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August 25, 2008

Under The Knife

Mound Mischief

by Will Carroll

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Johnny Cueto (TBD)
Play my theme song, Jerome. One can only hope that a strained triceps tendon is as bad as it gets for Cueto. The young pitcher left Sunday's game with tightness in the back of his shoulder. You might remember that this was the initial diagnosis for Chris Carpenter, but it was later found to be a another muscle that was strained. There are a number of possibilities in that general area, so we have to hope for the best here, but the problem is that all of the signs appear to be negative; a high workload at a young age, an innings increase, inconsistent mechanics, and a tendency to pile up pitches in bunches. If you look back to his six-inning, 120-pitch July 22 start against the Padres, you'll see that he had a number of innings throwing 20 or more pitches. He didn't actually have that many high pitch-count outings, and after looking through a list of 20-plus P/IP games, it doesn't appear indicative of anything-every pitcher has an occasional bad day. Let's hope Cueto will be healthy enough to have a few more bad days, as well as more good ones.

Joba Chamberlain (25 DXL)
Things looked good for Chamberlain when he got back up on the mound in the latest in a series of throwing sessions. The news has been more about shifting him back to the pen than it has about the success of his steady but slow return. There are a couple of factors that appear to be pushing him to relief work, none of them having anything to do with the injury. First is the impending end of the minor league season, making it tougher to send him down for a rehab start, and secondly the Yankees have chosen a more advanced approach to pitching management, something that has allowed them to transition Chamberlain from the pen to the rotation in the first place. Think of this as the same sort of transition, allowing him to build up stamina at the major league level while controlling his innings. The media and less-informed fans might panic, but in the end the Yankees have one starter who should be established enough for them to build around for 2009 and beyond.

Josh Beckett (10 DXL)
Tim Wakefield (15 DXL)

The Red Sox pitching staff is usually very flexible, but when you take a few starters out, toss in a struggling rookie, and stir, it can brew a bad concoction. The Sox have had to push Beckett's next start back, noting not only the previous symptoms, but also some swelling in his right elbow. The team insists that they're just being conservative, but Beckett's next turn, scheduled for Friday, will have to be watched closely for both velocity and control. There are a lot of rumors going around, largely caused by the lack of information regarding the exact problem, so beware of the whispers; no one outside of the Sox clubhouse really knows the full story. Wakefield is expected to come off of the DL and take Beckett's Tuesday start. His shoulder has reportedly responded well to the time off, and both the team and Wakefield think he'll be ready to pitch through the end of the season with his normal effectiveness and flexibility.

J.D. Drew (15 DXL)
The Red Sox have waited a week to see how Drew's complex back problem responds-complex because it's a muscular issue involving muscle spasms with an underlying herniated disc. It's something of a chicken-and-egg deal; does the disc invoke the muscle problem or did the muscle problem crop up on its own with the disc being asymptomatic? Either way, Drew isn't making much progress, and while the team would rather not use the DL-especially at this time of the year and with other injuries putting the Red Sox playoff hopes in jeopardy-the team may have to make a tough decision. It would be a retro move, and Drew isn't expected to miss more than the minimum if they do DL him, but back injuries don't always respond the way they're expected to.

Adam Wainwright (0 DXL)
For all of the back and forth before he returned, Wainwright didn't waste any time in locking down a rotation spot. He went six strong innings in his first start off of the DL, and is scheduled to make his next one on Wednesday. While there are still rumblings about a move down the line to strengthen the pen when Chris Carpenter returns, sources tell me that Wainwright will be in the rotation unless there are no other options for their relief pitching, and that the Cardinals still consider themselves to be in the wild-card hunt. Assuming Wainwright makes it through a few more starts without aggravating his finger injury, we can safely say that he's past it, and reduce his risk heading into next season.

Chris Young (20 DXL)
No one is going to admit to tanking some games to get the first pick-though there's as clear a Numero Uno in next season's draft as there has been in any in recent memory-but you wouldn't blame one of the teams at the bottom (Washington, San Diego, and Seattle) for trying to, well... not try. If the Padres were doing so, they might not bring back Young, but he's making nice progress returning from his forearm strain and could return by next week. Instead of a rehab assignment, Young will throw some simulated games. His mound session this weekend was very positive, as he showed all of his pitches and came away from it without pain or more than normal inflammation. Young isn't going to rack up big fantasy stats, but his return should give him and the Pads something to build on for next season.

Shaun Marcum(0 DXL)
Marcum came back from sprained ligaments in his elbow and showed significant control problems. Most teams would look at this and think that the injury might be the trouble, but the Jays decided they'd send Marcum to Triple-A, despite the fact that Syracuse's season is nearly done. It would be understandable if this was a way of shutting him down or simply case of making a roster move, but there's no indication of either. Marcum's control in terms of walks allowed really isn't out of whack with his norms, but sources tell me that his pitches "aren't going to the glove," yet another indication that there may be a loss of proprioception in there. The Jays' pitching staff is a real mystery for 2009, but Marcum is a piece that may be a solid back-end starter if they can just keep him healthy.

Quick Cuts: Good to hear Bob Klapisch is doing better. At my first Winter Meetings, he was very kind to me, although I'm sure he doesn't remember it. I hope he'll join me in trying to protect pitchers from injuries like this in the future. ... Luke Hochevar has been shut down for the season with an oblique strain. ... Matt Capps is back throwing hard in the ninth for the Pirates. Watch to see if his shoulder wears down with usage. ... Brandon Morrow is expected to return to the Mariners as a starter right after rosters expand. ... John Maine will make his next start, but watch out-the bone spur in his shoulder makes him very risky, though the Mets need him badly. ... The Mets did get some good news, with reliever Ambiorix Burgos making solid progress in his rehab assignment.

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