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June 5, 2008

Under The Knife

Draft Day Owies

by Will Carroll

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Normally, there would be a few players about to be drafted who have injury questions. There would be a few pitchers who had come back from surgery, faced abusive pitch counts, or otherwise didn't seem sound. Instead, beyond the well-publicized case of Tanner Scheppers, there's not much health-wise in this year's first round. The top picks have been checked in every way possible, including drug tests, and I believe we might be seeing the first class of draftees in a new era. Over the last ten years, the focus on pitch counts appears to have created more opportunity for pitchers to stay healthy. That, I believe, is showing up with more, better, and healthier pitchers. These kids, now 18 to 22 years old, were very young at the start of this, but may be reaping the same benefits. Of course, they might also be harmed by underuse, a pendulum swung too far to caution, or at the very least we might never know what some of them could do. That's better, I guess, than seeing some of these talents laying their arms on an operating table. Scheppers is the exception rather than the rule, and that's something worth celebrating. As baseball welcomes their next class of talent, let's do everything to make sure that the next one is even healthier. Powered by the hope of 2008, on to the injuries:

John Smoltz (120 DXL)
What we know about Smoltz is that he's come back before. All the information we have builds off of that. We saw him, in diminished physical capacity, throwing--or rather slinging--the ball at 95 and snapping off a slider. Yes, he was hurt, but that's nevertheless impressive. There will be kids drafted today and handed big checks who can't do healthy what Smoltz did broken. What it comes down to now is whether the damage in his rotator cuff is significant enough to cost him the 12-18 months that it can. In that case, while he could still come back, the tipping point for a willingness to try might be reached, and perhaps Smoltz is more likely to focus on golf and the ministry. It's important to note that while his career may be ending with an injury, most of his career wouldn't have happened without modern sports medicine. Smoltz might end up the first pitcher in the Hall of Fame after Tommy John surgery, but it's hardly the only thing that doctors have allowed him to do on a baseball field. He's a pioneer. Smoltz is scheduled for surgery early next week and once he's open, we'll know a lot more.

David Ortiz (30 DXL)
The news on Ortiz isn't "news," it's just the information starting to leak out about the specifics. As more of these can be confirmed--and it's not the entire picture, to be sure--the early story is actually somewhat positive. Ortiz says that the pain is the problem, a "clicking" every time he moves his wrist in any plane. That pain will be removed or at least reduced by two to three weeks of enforced rest. Of course, it's very hard to completely rest, and we'll surely see second-by-second updates coming out of Boston, something like "Papi Cheers Garnett's Dunk--Doesn't Flinch!" or "Ortiz High Fives, Reinjures Wrist." In the meantime, we'll have to just wait and see how this works out. As with Nick Johnson, it wouldn't surprise me to see this extend out past the expressed deadlines but still find a positive outcome. The Sox will shift Manny Ramirez over to DH as expected, which should help with his legs as well.

Jorge Posada (45 DXL)
The Yankees didn't waste any time getting their catcher back behind the plate, but reports from the Bronx are very positive on Posada. One source told me that his times to second are still very good, though he has to be "careful" on his throws. The Yankees are in a bit of a quandary in terms of who plays where. Posada would normally be DHing, but the current roster doesn't give Joe Girardi many options. It may be that the Yankees will have to use Posada at first base, resting Jason Giambi and perhaps transitioning Posada out from behind the plate for the future. Still, it looks as if Posada will be the catcher with the hopes that he can resist making any awkward play that would overtax his shoulder, delaying surgery until the offseason.

Carlos Pena (15 DXL)
Carl Crawford (0 DXL)
It's not exactly normal for the Rays to send someone flying to Birmingham, but remember that Jim Andrews is the team's medical director. Crawford made the side trip to Birmingham to check on his leg. The problem--a very low hamstring strain that could be considered down as low as the tendon--is likely the result of both the hard turf and a slide at some point that created both a slight hyperextension and a varus force (pushing the knee inward). It's not considered serious, though Crawford says he feels "less explosive." This will cost him some speed on the basepaths and some range in the field, but the team doesn't think he'll miss significant time or see this exacerbated. One source laughed when I asked if this was part of the Rays' plan to get a new grass-field stadium. Crawford could miss some time during extended home stands or be pushed to DH to take some of the strain off. On the other hand, it was easy for the Rays to push Pena to the DL, because his broken finger (the result of taking a ball off of it) gives him both a chance to heal and to pull himself out of a recent slump. He should miss the minimum and come back strong.

Vladimir Guerrero (7 DXL)
The Angels sent Guerrero back to LA to have Lewis Yocum, their team physician, check him out. (Sense a theme?) Guerrero's knee continues to be troublesome after he injured it on a slide. The knee is "tender and swollen" according to sources, and the team is hoping that the medical staff can find a way to keep this small problem from becoming something more. There's talk that he'll need a DL stint, but for now, the Angels will do what they normally do and wait to see if it clears up. The decision point looks to be Friday, and after imaging on Wednesday, the thought is that if something negative had popped up on those tests, the team wouldn't have waited to push its slugger to the DL as a precaution. We'll have to see if Guerrero is running over the next two days.

Ryan Freel (45 DXL)
This might be the one that does for him. Freel is a hard charger--going 0-60 all the time--who has to be healthy to have value, because on pure talent he's not much. He can't coast and stay at this level. The latest in a series of injuries--some the result of that hard style of play--is a severe tear of his lower hamstring. It's a bad location and a bad injury for Freel. Since his speed is the source of so much of his value, even once he's healthy, he's going to have less value until--or if--his speed comes back. Freel's versatility has gone to waste on Dusty Baker's watch, but in fairness, he may have lost the ability to play a credible infield to some of his past injuries. Freel should be back in about six weeks, but we'll have to see if there's further erosion of his abilities and how close that brings him to falling off the talent cliff.

Curt Schilling (90 DXL)
It was just twenty-five pitches from a bullpen mound, but some good news is better than none as Schilling made his first throws from a mound this season, and things went very well. Terry Francona was excited, Schilling was excited; it seems everyone was excited. It's a small step in his recovery, but a meaningful one. The slow progression should start to accelerate, with more mound sessions coming over the next few weeks, leading to the start of a rehab assignment at the end of the month. While the slow pace might keep him out until just after the All Star break, the Sox have more than held together with "Plan B," thriving in the standings while not overworking any of the young arms. The next milestone for Schilling should be throwing to live batters, probably within the next two weeks.

Quick Cuts: Albert Pujols wouldn't have played in Wednesday's postponed game. He's having some tightness in his calf. ... Jake Westbrook heads out to see Dr. Yocum about his elbow. We should know more about how bad this is very soon. ... Ian Kennedy is throwing again, but there's no clear path back to the rotation. We'll see how that affects his timeline. ... Jason Isringhausen's hand has healed up, and he's begun throwing again, though there's no clear timeline for his return. The team will allow him to progress at his own pace, though they're hopeful that he can be back quickly and with better effectiveness. ... The Indians are trying to find ways to buy some rest for Victor Martinez. One plan might include resting him against lefties. ... R.A. Dickey is doing well in relief, the first pitcher to mix a real fastball in with a knuckler in quite some time. ... Hank Blalock is already taking grounders and could be back quickly if the scar on his wrist heals normally. ... Stop me if you've heard this one before: Adam Loewen is making progress and will return in June as a reliever. He has a screw in his elbow. ... "It's like something's burning" is not what you want to hear from your Opening Day pitcher, which is why the Nats are very worried about Odalis Perez right now. He's been a stabilizing influence on their rotation, and losing him might force them to make some more aggressive moves. ... "Sizemore misses three weeks with wrist injury" is a case in point that people have to be more careful with headlines. It's Scott Sizemore, a Tigers prospect, not Grady Sizemore. ... Good to see football doesn't have any drug problems. How many hundred pills?

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Broken Wrist,  This Time It Counts

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