September 5, 2008
With September comes a major shift, both to MLB rosters and to the way in which I do my job. During the regular season, the disabled list is there to offer a team roster relief when a player is injured, but at this time of year comes roster expansion, and the DL ceases to be a an option with any relevance or value. (There are also some accounting and insurance issues in play, but I won't bore you with that!) Now that there is a way for teams to move players around without the need for a formal shelving, it allows the teams to rest some players with minor injuries with a minimum of spin, but the media landscape won't allow any major events to go unreported. When I began doing this column, it was easier for teams to just wave their hands as a distraction, and it was more Lance Burton-effective than today's Gob Bluth attempts. It's getting to a point now that there are teams that have learned that it's better to go through the season just telling the truth and owning the story, rather than trying to spin it. Even so, there's still plenty of room for me to dig, to explain, and to analyze, and there's still plenty more to learn and to study; with the tools that are being developed, who knows what's next? I do know that September is going to be one heck of a month for baseball, and I have no idea how it's going to turn out. Well, that's not true—I do read the Playoff Odds Report every day when I wake up.
Powered by the right to vote (you are registered to vote, right?) on to the injuries:
Carlos Zambrano (10 DXL/$0.6 million)
The Big Z isn't feeling good, and even Lou Piniella, just days after insisting that Zambrano was fine, is admitting that something is wrong. After five innings of bad baseball, the Cubs are sending Zambrano to see the team orthopedist and will likely be shutting him down. This can be hard to manage at this time of year; if Zambrano is shut down for two weeks, he'll have to come back ready to go in order to get in a couple of starts before the playoffs. Would the Cubs be willing to put Zambrano out there in the Division Series without at least one good regular season start? Zambrano is clearly the ace of this staff, so this isn't exactly an Aaron Cook situation. The most worrisome aspects of Zambrano's start were the arm angle and the quick drop in velocity. By the third inning, he was down from 93 to 90, and by the fourth and fifth he was exerting more effort just to stay in the 90 range. The extra time off might have made him stronger in the early going, but it didn't last time out. The Cubs are going to have to make some some tough decisions soon, but they'll be waiting for word from the doctors first. Zambrano refused to have an MRI on Wednesday and was a no-show for his appointment, but on Thursday he did receive another cortisone shot and had scheduled tests done that apparently showed he's having another bout of rotator cuff tendonitis. Given his results since last time, I'm not sure that this is going to be comforting news to Cubs fans, especially if he comes back next week with his lower arm slot.
Josh Beckett (15 DXL/$1.4 million)
Seeing an article like this one reminds me of a topic that came up last Friday night at the Rays Ballpark Event. People mentioned to me that in the years that they'd been reading Baseball Prospectus and UTK, they had learned more and were noticing more articles that intelligently discussed sports medicine. I agree, that's the case, and on this score I also tip my cap to Rick Wilton, the dean of injury reporting. The thing is that articles like Bradford's can make it more difficult for me to find an angle for analysis. Bradford—a long time friend of UTK—nails everything, adds in some video, and leaves me nothing more to do here than nod in agreement. It looks as if Beckett is on track for recovery, and that his trip to see Dr. Andrews provided the confidence boost that he needed so that he could get back out there. I found it interesting that John Farrell had Tommy John surgery, something I did not know, and that might make him the first TJ survivor to become a pitching coach in the bigs. (Am I missing anyone?) I'm not worried about Beckett, and in fact the results of the exam may reduce the risk that Beckett carries going forward.
Billy Wagner (30 DXL/$1.5 million)
Pedro Martinez (7 DXL/$0.4 million)
Things look good for Wagner, making the doctor's advice of a few weeks of rest appear to be an adequate fix. After a bullpen session that went well on Monday, he was able to go 36 pitches on Wednesday with no problem. If there's any downside, it's that one observer who saw the session said that Wagner is still not throwing "in anger; it's 85 to 90 percent." This is important, because Wagner had no trouble last time until he started to throw all-out. The Mets will have Wagner throw again on Friday. Note that he's not throwing on back-to-back days, something that could portend some limitation. The Mets are also dealing with something new with Pedro, who said he was unable to get loose in his last start. He was showing both velocity and command problems, and the Mets have sent him back home to work with his rehab guru, Chris Correnti. The team is prepped to skip Martinez's Saturday start if Correnti doesn't give them the green light.
Jeff Kent (20 DXL/$1.2 million)
It's about as much of a surprise that Gustav made landfall (really, I understand that was big news, but it's hardly "breaking news" when the storm's eye is already in Baton Rouge) as it is that Kent elected to have knee surgery. It's only going to be a minor 'scope, and he's not necessarily done for the season. In talking about Kent, Joe Torre said that he could come back as a pinch-hitter even before he's able to play defense. The Dodgers have a proud tradition of gimpy playoff hitters, but without Kent they have an uphill battle to just get there in the first place. Given a normal recovery from the clean-up, Kent could return in time for the final week of the regular season. He was placed on the DL as a procedural move, opening up the Frankie Rodriguez loophole for the Dodgers' playoff roster.
Ben Sheets (0 DXL/0)
"Very, very minor" is how Sheets described his groin strain. I'm not changing my position on players being the worst judges of their own injuries, but Sheets is known to be a bit of a hypochondriac. If he's not that concerned, it's probably... very, very minor. It's is the same area that cost Sheets the last two weeks of the '07 season, but this isn't quite as serious. Sheets will be watched closely, and delayed or pulled quickly at any sign of trouble, but no one seems terribly concerned that he won't make his next start. The team needs Sheets to be healthy to prevent exposing their bullpen, and the news that Yovanni Gallardo might be available soon is opening up some interesting possibilities.
Justin Upton (60 DXL/$2.5 million)
After nearly two months out, Upton returned to the D'backs lineup only to take an errant pickoff throw off of his head. He was clearly dazed by the impact, but was able to walk off on his own. The team will very cautious with him, but they don't expect him to miss much time; with their glut in the outfield, they can afford to be conservative. He was still suffering from headaches as of Thursday (an indication that, yes, it was a concussion), and that makes gauging the time frame very difficult. He also appears to be affected by the oblique at the plate, but that could be rust, hesitancy, or a bit of a "catch" in the muscle as he rotates. My guess is that it's much more of the first two than the last.
Chris Carpenter (20 DXL/$0.7 million)
After he had a good bullpen session, the Cardinals decided it was time to go ahead and activate Carpenter. His shoulder is apparently strong enough that the team feels comfortable pitching him from the bullpen, though there are no indications of how they intend to use him or what restrictions (if any) they've placed on him. It's probable that he'll be used with limits, but on some kind of a rehab plan with increasing pitch goals for each outing. That would mean that they'd keep him out of high-leverage situations, so he's not much of a fantasy asset. The Cards do expect Carpenter to be ready to rejoin the rotation next year, and that's certainly reasonable, though there will be risk involved.
Matt Garza (0 DXL/0)
On Saturday, I had a chance to speak with Garza on the field at Tropicana. I recently read an article by a writer who I know believes in what he wrote, saying that Garza was doing damage to his elbow "with each pitch" due to a minor mechanical flaw. Only time will tell, but I explained to Matt what had been written about him and asked him what he thought. Of the flaw—a pronation of his wrist during his takeaway—Garza said he "didn't realize he was doing it." He did a quick motion while watching his wrist, and yes, he pronated. I asked if he felt any tension in his arm, and he said "no, this is what feels good. It's what I've always done." Explaining that the writer thought that he was destroying his elbow by doing that, Garza laughed. "I guess we'll see," he said, "but I had an operation when I was in high school, and they said I have some scarring at the ends and that the structure of it makes it tougher, stronger." I asked if his innings increase (noted on Friday) had him worried, and he said that he wasn't, and that he felt "as good as ever and we're winning and I'm pitching well. That's what counts to me." While he agreed that major league innings are more stressful than minor league innings, he said that he's had no problems at all since his nerve trouble last spring, and he again insisted that he felt great. I've often said that players are the worst sources of info about their own health, but in this case, I think that Garza is right, and that the writer is dead wrong.
Quick Cuts: Hey! Football started last night, and I'll be writing football injury content at SI.com for another season. You can read me every Thursday for the scoop on the week's injuries, and then around noon each Sunday, just in time to set your fantasy lineups as I do the "Last Minute Med Check." ... Carlos Quentin is expected back in the White Sox lineup on Friday. ... Evan Longoria isn't back yet, and isn't even swinging a bat. His delay isn't so much a setback as it is further evidence of a deep conservatism on the part of the Rays medical staff. ... Turns out that Jeff Kent had minor knee surgery and could return before the season is out. ... Ian Kinsler will have surgery on his sports hernia next week, and is done for the year ... Rafael Furcal might make it back before the end of the season, because his recovery from back surgery has gone "perfectly," my sources say. ... Ryan Freel? Yeah, the Reds are saying he could be back this season. Why? ... Kevin Gregg's season isn't as done as I suspected; he thinks he could be back late next week. ... The Tigers sound like they're thinking about shutting some players down.