September 8, 2008
Under The Knife
Bunches, and a Brady?
Sunday was all Tom Brady, all the time. I barely got to watch any games, but that's part of the fun, I guess—being ready when something big happens, no matter the sport. You can't just show up when it's convenient, especially with injuries, and the coverage makes demands every day, especially when you consider that I cover three major sports, and get to dabble in hoops and soccer as well. I'll have all the details on the Brady injury tomorrow as my football column returns to Football Outsiders this season (Tuesday at Outsiders, Thursday and Sunday at SI.com), and I have all of the details on the injuries around baseball for you here. Powered by Samsung's LED DLP HDTV, on to the injuries:
Billy Wagner (60 DXL)
This is what I was worried about; that when Wagner finally threw at full speed, the elbow would act up, just as it did last time. While the reports are that it was a breaking ball that ended his latest session and caused subsequent tenderness, I'm told that when it happened the elbow had already been affecting him, and that the last breaking pitch he threw made it clear that he had no command. Wagner is headed back to the doctor, but all signs are that this is certainly no better than what happened a few weeks ago, and you can see now that he isn't making it back from that. The rest of the regular season is now almost assuredly over for him, and there's just a small chance he'll return for the playoffs. Now the Mets have to be concerned with the underlying cause; Wagner has hit the wall at the end of the season for the past several years, and seemed to have done so even earlier this season, and it seems a normal age curve is contributing to this. There was no need for surgery previously, so with a year left on Wagner's contract, I'm not sure what the Mets will do to deal with this.
Carlos Zambrano (10 DXL)
Rich Harden (9 DXL)
Chad Gaudin (15 DXL)
The Cubs think that Zambrano will be back later this week. He has a throw day scheduled within the next few days, and all anyone should care about is if he can get back up to his normal arm slot. If not, it will mean that the rotator cuff tendonitis is causing problems that will continue to cascade. I'm not saying that they couldn't use Zambrano, only that they have to be both careful and smart in how they do so. Zambrano showed a predictable pattern between returning from the DL last time to the beginning of this most recent hiatus. We can safely predict that a similar occurrence will take place in roughly the same time period, and probably a bit sooner. The Cubs need to be very careful in how they bring him back, sinc doing so too soon might position to him run out of gas in the midst of the NLCS or World Series. With the playoff spot all but locked up, the conservative course would be a much smarter path here. It would also be in line with what they're doing with Harden, who will slot back into the rotation this week after missing a start. The rest should do him good, just as it would for any pitcher at this stage of the season. More worrisome is the continued absence of Gaudin, who was acquired to take some of the workload off of Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. He's served that purpose so far, but his lingering back issues have kept him out for all of September, and threaten to end his season. The Cubs pitching is systematically breaking down under the workload. This isn't the same as the post-2003 overwork failure, just an inability to keep the staff healthy through a combination of events, but there's no curse involved in it.
Evan Longoria (25 DXL)
Matt Garza (0 DXL)
The Rays activated Longoria before he could hit, and while it's mostly an accounting trick, his defensive value gives them reason. He's expected to take batting practice before Tuesday's game, and if that goes well he'll be back at third base. During his absence the team held up well, but his being back should be a nice psychological boost for a team that's stumbled a bit lately. Any immediate offensive support could be more of a trick; he won't have the lingering issues of a normal wrist injury, but there will be some residual effect. Garza took a comebacker off of his arm in the middle of his solid start on Sunday. He continued to pitch with it, but that's one of those things that can stiffen up afterward, so keep an eye on him making it though his throw day. At worst, he may need to be pushed back, but certainly the Rays have options if needed.
Jered Weaver (3 DXL)
When benches attack! No, that's too easy; there's got to be a better cheap joke at Weaver's expense after he cut his pitching hand on the bench, so put your best efforts down in the comments section. No one seems exactly sure how it happened, but Weaver cut two fingers, including the all-important middle finger that will delay his next start. He'll go on Tuesday, though the team will have an alternative available if Weaver has any issues during his warm up. As with most pitchers, a bit of extra rest at this point can't be anything but good. The Angels have the division sewn up, but they haven't been able to pull clear of the Rays and seal up home-field advantage for the playoffs. That's kept them from juggling their rotation to this point, but that's sure to happen in the last week of the season, if not sooner.
Randy Johnson (9 DXL)
The D'backs continue to wallow in mediocrity, so the Unit's missing even one start can be a big deal. Johnson reported some residual soreness during his throw day, and with the potential of the playoffs before them, the decision was made to skip him. He'll be back next Saturday, and his velocity and mechanics will have to be checked. The D'backs medical staff has done a great job keeping Johnson healthy and effective after back surgery. As a third starter in a playoff rotation with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren... well, when you put it like that, you have to wonder why this is just a .500 team, don't you?
Pedro Martinez (0 DXL)
Normally I group teammates together, but Mets fans are shuffling a little close to the edge for me, so I decided to separate Martinez from Wagner. The velocity wasn't there, and he was just plain hittable. I'm hoping the Pitch F/X gurus (paging Eric Seidman!) will tell me if the data matches up with what my eyes were telling me. I think that the PFX was calling Martinez's fastballs "changeups" tells you pretty much all you need to know about his velocity. He just didn't have his stuff, and while it's easy to conclude that it's injury related, that isn't always the case. Martinez's pitches seemed to be more centered, and with less movement in all planes. We'll have to see if he's able to adjust, but based on one start back, it doesn't look good. That 0 DXL up there might end up missing the real story.
Travis Hafner (120 DXL)
Travis Hafner had two homers in two games at Double-A Akron, a sign that to some extent the power is back. After a lost season, there were many who were wondering whether it was still there at all, or how long it might remain. The issue is one that can only be addressed by production. Hafner is expected to be activated by the Indians this week, and how he plays for the remainder of the month won't change the Indians' stance—they're locked in by his contract—but a lot of other people are watching closely. What I've heard sounds positive, but the career comparables have me worried. The other factor here is how much he'll play with Victor Martinez getting most of the DH at-bats.
Quick Cuts: Tom Brady? Yeah, he's done for the year. ... Rafael Furcal is taking grounders. His return could make the Dodgers that much more an interesting playoff team. ... Joe Crede is having epidural injections in hopes he can return this season. ... J.D. Drew is expected back later this week, though the Red Sox appear to be inclined to be very conservative with both a return date and subsequent playing time. ... The Padres' Chris Young looked healthy against the Brewers, making calls to shut him down sound a bit silly. ... Nate McLouth came out of yesterdays game after a bad bounce caught him in the face, but he'll be fine. ... Chad Reineke has been shut down by the Padres after the team found a stress reaction in his shoulder blade. ... Expect the Indians to be very cautious with Anthony Reyes, who missed his last start with elbow soreness. ... Jeremy Guthrie will miss at least one start with arm fatigue. The O's tend to be rather conservative with pitchers at the end of the year. ... Thanks for all the tips on the Kindle!