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May 22, 2008

Under The Knife

This One Goes to Eleven

by Will Carroll

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Chris Young (0 DXL)
When Young ends his motion, he's closer than most to home plate. Now add in the fearsome bat of Albert Pujols, and you have a combination that adds up to "worst-case scenario." Luckily, Young came away from a screaming liner off of his head with what looked like a nasty cut and a likely mild concussion, which is relatively light damage compared to what could have happened. I can't say any more than I already have about the need for some sort of protection for pitchers, whether its a shell for their hat or some kind of shielding on their legs. I realize the arms are tougher, but even there, we could stand for it, especially at lower levels. Football evolved its protective gear over time, but aside from better batting helmets, baseball is playing in roughly the same gear of forty years ago-guys, it's time for a change. As for Young, late word is that he has a broken nose; at worst, he may miss his next start, but for now, we'll put him as a zero DXL.

Josh Bard (3 DXL)
Peter Quadrino, one of our hard-working but seldom-seen guys here at BP, said it best: "Albert Pujols-one-man wrecking crew." After Pujols took out Young with a swing, Pujols slid into Bard on a play at the plate and knocked the Pads backstop out of the game as well; Pujols' slide was clean, but hard. Bard appeared to have a lower leg or ankle injury, and was helped from the field and replaced by rookie Luke Carlin. (Who's the emergency catcher on the Padres?) Just as Bernie Miklasz said on his BP Radio interview earlier this week, Pujols plays the game at 11, not 10. There's no word from San Diego on the severity of Bard's injury, but late word says "moderate sprain", meaning he'll surely miss a few games at least. With Michael Barrett still coming back from elbow problems, the Pads lack depth at catcher, so this hits them pretty hard.

Joba Chamberlain (0 DXL)
The biggest news in Yankeeland was that the "top secret" plan to convert Chamberlain from reliever to starter is in effect. Really? This is news? OK, I guess it's interesting how the team is planning to do it. They'll use Chamberlain in longer relief outings-like last night's two-inning stint-and use side sessions to get him "on schedule" and develop the stamina he'll need. What's gone unsaid is that Chamberlain will no longer be the set-up man, the seventh- or eighth-inning fireman that he's been so effective at being. Instead, they're now carrying a guy that will be used on a schedule, in outings that will have to be guessed at for length (unless they decide to start lifting starters early or perhaps 'pairing' him with Ian Kennedy or Mike Mussina, two guys Chamberlain could replace in the rotation). The side sessions will be more telling as far as where he is with his stamina, since those will be more controlled.

Chien-Ming Wang (0 DXL)
Lost in Jobamania was the injury to the Yankees' ace. Wang left the game with what was at first called cramping, but was later acknowledged to be a mild strain of his right (push) calf. The Yankees got a quick image that confirmed the diagnosis, and they don't believe that Wang will miss his next start. They'll watch his throw-day session closely to make sure that everything stays nominal with his mechanics. Wang throws that hard sinker and uses his legs well to generate force; if he lost a bit of velocity, I think he'd still be effective, but not as effective. Wang does have some history with leg injuries, including one of the kajillion hamstring strains the team suffered early last season, though he tends to recover quickly and completely.

Derek Jeter (0 DXL)
Jeter didn't even miss a game after getting hit on the hand. He was back in, going oh-fer against a collection of new Orioles, including Garrett Olson. When I saw "G Olson" in the box, I paused, thinking "Gregg Olson? The O's aren't that desperate, are they?" Jeter was pulled late, an indication that the hand is still bothering him, but to me, the interesting thing is that Jeter had no apparent padding or protection on the hand. I just don't grasp players' reluctance to use something like a hard plastic insert, as Mike Lowell did (or does?), or something more designed, like a cricket glove. Jeter's hands are his tools, and the idea that he wouldn't protect them is just dumbfounding to me. That the team would allow him to do that is even more confusing. I hope someone in the ever-watchful New York media will ask the Captain about it.

Pedro Martinez (60 DXL)
Pedro was supposed to throw a bullpen session in front of pitching coach Rick Peterson and the Mets on Wednesday. Instead, he headed back to the Dominican to be with his ailing father. There's no timetable for his return, which could have come as quickly as next week; Pedro is doing the right thing and staying with his family. The rest-if you can call it that-will actually do him some good, at least physically. Once Martinez begins throwing again, we'll have a better indication of when we'll see him on a mound. I do think it will be a quick interval between the two.

Troy Tulowitzki (45 DXL)
With every passing day, it seems that we get a new activity from Troy Tulowitzki that comes with a disclaimer. Yesterday, the Rockies shortstop took batting practice while the team said "he's still a ways off." Yes, he's a ways off, but is it still August, as we were led to think by his initial diagnosis? That's looking less and less likely. He's running, he's taking batting practice, and he's doing agility drills. To me-and to doctors and therapists I spoke with-that indicates that he's much further along. "You don't do stressful activities at a point where healing is in question," one doctor told me. He indicated that such activities would hint that Tulowitzki's quad tendon strain was either not as complete as we were led to believe, or that it ruptured and that, for whatever reason, Tulowitzki didn't suffer much functional loss. The interesting part comes next: Will the Rockies let Tulowitzki's functional abilities bring him back quickly, or will they be conservative as they slide in the standings? If he does get closer and the team feels he's at risk, will they use him quickly at the major league level, or take the chance on a rehab assignment? At this stage, it would surprise me if we didn't see Tulowitzki back on the field in mid-June.

John Smoltz (45 DXL)
With Smoltz not talking about his shoulder, Bobby Cox did it for him, and Cox believes that Smoltz will be in the bullpen within two weeks. Given what we know about the shoulder, with Smoltz saying he needed to make mechanical adjustments in order to pitch, it seems like those adjustments are made more for comfort than effectiveness. Adjustments like that can be counterproductive, especially in the short term as the body adjusts to new muscles and joint loading being involved in the process. I remain entirely unconvinced that, by itself, Smoltz's move to the pen is going to make him healthier. I'm not saying it won't work or that he can't be effective, but that if it does, he might just as well have done the same thing as a starter.

Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
Dusty Baker is long since gone in Chicago, so I won't even pretend that Zambrano's shoulder soreness has anything to do with Toothpick Johnny. Zambrano is more an object lesson in how little we know about pitcher workload, in that he survived a similar workload that ruined both Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The shoulder-or maybe it's his neck, according to some reports-isn't a big concern, though I'm sure the Cubs staff will be watching him closely. One theory that was tossed at me by a pitching coach is that Zambrano isn't pitching enough. He's consistently at 14 to 16 pitches per inning, a normal rate that's allowing him to get to the seventh regularly, but not deeper. Looking at that number, he's been in the seventh twice at almost exactly the 100-pitch mark, tending towards more pitches at that stage. It looks like Lou Piniella is pulling him at the right time, and that for Big Z to get more big innings, he'll have to get a touch more efficient.

Leo Mazzone (- DXL)
With the turnaround of the Baltimore staff this year, I've heard some people inside the game wondering about Mazzone's reputation. There have been some good studies out there showing that Mazzone had a discernible affect on his pitchers, but the one thing I always wondered was how much could we isolate on Mazzone. While he was in Atlanta, he had Bobby Cox alongside him, and every time I praised Mazzone, someone would nudge me and say "Cox handles the pen." I don't mean to suggest that Mazzone-or any pitching coach-is overrated, I'm just reminding people that we simply don't know how to judge that effect. Then again, as one person recently said to me regarding how to tell the good scouts from the bad scouts, he said the easy way to tell is "employed or unemployed."

Quick Cuts: Chipper Jones took a pitch off of his shin. With Yunel Escobar out as well, the Braves' infield is a bit thin right now. ... Troy Percival has been effective, but a mild hamstring strain is creating concerns over his stamina. ... David Eckstein should come off the DL Thursday for the Jays and slot back in at shortstop. ... Rick Ankiel's homer as a pinch-hitter Wednesday night makes me think that his shoulder's pretty close to healthy. ... Ryan Church seems to be recovering well after his concussion with no symptoms of PCS; he'll miss a few more days. .. The headline on MLB.com-"pitcher hurls in simulated game"-was a bit indelicate, but Josh Johnson did have a successful outing, another step closer to coming back from his various arm issues. ... The trial of Trevor Graham, largely thought of as a dress rehearsal for Barry Bonds' case, is not going so well for the government.

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