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June 12, 2008

Under The Knife

Central Issues

by Will Carroll

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Alfonso Soriano (40 DXL)
Cubs fans seem panicked about losing a player they've criticized most of the season, one who they've also already played without for a bit. Soriano took a pitch off of his left hand-making me wonder again about padded or hard gloves-and suffered a small fracture of his fourth metacarpal, the bone below the ring finger. It will take about a month to heal and about six weeks before Soriano is back in the lineup, but the ring finger is the weakest on the hand, and biomechanical studies have shown that it contributes little to the swing's control points. That's a plus for a productive comeback. While missing Soriano for six weeks is no plus, the idea that he'll come back at full strength and get a bit of rest for his troublesome legs might be. Actually, I think Soriano will be a bit ahead of that pace, by taking advantage of modern technologies like bone stimulators.

Albert Pujols (20 DXL)
Things are a bit clearer for how long the Cards will be without their star slugger. With the knowledge that what he's dealing with is a Grade I-plus strain of his calf, he's likely to miss somewhere between three and six weeks. While we know that Pujols plays well through injury, we don't know much about his healing tendencies. I'm re-setting the DXL to 20 days on the idea that he'll heal at the low end of the range and that he'll push his way back into the lineup without a rehab assignment. More interesting was the suggestion from several UTK advisors that this injury could be connected to his foot problems. I tried to find out if Pujols had custom shoes or orthotics, but was not able to find out before deadline, but it's possible that what we're seeing here is something of a cascade, an adjustment made to compensate for his painful feet leading to a biomechanical problem in his calves. If so, this could become recurrent or worse, cascade up the leg or into his back.

Adam Wainwright (30 DXL)
It took a call to Switzerland to really figure this one out, but yesterday afternoon I spoke with a Dr. Aitland, an expert on rock climbing injuries, because Wainwright's finger injury is one that's more common in Alpine climbing and the new sport of indoor speed-climbing than it is in baseball. The stresses of hard gripping seem to be the cause in those sports, so Aitland, who was not familiar with baseball, didn't have much of an insight on how it could happen to a player, but he was able to tell me that surgery usually isn't the option. His preferred method of treatment is enforced rest and casting the hand. The Cardinals are taking a similar tack, with the hope that Wainwright can heal without surgery. The timetable is very fuzzy but the guesses seem to be in the three- to four-week range.

J.J. Putz (TBD)
Things aren't going well for the Mariners. Ten pitches into his last outing, Putz called for the trainer and left the game with a sore elbow. There's not much more that is known, other than that there was some pain and swelling, and that he'll be examined by team physicians on Thursday. Putz's elbow has had similar problems before and he's always come back well (as he did in 2007), so it's hard to say there's anything more than "ow, it hurts" to go on. If Putz is out for any extended period of time, the Mariners are likely to use Brandon Morrow (who's had some injury problems of his own) rather than the committee they used earlier this season. I'm going to leave Putz's DXL estimate blank for now, but we should have more information before the day is done.

Ryan Zimmerman (120 DXL)
Things seem to be getting worse for Zimmerman instead of better. The torn labrum is still symptomatic, and he'll take the next month off to work on a strengthening program to try and get him back to a point he can play. At the All-Star break, the Nats will take another look, and if Zimmerman isn't back to a a place in his recovery where he can be productive, they'll shut him down and send him for surgery. So the Nats' best player is looking at a month out at best, and a season-ender at worst. If there's any good news, it's that in the longer term this shouldn't be a problem, since the tear is similar in scope and location to what Hanley Ramirez had last year. The Nats at least have to take the chance that Zimmerman can come back, but I'm told that chance is "50/50, maybe" by sources. I'm upping the DXL with the idea that we may have seen the last of Zimmerman this season.

Grady Sizemore (0 DXL)
Victor Martinez (TBD)
One of my sources emailed with a note on Grady Sizemore: "Past two games his pre-game workout has been half-speed for him. Trainer has been watching him in pre-game also. I do not recall the trainer watching his entire pre-game before." After a poor month of May and not much better results in June, Indians fans are looking for any reason other than team context for their center fielder's drop-off. If there is something wrong with his legs, the idea that the Indians' top-notch training staff is keeping an eye on him should provide some comfort. Unfortunately, he's not the only one with leg problems; Martinez has been dealing with hamstring problems much of the season, and he's added an elbow injury to the list. He left Wednesday's game after just one inning and is heading for an MRI on his elbow. This revelation certainly helps explain Martinez's lack of power and may be enough to DL and rest him just to see, no matter the results of the imaging.

Troy Tulowitzki (45 DXL)
Tulowitzki is starting his rehab assignment well ahead of schedule, and it's expected to be a short one. The Rockies are saying that they'd like to have him back on June 20, but if he hits well early, I'd be very surprised if he's not back before that. Either the quad strain either wasn't as bad as advertised or Tulowitzki is a quick healer, though he'll sit very deep in the recurrence zone for at least the first month after his return. In his first game back with High-A Modesto, he went 0-for-2 and left the game early, though afterwards, he told the Rocky Mountain News that he felt "no pain."

Homer Bailey (0 DXL)
It didn't take Gameday to tell us that Bailey has lost something. His fastball is topping out at 91 this season, and while he's privately griping about mechanical changes that the Reds have made, there's just not as much zip or movement on his fastball. The thing is, Bailey wasn't at 95 all that much before; his average was 93 mph, so it's his inability to get command of any other pitch that's holding him back. There's no injury here, just an over-rated prospect that's yet to make any adjustment at the upper levels.

Jeff Keppinger (45 DXL)
The Reds' shortstops appear to be cursed this season. After losing four players after Jerry Hairston Jr.'s broken thumb, the team will now have to wait about another week for Keppinger to return from his kneecap fracture. Keppinger was ticketed to return soon anyway, but the Reds were going to slot him in at third rather than shortstop. No, I have no idea why either; Keppinger shouldn't have much trouble with hitting, so there may be some residual loss of range. This hasn't been the case during Keppinger's rehab, but Dusty Baker prefers defense up the middle. Once Hairston comes back-or Alex Gonzalez-the team might be ready to push Keppinger over and Edwin Encarnacion out.

Quick Cuts: Milton Bradley will DH a bit more over the next week as the Rangers keep an eye on his quad-and his emotions. ... Jair Jurrjens dodged a bullet: after spraining his ankle on the dugout steps, he'd thought he'd broken it, but just a day later, he thinks he'll make his next start. ... Daisuke Matsuzaka will make a rehab start on Monday for Pawtucket, then slot back into the Boston rotation next weekend. ... When did Erik Bedard suddenly need an accent mark in his name? Wait, and he's just now deciding his name should be pronounced "BAY-dar?"

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