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July 3, 2008

Under The Knife

Bring on the Future

by Will Carroll

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Adam Wainwright (40 DXL)
The Cardinals are hopeful that the All-Star break will have more then the usual symbolism for them. They need it to be a turning point, because despite being well above expectations and winning in spite of all of the injuries they've suffered, they hope to put their constant presence in this space and in the training room behind them. Wainwright will be the first to turn the page once he gets his finger out of the splint, and hopeful that he'll be back on the bullpen mound sometime next week. The team doesn't seem to think he'll need much in the way of work on his stamina, though simulating a throwing motion with Theraband isn't the same thing as throwing. The transition of Joba Chamberlain might come into play here, giving some teams the idea that with strict pitch counts and some creativity the work usually done in the minors might be accomplished right here in the big leagues (given the right situations). At the very least, the Cards should have at least one of their aces back after the break; imagine what they'd be like if it were both.

Matt Capps (45 DXL)
If Pirates fans want to feel good about something, check out Neal Huntington's quote at the end of this article. Caught early? Proactive? Non-surgical return? All of these are terms that have not exactly been strongly associated with the Pirates in recent years. I'm starting to see signs that Huntington and the front office of the new-look Bucs not only get it, they're getting it done. Capps' tight shoulder capsule changes the internal workings and relationships of the various moving structures, often leading to labrum damage. Once the inflammation is out and the range of motion is back, the Pirates will need to get to work on adjusting his motion to a point where this doesn't become a regular occurrence. That won't be an easy task, so I'll say this might take a bit longer than the month we're hearing.

Micah Owings (7 DXL)
Eric Byrnes (25 DXL)
Chris Snyder (15 DXL)
Injuries have played their part this year in the slide of the D-backs from first place all the way back to... oh, they're still in first. So far, the rest of NL West has given the team enough of a cushion to deal with minor injuries, but things are beginning to snowball a bit. Byrnes came back from the DL only to re-injure his hamstring, a definite frustration for any team, and a terrible sign for an aging speed player. Byrnes wasn't hitting, and he may have been trying to do something positive by stealing third, but instead he just hurt himself. There's no solid time frame on this, but if he misses a month, I won't be surprised. Owings is dealing with an injury that seems to move around. Described variously as a groin strain or a hip issue, it's actually a mild strain of his gluteus, or simply a pain in the butt. Owings did it covering first base in his last start, though with his past few performances there's been some speculation that he's dealing with something more. He's expected to miss just this start, and with the team down to 12 position players, he'll function as an emergency pinch-hitter. In addition, reliever Cruz is dealing with an oblique, and then there's poor Chris Snyder. Don't click this! OK, I warned you, and Mark Grace warned you. Snyder will have surgery today to correct the issue, and is still expected back in just fifteen days.

Michael Young (3 DXL)
Having Young in the lineup is not only key for the Rangers, but also for Josh Hamilton. Young and Ian Kinsler have been getting on base at about a .350 clip, giving Hamilton a chance to drive in as many runs as he has; without those two, Hamilton's 25 percent OBI rate isn't as significant. Young is also one of the quiet leaders of the surging Rangers, and said to be the father of the Red Foam Finger, making his absence due to a mild groin strain even tougher for the team to endure. He's known for playing through minor injuries and not expected to miss significant time. I expect him back by the close of the weekend, giving Ramon Vazquez a rest from substitute Finger duty.

Alex Gonzalez (180 DXL)
The Reds "Curse of the Shortstop Position" has claimed another victim. This time, it's Gonzalez, the guy who was first bitten. It's not a new injury, but rather the same compression fracture in his knee that simply will not heal. Both the team and Gonzalez did all that they could in waiting and hoping, but he's well past the point where they should have seen some progress, and surgery will be needed to fixate the knee. The rehab will take about six months, putting him in line to be ready for next season. With Jeff Keppinger given the chance to claim this spot for keeps if he has a solid second half, and with Paul Janish getting a bit of a showcase, the Reds might be covered through years' end, but adding a little extra depth might not be the worst idea for the Reds.

David Ortiz (50 DXL)
Ortiz won't to be back before the All-Star break, though he is making progress in leaps and bounds. He's gone from soft swings on a tee to full swings with soft-toss drills. Some have asked what soft toss is, so here's a video. It's not quite the "live pitching" that some have described, but it's definitely a positive step. Ortiz has had little problem beyond the expected soreness, but the worry is that he'll either push too hard, or, with the teams' recent slide, the Red Sox will get a bit desperate. While these are valid concerns, the Sox are not a short-term team, and their flexibility is going to keep them from making any hasty decisions. The Big Papi is still on track to come back in late July, though a more immediate post All-Star break return is looking like a possibility.

Jeff Francis (20 DXL)
As the Rockies bounced off of the plexiglass ceiling, their franchise-level drop to the floor might be best symbolized by the plight of Jeff Francis. Last year he was the example that good pitching could do just fine at Coors, and of the sensibility of growing their own quality players. This season, he's been inconsistent at best, and bad for most of it. That he's been pitching through a sore shoulder would explain some of this, but unless he's been hiding it, allowing their young ace to pitch through possible injury in the middle of an already-lost season just makes no sense. The Rockies have seen their luck swing back to the negative after being more healthy than normal during 2007. Francis' shoulder problem isn't during throwing, he says, but happens positionally. The effect on his mechanics has been noticeable, and I wonder what his Pitch F/X looks like. The Rockies aren't saying how much time Francis will miss, though most of Clint Hurdle's statements seem to minimize the length of time we're talking about. With the All-Star break in play, my guess is that Francis will be back around the end of the month, which would be long enough to calm down the inflammation, but not long enough to create stamina issues.

Clayton Kershaw (0 DXL)
The young Dodger "prospect"-oh screw that, he's a pitcher, and I think one of their four best-is headed back to Double-A Jacksonville to make room for Hiroki Kuroda's return from the DL. While the Dodgers are saying that Kershaw needs to work on his control, he's at just over 80 innings pitched so far, which is why I'm not sure that the Dodgers will let him pitch enough to actually work on anything. The Dodgers are being a step beyond cautious with Kershaw, but I'm not sure why. Yes, they're right to be smart about it, but is there a reason that they think he'll break down? I'm not talking about letting him loose on 120-plus pitch counts and 150 innings, but just letting him go for a few normal starts (while watching closely). I wonder at what point they plan to stretch him, especially considering he's all but a lock for next year's rotation. The problem isn't their being cautious, it's that they're letting caution be the plan, rather than having a plan that should allow that caution to be put to rest at some point. I'm still not convinced that Kershaw is the pitcher most think he is. I'm also not convinced that the Dodgers don't know something we don't.

Quick Cuts: This might be the best article I've seen on pitching. Ever. ... Michael Barrett could be headed for the DL after he broke his nose on a foul ball. ... Scott Kazmir is going to see a lot of patient lineups if he stays inefficient as he did in his last couple of starts. ... Chris Carpenter as a reliever? It's possible, especially given the Cardinals' bullpen problems. ... I'm still not used to the little "g" in the new Google icon. It just looks weird. ... Why is there no video of this Michael Inoa kid on the YouTube? ... It looks like Clay Buchholz will be up this weekend, although the Sox are very cognizant of his innings count. ... Eric Chavez is back on the DL with more shoulder problems. The A's think he could be active later on this month, but this is beginning to look like the end of any productive return to form by a guy who has two more big years left on his deal.

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