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August 29, 2008

UTK Wrap

Eastern Promises

by Will Carroll

Let's get right to this, but be sure to read down-what I'd normally put in the intro ended up in the flow of the column. Powered by my Ballpark Event with the Tampa Bay Rays tonight as they try to go over 81 victories and ensure a finish above the .500 mark for the first time in team history, on to the injuries:

John Maine (30 DXL/$1.1 million)
Maine did everything he could to pitch through the pain in his shoulder, but despite some desperate efforts, he simply couldn't do it and still remain effective. He had a cortisone shot to try to calm down the area affected by the spur, not picking up a ball until he made his start, but his control suffered because of it. The Mets aren't counting him out completely, but putting him on the DL at this stage of the season shows just how bad things have become. If the Mets hope to play in October, keeping Pedro Martinez healthy becomes even more key now, especially since Mike Pelfrey is nearing the Verducci Effect.

Speaking of the Verducci Effect, who's headed to that threshold? The Baseball Prospectus stats crew pulled the starting pitchers who have crossed or are on pace for that level:


2008    2007    Age08   Pitcher
-----   -----   -----   -------
185.1   146.1    24     Tim Lincecum
158.2   123.2    25     Andrew Sonnanstine
169.1   115.1    24     Zack Greinke
164.0   82       24     Ubaldo Jimenez
158.0   77.2     24     Matt Garza
163.0   72.2     24     Mike Pelfrey
127.2   61.2     24     Kevin Slowey
 87.2   55.1     25     Jeremy Sowers
135.0   52       25     Jonathan Sanchez
 94.1   50.2     23     Jo-Jo Reyes
148.0   34.2     23     John Lannan
108.2   32.1     24     Garrett Olson
157.2   29       24     Edinson Volquez
131.2   28.2     25     Glen Perkins
148.2   26.1     25     Manny Parra

Josh Beckett (15 DXL/$1.3 million)
Beckett made it through his Tuesday side session, but he won't make it to his scheduled start on Friday, and that has Boston in panic mode, but the Red Sox aren't quite there yet. With all the depth the team had to start the season, they've needed every bit of it and more to make it through. Beckett is headed to see Jim Andrews, and while that's seldom a good sign, we've often seen that in many cases pitchers go for the confidence they get when Andrews tells them, in essence, that they're OK. The team insists that this is precautionary, and there's no sign that this is anything but a second opinion. There's no new symptoms, no exacerbation, just a continued problem in an arm that Boston and Beckett need.

J.D. Drew (30 DXL/$1.1 million)
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/0)
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.)

Joba Chamberlain (30 DXL/$2.5 million)
The young Yankee threw a 35-pitch bullpen using all of his pitches, and he came away reporting no trouble. It's unclear what the next step will be after another throwing session that was scheduled for Thursday, but speculation is that he will initially shift to the pen to continue increasing his pitch totals to the point that he could eventually shift back into the rotation. The key there is "could"-the Yankees are now six games behind the Red Sox for the wild card, and much of Chamberlain's usage could be predicated on how the standings develop. The key is making sure that Chamberlain is healthy, while also keeping his innings in check. The Yankees have done a pretty good job of both so far, even with the minor rotator cuff problem, but he's also going to need to get a bit more serious about his conditioning.

Johnny Cueto (10 DXL/$0.3 million)
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.

Carlos Guillen (5 DXL/$0.5 million)
It seems that everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong for the Tigers in 2008. I'm sure that Jim Leyland half expects his next cigarette to explode when he lights it up. The latest setback for the team is another injury to Guillen. The team started the year pushing him to first base hoping the move would keep his knees healthy. That didn't last, but his knees have been fine; it's just everything else that's broken. His back is the problem now, with some painful spasms pushing him out of the lineup again. Guillen has been dealing with intermittent pain for over a month, and the team is now at a point where shutting him down is a possibility. They'll work on him over the next few days in an attempt to get past this, but keep your eyes on the situation.

Shaun Marcum (0 DXL/0)
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: Chris Carpenter made it through a 60-pitch session, but there's still no solid timetable for his return. ... Adam Jones is expected to be activated early next week. His foot seems to be just fine. ... Rafael Soriano had nerve transposition surgery on his pitching elbow. Jim Andrews also pulled a spur out. ... The Nats have shut Shawn Hill down for the season. ... Rick Ankiel's strained abs are still bothering him. ... The latest bit of bad luck for the Padres? Scott Hairston broke his thumb and is likely done for the season. ... Khalil Greene is out of his cast, but he's not likely to return this season. ... Remember that the DL essentially goes away on September 1. It makes tracking injuries a bit tough, and skews the results of the Dick Martin Award slightly, but it also keeps me on my toes each September.

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