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August 28, 2008

Under The Knife

Contenders' Hopes

by Will Carroll

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Josh Beckett (9 DXL)
Beckett made it through his Tuesday side session without trouble, and just as importantly he was fine on Wednesday. Beckett's elbow and hand don't appear to have any further problems, implying that the issues of pain, inflammation, and the tingling thing were either transient or simply responded to treatment. The big test will be on Friday, when he takes the mound again. I'll be looking to see that he's got his normal control, that he seems confident in the arm, that he isn't "fidgety," and that he makes it through a normal number of pitches. Given the information we have, I think things are going to go well enough, but the Red Sox need Beckett to not just do much better than that.

J.D. Drew (30 DXL)
The trade for Mark Kotsay, a guy who's had his own battles with his back, tells us a lot about Drew's status. Jason Lane could have filled in for the short term, but Kotsay is a player who can handle a larger role if healthy. With Drew still unable to even walk without pain, it's looking less and less like this will be merely a short-term issue. While the Sox continue to say that this is muscular in nature and not related to the herniated disc found in his lower back, the fact that Drew hasn't found any relief with rest and treatment speaks to the severity of the problem. Worse, it seems that the two conditions are causing different but interrelated symptoms, making it more difficult to know what's working and what's not. Drew was pushed to the DL on Tuesday, and no one is quite sure when he'll be back in action.

Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
Sometimes, our eyes lie. While watching Zambrano, first live and then again on highlights, it looks as if he's dropping his arm slot with the elbow below the acromial line (or to put it more simply, below the level of his shoulder). You'd think that the release point would drop as well, moving to the side as he approaches a three-quarter delivery, but Pitch F/X says "not so much." I have a bad angle for this, but I've watched the video over and over and I've talked to people that were there, and I think that Zambrano also shortened up his stride. That would keep him "taller," and, in what must be either a coincidence or some amazing subconscious body control, the release point is nearly the same. I received a large number of reader e-mails from folks who saw the same thing I did, so it's not just me. Zambrano is "slinging" and "pushing" the ball, and while he can be effective doing that (although he wasn't on Tuesday) he can't be effective doing it long-term. I'll be very interested to see him next time out. (Speaking of Zambrano, I think Barry Rozner is really onto something with his plan for a playoff rotation.)

Dioner Navarro (3 DXL)
If you haven't noticed, I tend to order things in UTK, putting the injuries with the biggest impact up top, and at this time of the year, post-season implications also begin to come into play. Seeing a Ray up this high is ... well, I guess you really don't want to see a Rays player here at all, but it's impressive in its own way. I'll admit to being a Rays fan, because a few years ago I witnessed the start of something that is in now place, and it's here much earlier than many expected. When I speak to a group of fans in Tampa on Friday, I don't think I'll need to do much to convince them to have "hope and faith." If they're going to go far in October, they'll need to be healthy (see Longoria and Percival below), which will involve keeping Navarro fresh through the last month of his breakout season. Navarro is having what has been described as cramping in his hamstrings, but the Rays are in a good position with backup Shawn Riggans playing well and meshing with the pitching staff. Expect Navarro to get a few days off, and then continue to see more rest down the stretch. The worry here is that he's not on pace to exceed last year's games-played level, and he may end up being no more than a 120-game backstop-but hitting like this, that's not a bad thing.

Evan Longoria (30 DXL)
Troy Percival (15 DXL)

Longoria is expected to be back during the first week of September. I was reminded during yesterday's chat that it was Derrek Lee who had a similar injury in 2006, fracturing the distal ulna. If you look at the shape of that disappointing season for Lee, you'll see that once the fracture healed, his power (at least in his slugging percentage) normalized quickly, although his home-run total stayed lower than expected, with only a few outbursts. I'm not sure whether that tells us much about what to expect from Longoria, but I think that his production when he returns will be somewhere below his previous RotY-caliber performance, but still enough to make a difference for the Rays. That he has a month to figure things out helps. The Rays pen should get Percival back over the weekend, and he'll factor into save situations, but early indications are that Joe Maddon will continue to mix and match with his pen, giving only the most obvious opportunities for Percival.

Joba Chamberlain (25 DXL)
Calm down! That's my advice for Yankees fans when it comes to Chamberlain. I realize that the always-on nature of the frenzied New York media doesn't lend itself to any kind of calm, but Chamberlain's comeback from what is really a minor shoulder problem really isn't exactly another South Ossetia. Chamberlain's planned return next week will get massive coverage, but it's just one guy getting back in the game, building up to returning to his slot in the rotation, nothing more, but also nothing less. The key for the return is that he regains both his velocity and his arm strength, and also that the seasonal fatigue doesn't creep back too quickly. The Yankees have been right to be cautious, but they haven't been overcautious. He's going to be a nice second starter, and he still has the potential to be an ace someday soon.

Daniel Cabrera (5 DXL)
George Sherrill (25 DXL)

I realized as I took a look at the matchups for the Rays-Orioles game on Friday that I wasn't sure I'd seen a single Baltimore game this season. I looked back through my notes (thank you, Evernote!) and found that I actually have seen one. I think the problem is that their season has been so nondescript (and that I don't have any O's on my fantasy teams). They've slid some in the second half as their pitching has worn down, and the two pitchers who they hope to build around are having the most problems. Cabrera is having pain in his forearm-never a good sign-but tests haven't been able to show any cause. He may have to skip a start, and if you remember how the O's handled their staff last season, there's the chance they may institute a similar policy of shutting people down. The team is more encouraged about Sherrill, though they know they won't get him back until September. He'll return in order to prove he's healthy as much as anything, as several teams believe that Sherrill will be one of the trade chips that Andy MacPhail uses this winter to continue rebuilding his team.

Quick Cuts: Josh Hamilton was scratched with a painful dental issue. He shouldn't be out long. ... Tim Lincecum for 132 pitches? He didn't look fatigued, but I'm not sure the Giants should be letting Lincecum be quite that much the freak. ... Chris Carpenter was due to have a bullpen session on Wednesday, but there was no news on how it went. Look for that from one of the Cardinals' great beatwriters, although it doesn't look like he'll be back soon. ... Vicente Padilla won't make his next start because of his continued neck pain. ... Garret Anderson was back in the lineup for the Angels, at DH to protect his knee. ... What you need to know about the Reds is that with Johnny Cueto missing a start, they're seriously considering putting Bronson Arroyo in his place on short rest, after his first (and the Reds' first) complete game of the season. ... Watch Jesse Chavez, who was just called up to Pittsburgh. He looks like the batboy, but has solid stuff. He's been closing at Triple-A and could be a very good set-up man in the bigs, though I will remind you I am not a scout. ... Chris Young could be back in the Pads rotation by the weekend. ... Jay Marrioti once said that Steve Stone and I should be running the Cubs. I think Jim Hendry is doing okay, but if Steve and I get the shot, maybe we can hire Jay as PR director. Good luck, Jay.

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