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June 19, 2008

Under The Knife

Back Mysteries

by Will Carroll

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Carlos Zambrano (TBD)
If nothing else, the Cubs should be happy that Geovany Soto watches his pitchers so closely, because Soto noticed something about Zambrano and didn't wait. Instead, he waved out the trainers while running out to see what was going on with Zambrano in the seventh. While Zambrano's control wasn't perfect, he's never really been the most efficient pitcher. Zambrano stated after the game that he "felt something" and is headed back to Chicago to have an MRI and an examination by team physicians. According to Gameday, Zambrano was between 91-95 on his fastball all night, and he was still in that range in the seventh. Zambrano has been very durable over his career despite that inefficiency and despite the workload. The Cubs have enough pitching depth to get by if this is just a short-term issue, but if it's not he's obviously irreplaceable. We should know more after the imaging and examination.

Rafael Furcal (60 DXL)
Whatever's going on with Furcal's back, it's not getting better. The Dodgers don't think they'll have Furcal back in action until the All-Star break, and it doesn't sound as if they're sure about even that. ESPN is reporting that Furcal has a bulging disk, though earlier reports, including examinations from back specialists, never mentioned this condition. The complicating factor has always been Furcal's shoulder, but if there is a bulging or herniated disk at the heart of this, and since this has been such a slow-healing and complex issue, then surgery would become a consideration. None of my sources have indicated this is the case, so I'm not ready to latch on to the idea that the problem is disk-related. In the meantime, Furcal continues to have treatment, with the goal of getting him back in the lineup around the All-Star break, a goal that seems very aggressive given the current pace.

Hiroki Kuroda (15 DXL)
The Dodgers are also worried about Kuroda's diagnosis-tendonitis and a mild impingement? Yeah, it looks as if the adjustment to pitching in the US is hitting Kuroda as much as it has Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kuroda was worked pretty heavily in Japan, and his shoulder was one of the major concerns as he was coming over, so the fact that it's minor and he should take rest rather than something more aggressive at this stage is something of a positive. The Dodgers have kept the possibility of a retroactive move available to them, so he could be back as early as June 28. More worrying are reports that Kuroda has been pitching with pain all season, something that could indicate this isn't as simple as it sounds. In the meantime, the Dodgers will use Chan Ho Park in Kuroda's starting slot and call up bullpen help.

Jose Reyes (0 DXL)
The Mets are never going to be too distracted to to interfere with their keeping a close eye on Reyes' legs. When he has anything crop up, even just "stiffness" as he did on Tuesday, the team is almost always going to remove him as a precaution and begin the normal process of stretching and other modalities that have worked to keep him on the field and off of the DL over the past couple of years. Missing an inning here or there, even a game every now and again, should just be the cost of doing business if you have Reyes. The stiffness wasn't a problem with Reyes going back into the lineup on yesterday, as his 26th steal shows, so it isn't slowing him down much. Now all he has to do is keep his new manager from stabbing him.

Jeremy Bonderman (120 DXL)
As expected, Bonderman had surgery to remove a section of his first rib in order to free up space for the blood vessels leading to his arm. He'll miss what's listed as four months by the Tigers, but we'll just call it a season-ending injury and leave it at that. The surgery has not tended to be a problem for players coming back from it, so Bonderman profiles well for next season from that standpoint and gets the "benefit" of having gotten rest on his heavily-worked young arm. The Tigers have done everything that is known to do to keep him healthy and effective, and even then, he's still had some issues. I hope that Bonderman actually shows us that, no matter what, the five-man rotation is no more effective at keeping pitchers healthy than any alternatives.

Ryan Doumit (4 DXL)
The Pirates are taking Doumit's concussion seriously, and while he hasn't had symptoms after the initial acute period, they're still going to give him some extra time to be sure that there are no post-concussive symptoms. With Doumit establishing himself at catcher this season but still combating both his defensive reputation and a tag for being a bit injury-prone, this is a smart move by the Pirates' medical staff. Doumit could even end up as trade bait, according to some observers, given the way that the upcoming talent in the organization is shaking out. Regardless, look for Doumit to be back in the lineup this weekend. One idea for MLB is to establish a "cooling off" period of three to five days after concussions, but to give some sort of roster relief, like the bereavement list, to not put teams at a disadvantage by doing the right thing.

Kevin Kouzmanoff (TBD)
If luck came in rations, the Padres would have to think they were about out of the bad kind. Kouzmanoff was taking grounders in the pre-game when his back seized up; he could be lost for "substantial time" according to reports out of San Diego after experiencing severe back pain. They'll wait for the back to calm a bit, but sources seem concerned that this is something more than a simple muscular problem. With Chase Headley up already, the Pads may be forced to use the rookie at his original position at third if Kouzmanoff is out for an extended period of time. This type of back injury is tough to guess on, so I'm going to leave the DXL blank until there's more information. He could see this clear up quickly, or it could end up lingering like Furcal's injury; backs are very tricky pieces of machinery.

Carlos Pena (30 DXL)
The Rays have been playing well without him, but they could use the power and defense that Pena brings them. His broken left index finger is coming along and he's started taking some light swings. The team seems a bit more concerned about his throwing at this stage, which is probably a positive sign. He's expected back at the end of the month and should slot right back into the starting lineup, though the team may elect to send him on a quick rehab assignment to get him some swings in live game action first.

Rocco Baldelli (100 DXL)
Baldelli is hitting in A-ball, but his talent isn't the question. It's his ability to recover and to hold his stamina. The metabolic condition that he suffers from appears to be under control, though how remains a bit of a mystery. The assumption is that it's medication, nutrition, and awareness, but there are no details. (If you're interested in learning more, I've made the BPR episode where we discussed metabolic syndrome available on the radio page.) Baldelli is going to use the entire 20-day rehab allotment, but to give you an idea how much support he's getting, just check the faces of the Rays: they're all growing beards (including some really shabby ones!) in solidarity.

Rafael Soriano (30 DXL)
If you listen closely to what Bobby Cox is saying about Soriano, you'll hear the frustration. "I don't know when he wants to throw," Cox told MLB.com, saying that Soriano hasn't done the side session the Braves have asked for before activating him. The word leaking out of the Braves' clubhouse is that Soriano's problem is one of soreness, not pain, and that Soriano doesn't want to pitch at less than 100 percent. Given the macho antics of John Smoltz and Chipper Jones and the needs of the team, you can imagine that this isn't going over well for Soriano in that clubhouse. Cox isn't going to spite himself in his bullpen by doghousing Soriano once he does return, but he's also much more likely to stick with Mike Gonzalez for the saves, assuming Gonzalez is available.

Quick Cuts: Josh Willingham has started a rehab assignment and should be back next week. ... Jim Edmonds left Wednesday's game with a sore foot. He blamed the Tampa turf. ... Anthony Reyes heads to the DL with a sprained elbow, the latest in a long line of Cards to land there. ... Fausto Carmona had a minor setback in his rehab that will cost him an extra week before returning. ... Did I really just see that Fantasy Football is starting? Man, that seems both early and pointless in mid-June. ... Eric Byrnes will head out for a quick rehab assignment, and will be back with the D'backs on Monday ... Kevin Youkilis will be back this weekend for the Sox; they used their offday to get him a second day of rest.

Related Content:  Back,  Hiroki Kuroda,  Rafael Soriano,  The Call-up

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