these pitchers are good, and they're sort of similar beyond that, actually, but their biggest similarity so far this season is that they're both getting knocked around. Both are insisting that they're not hurt, and there's no real evidence that isn't the case. Sometimes, pitchers are just bad. Francis is, of course, in the playoff hangover zone, something Buehrle has been through and escaped, though seeing him back at those 2005 heights isn't likely for a number of reasons. It's too simple for either to say that "oh, it must be an injury"; Buehrle's been too hittable, while Francis is struggling with both control and movement. If the mark of a great pitcher is winning without his best stuff, well, it's no demerit to just be very good.

Quick Cuts: An absolute must-read if you want to learn something about Yu Darvish. ...Yovani Gallardo had his ACL reconstruction operation, and will start his rehab today. If you have the reserve spot open, he's worth keeping with the outside shot of a September return. That would be similar timing to Milton Bradley's. ... Ken Griffey Jr. was held out of Tuesday's lineup, but don't get any ideas. The Mariners are scouting him, but sources tell me that neither side is even discussing a deal yet. .. If you liked Josh Hamilton's story, keep your eye on Jeff Allison. He's pitching again, which is a big step. ... When it comes to pitcher workloads in college, Joel Sherman is exactly right. This is hardly the only story like this recently, and with tournament time coming up, we'll see more stories on this subject, I'm sure.

Related Content:  Gutty,  Back,  Jeff Keppinger,  Year Of The Injury

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