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May 19, 2008

Under The Knife

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick... Boom

by Will Carroll

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Forget Mindy McCready or ... well, any of the superfluous items that surround the steroid story in baseball. This is the story that could be most damaging, and it looks like the names are close to being released, though we've heard that before. Beyond bigger legal issues of medical privacy, this one is the nuclear bomb that both the Commissioner's Office and the Players Association had hoped would never explode. That it hasn't significantly leaked tells you just how big it is. I don't anticipate anything imminently, but that ticking you hear isn't an alarm clock--the Mitchell Report could be more than just an expensive waste of time once this comes out. It could be the book that Jeff Novitzky throws at American sport.

Jake Peavy (10 DXL)
The idea that Peavy will be "held back" because the Padres are in last place in their division is wrongheaded and shows a lack of understanding of the Padres, of Peavy, and of the modern game. Peavy is headed for an MRI instead of his next start due to persistent soreness in the elbow. It's worse after starts, but the key word here is 'soreness.' "It's not pain," one source told me, while another points to a slowing of Peavy's recovery; Peavy is not a "rubber armed modern warrior" as I recently heard him described. He's an excellent pitcher who's been able to adjust to varying issues and remain effective because he's not just a thrower. The Pads are being very careful about the language they're using here, and giving no indications about where the soreness is. It could be a recurrence of the flexor tendon problems he had a few years ago, or it could be some muscular issue. The worst-case scenario is that there's damage to the ligaments, but given his performance during his last couple of outings, it's unlikely that's the case. We'll all have to wait on the MRI and further information, but I'm cautiously optimistic that this is a one- or two-start problem where the Pads could be conservative. I'll set his DXL at a tentative ten days.

Roy Oswalt (15 DXL)
The worst part of Oswalt's groin injury is that it might not have needed to happen; if Oswalt said what he says he did, the blame rests entirely with the field staff. On the other hand, if Cecil Cooper said what he says he did, Oswalt endangered himself needlessly. Then again, where were the trainers in all this? I'll venture a guess that they were right there, and if they weren't, then Cooper deserves the blame for that. Oswalt has an extensive history with groin injuries and sports hernias, though he hasn't really had significant issues since 2006. Oswalt felt like it could have been scar tissue tearing loose, but if that's the case, why now? Oswalt added more mileage in the intervening years, as well as less of a willingness to take one for the team. I think that Oswalt will end up sore, and that Cooper, who doesn't like to play a man down, will push him to the DL. The 15 DXL is very fluid; this is one I'll be following closely.

Jason Isringhausen (30 DXL)
It's become a running joke here to keep a tally of the battles between walls and players, but maybe we should take note of the more player-focused battles with televisions, water coolers, and lockers. Izzy injured his hand after an encounter with a TV; after a few days (and some poor performances), the team used it as a reason to DL him. Valid reason? Well, it passed muster with the Commish's office, which admittedly is very lax in double-checking these absent a complaint from another team. It does give Isringhausen time to heal up the hand and re-focus on both strengthening his pitching arm and fixing whatever is wrong with his mechanics. The Cards have to be hoping that between Dave Duncan and the rest of the pitching braintrust, they can figure something out to at least make Izzy useful, if not a closer again. If they can't, no one can. Don't expect this DL stint to track the injury; they'll hold him out as long as needed, using a rehab assignment or extended spring training if it will help. In the meantime, Tony La Russa has a new weapon in Chris Perez, though the team is going to be very careful with him.

Rick Ankiel (5 DXL)
Isringhausen isn't the only Cardinal with an injured wing--Ankiel is now dealing with a shoulder strain, and he's had his share of arm problems. According to most sources, this is just a simple strain, but what makes this difficult is that the Cards don't have many good options. Colby Rasmus isn't ready, and Ankiel's injury is on that cusp of "does he need 15 days off?" The team is playing without him, holding onto the possibility of a retroactive move; they'll try to give him a couple more days before making any decision. We'll have a better idea by Tuesday of the direction this is going, so try to be as patient, though those in weekly leagues will need to make the safe move if they have options of their own.

Brad Penny (0 DXL)
The Dodgers have had to juggle their rotation, pitching a sore Derek Lowe on short rest to cover for Penny. A sore forearm is the official diagnosis, but there's plenty of speculation that Penny is dealing with a recurrence of the shoulder issues that he's had in the past. There's no evidence to support this besides whispers; a quick look at the data from his last few starts offers no support for it. Joe Torre didn't seem too concerned when asked, and Penny is slotted into a Monday start against the Reds. Assuming he makes the start, this is just one of those issues where a guy needs an extra day. Penny will bear some watching in the short-term, but it will be more interesting to watch people backpedal from their baseless chatter.

Josh Hamilton (0 DXL)
It's hard to look at Hamilton and say he can't do something. If you told me he could fly, I might hesitate for just a second, remembering how many times he's proven me wrong before. Still, there are things he shouldn't do. Given his lack of minor league experience and injury-shortened campaign in Cincinnati last season, Hamilton's stated goal of playing every game is one of those things where I've wondered how much it will wear on him. After a diving play on Friday left him a little bruised and banged up, Hamilton got the day off on Sunday. He did come in late in the game as a pinch-hitter, then stayed in, so this isn't a serious issue. It is important to watch for any sign that the workload is catching up to him, especially with his all-out style.

Dontrelle Willis (45 DXL)
The Tigers haven't tipped their hand regarding Willis. He did well enough in his last rehab start physically to warrant coming back to the Tigers' rotation, but he wasn't really commanding his pitches. Whether the decision will be based on his knee or his stuff remains to be seen, but either way, Willis is getting closer to a return. Once he's back, it's the command that will be the bigger issue. Willis is on schedule if the Tigers want to slot him back in; his rotation slot comes up on Friday. With two weeks left of rehab time, it looks like the Tigers are leaning toward having him make one more rehab start in order to work on his mechanics.

Francisco Liriano (0 DXL)
Liriano might be starting to "let it go." With better velocity and better command over his last two starts at Triple-A Rochester, he seems to be getting back to his expected level, if not a return to his previous level. The Twins don't seem in any rush to call him up, and Liriano for his part seems to be doing better in the low-pressure environment. Most importantly, Liriano seems to be regaining his confidence, both in his arm's integrity and in his electric stuff. While there might not be an immediate payoff, if Liriano is out there on the waiver wire in your league, it might be time to grab him. Once he blows away the Triple-A competition in his next couple starts, it could be too late to add a potential ace on the cheap.

John Smoltz (45 DXL)
I'm not sure if relieving is going to help Smoltz stay healthy. What I do know is that he's got to get healthy before he even gets to that stage. He's still having trouble with recovery after even a minimal throwing session, the biceps tendon is still "severely inflamed," and the idea that we'll see Smoltz back by the end of the month is looking less likely by the day. The problem is that after treatment and rest didn't kick the problem, Smoltz is reluctant to shut it down again. With options on his deal and no talk of retirement, this seems a bit short-sighted of Smoltz, leaving many to wonder if there's something more going on here. The similarities to the injury that's kept Curt Schilling on the shelf should be noted. Until Smoltz can pitch without pain and recover, the chances of him succeeding in relief are nil.

Rafael Betancourt (0 DXL)
The toughest thing to find in a reliever is consistency. As fantasy draft season rolled through February and March, I saw Betancourt go pretty high for a reliever time and time again. That was because many believed that Joe Borowski wouldn't hold on to the job, and that Betancourt's performance in 2007 set him up to take over the saves. Instead, Betancourt's ERA is in the sevens and his peripherals are worse. The saves aren't Borowski's after all, but it's Masahide Kobayashi who seems to be the fill-in. Is Betancourt one of those guys who just can't handle the ball in the ninth, or is he simply the latest reliever to fail the consistency test? I'm not sure that it's either. Relievers have workload limits, just like starters, and Betancourt was worked hard last season as the Indians went deep into the playoffs; it's possible that Betancourt is having his own version of a "playoff hangover." It's certainly a better explanation than many I'm hearing. The fact is that Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are the exceptions, not the rule. At 33 and with four solid seasons of relief behind him, it's time to wonder if this is a decline rather than a slump.

Quick Cuts: Alex Rodriguez will rejoin the Yankees on Tuesday after no problems at all in his rehab; during his time in extended spring training, he homered off of David Price, which was a good sign for both of them. ... Is it just me, or is it surprising that seven teams have less than a 10 percent chance of making the postseason already? ... Carlos Gomez appeared as a pinch-runner Sunday, but the Twins still say they could DL him with a minor wrist injury. They just don't get this retro move thing. ... The Marlins signed Hanley Ramirez, but don't get this lock-up contract thing. The idea is to save enough money to not lose players, or at least limit the damage. The Marlins are now likely to head to arbitration with Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, and Mike Jacobs. That could be expensive, or they could just deal them. On the other hand, Bill Shaikin explains why this doesn't always make sense. ... Down in Triple-A, things are getting even worse for Rich Hill. He's hurt his back while working on some mechanical changes. That's always a risk in the midst of establishing a new motion. ... Both Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney will begin throwing to hitters in extended spring training games, good news for the Tigers. Neither is close, though both are closer. If forced, I'd bet Rodney is back first, but Zumaya will be more effective. ... Hank Blalock will shift to first base when he returns to the team. It's an interesting move, what with Chris Davis coming up behind him at his new position. ... Bartolo Colon will pitch for the Sox this week, and could get some wins for a desperate team. I mean your fantasy team, not that the Sox are desperate. ... Mark Prior has been shut down again. Imagine how bad the injuries would have been if his mechanics hadn't been so good when he was being abused?

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