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June 2, 2008

Under The Knife

Doubling Up

by Will Carroll

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You know those "save the date" cards that people send out for weddings? I hate those, so when I tell you to save June 30th on your calendar if you're in or around New York City, don't compare this to that. We're in the planning stages on what could be an amazing Pizza Feed/Birthday Party, and I hope you can come. More details soon, but the date and the general location (Manhattan) are pretty well locked in right now. Until then, it seems like all the injuries are coming Noah-style, two by two, so powered by what figures to be one of the best Pizza Feeds in quite a while, on to the injuries:

David Ortiz (3 DXL)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (15 DXL)
Add a sore wrist to the various ailments that Ortiz is dealing with. Injured on a swing, Papi is said to have a mild sprain, though it's a vague diagnosis. He's expected to have some imaging done on Monday to get some of that vagueness taken care of and get a targeted treatment plan. He missed Sunday's game and could miss some more time, but it's more about giving him a couple of days off and expecting that the rest is all that will really be necessary to have him back out there. Behind the scenes, they're doing significantly more with Daisuke Matsuzaka, but not as much as many would think. Matsuzaka's on schedule to return from the DL at the minimum, and is focused now on strengthening the muscles of his shoulder in order to take the stress off of his rotator cuff. Matsuzaka had a similar problem about five years ago in Japan and it appeared to clear up quickly, though pitching there is a far different thing physically. At any rate, the Sox should have both of these players back in short order.

Matt Holliday (15 DXL)
Ryan Spilborghs (1 DXL)
While Holliday mends, it seems like everyone is packing his bags out of Denver. Holliday's hamstring has cleared enough that he's ready for a rehab assignment for a couple of games, designed just to slightly test his leg and get him some live swings. The injury has healed up "neat and clean" according to sources, and Holliday is expected to have little to no problem coming back. At that point the trade rumors will get a bit more lively, though the value of intra-arbitration players is always a tough to judge. The Rockies are beset with injuries and losing Spilborghs-who is not the next Matt Holliday, as one writer tried to sell, due in large part to his being the same age-hurts them even more, as a matter of injury stacking. He took a ball off the top of his hand and/or wrist, but could be back as quickly as today. If there's any brightness on the horizon for the Rockies, it's that they should get a lot healthier in the next couple of weeks, enough to see if their talent can coalesce enough to get back in the chase.

Tim Hudson (5 DXL)
Mike Gonzalez (90 DXL)
Hudson is one of those pitchers that almost needs to have the ball taken out of his hand, and sometimes it seems like it might take a crowbar to get it. That's not always such a good thing. Hudson strained his hamstring during his last start, and while it's not considered significant, we've seen that pitching with a deficit can lead to mechanical changes. Hudson expects to make his next start, but the team is watching very closely, and is willing to skip him. At least the Braves' bullpen is starting to fill in. Rafael Soriano is already back, and John Smoltz could be ready to come back from his brief rehab assignment as soon as today, but while those two split the closers duty in a "who's available" platoon, Mike Gonzalez isn't far behind that pair. Unlike Smoltz, who is dropping down to take pressure off his shoulder (creating as many problems as he's solving), Gonzalez is completing his comeback from Tommy John surgery and looks to come back later this month, right at the one-year mark. He shouldn't have much of a problem and could end up being better able to stay healthy than either of the current closers. It's a very hard read for fantasy players on the outside looking in, but represents a bunch of nice options on any given day for Bobby Cox as he tries to figure out how to keep the Braves competitive.

Hank Blalock (45 DXL)
Jason Jennings (120 DXL)
Blalock has followed a strange path back to the majors. After surgery last year to deal with a blood flow problem, now he's had back issues and a wrist problem along the way. Just as it seemed he was ready to come off of the DL, the wrist injury, initially described as Carpal Tunnel syndrome, forced him back to the operating table. The surgery was described as "minor," and Blalock could be ready to come back in as little as two weeks, assuming that he has no setbacks and that his swing isn't affected. He's still expected to come back to the team and slot in at first base, but he's also largely considered to be trade bait once he shows he's healthy, especially with Max Ramirez shifting to first at Double-A and raking. The news is worse for Jennings, whose season ends for the second straight year with a flexor tendon tear. He was a short-term signing for the Rangers designed to fill a gap, but they'll have to figure out other ways to fill it now. There's a bit more good news on the farm as Thomas Diamond, once one of their best pitching prospects, is starting to get that tag back after returning from TJ.

Jesus Flores (TBD)
Manny Acta appears to have taken notice of what's been going on in New York and took notice of Flores' symptoms after he took a couple shots off of his hockey-style mask. I note the kind of mask because the hockey-style isn't quite as protective of straight-on shots as the standard mask, but does offer more protection to the sides. (No, I have no idea why there couldn't be some hybrid design that did both.) After Flores came to the dugout with a headache and some nausea, Acta pulled him from the game, a smart move, even after the potentially confusing note that Flores was later cleared without a concussion diagnosis. I'm very curious to know how the team did this; was it a simple neuro exam in the training room, or do the Nats have a more advanced system, like ImPACT or SAC? There's just no way to predict concussions (or non-concussion, according to the Nats), so I'm leaving the DXL to be determined.

Mark Prior (180 DXL)
As the vultures circle Mark Prior, picking off what's left of his career and reminding you that he was never "perfect" and that they knew he'd fail, I'll remind you that Prior might be the last of his kind. No, not the last injured pitching phenom-we're not that lucky yet. Instead, he's perhaps the last of that lost generation of pitchers that came of age in between the full conversion of all teams to five-man rotations, the expansion and exposure of additional pitchers on those new teams' staffs, heavier reliever usage, and no focus on pitch counts or mechanics. As Prior came up, there were no blogs touting or taunting him; his draft day wasn't even aired on radio, let alone ESPN. The pitchers we're seeing today have come of age fully in the "pitch count era," from high school on. Many saw high pitch counts, but there was notice and concern. We saw pitchers over and over fail, breaking down due to usage not just in the pros, but from years before. Dr. Glenn Fleisig's analogy of pitching arm damage to smoking is apt, because not all smokers get lung cancer, but we don't really know why or why not. It's the same with pitching and pitcher injuries, but as with smoking, the warning labels have helped improve matters. The focus on health may just be the beginning an era where we get more and more healthy young pitchers. The next Mark Prior might avoid a second surgery in Birmingham and if it took sacrificing Prior on that altar, well, I hope it was worth it.

Quick Cuts: Nick Blackburn took a comebacker off of his face, but x-rays showed no fractures. He could make his next start. With Francisco Liriano pitching better in Triple-A, it may take an injury to get him up because it seems the Twins are in no rush at all. ... Aaron Hill's concussion is still affecting him, so his return is unclear. The Jays did get some good news with Vernon Wells-he's slightly ahead of schedule in his comeback from wrist problems. ... The A's bullpen did a trade-off, getting Kiko Calero back from arm problems, but giving up Joey Devine, who has an elbow issue that's sounding serious. He's being shut down to see how the elbow reacts. ... Rocco Baldelli has been playing in extended spring training, and there's talk of an upcoming rehab assignment, but no one really knows how this rehab should go. It's injury jazz, with everyone just hoping Baldelli can make it. ... Conor Jackson will miss a couple of games with a quad strain, but with Chad Tracy back already, the D'backs can be a bit conservative with Jackson. ... Clint Barmes looks to be ready to come off the DL next week, at the minimum. ... Jason Schmidt made 65 pitches in his latest rehab outing, staying in the low 90s throughout. He could be a sleeper in many leagues. ... Vlad Guerrero injured his knee on Sunday. They're hoping it's not serious, but we should know more later on today. Keep your eyes on this.

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