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February 27, 2009

Under The Knife

On the Mend?

by Will Carroll

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Johan Santana
Just to remind you, Santana is human. He had knee surgery this offseason and... oh yeah, it was back in 2003 that he had bone chips removed from his elbow. That's a situation that often recurs, and it's something that does come to mind for the Mets' ace, who reportedly has some discomfort in his elbow. Sources insist that he's just a behind in his throwing schedule, due to a decidedly leisurely rehab pace after his knee was scoped. The conspiracy-minded among you might think that the pace of the rehab was designed to make sure that Santana wouldn't be ready in time to join the Venezuelan team in the WBC, but who's to say? At this stage, it seems more like the reasonable caution of a team that understands that without Santana they'd have no hope of reaching the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to its new coaching staff, and if some of the injury issues from last season end up making the team and the medical staff overcautious.

Jeremy Bonderman
After last season's setbacks, mere soreness has to seem like an improvement to Bonderman, because after a few rounds of surgery to correct a circulatory problem in his arm and remove part of a rib, "ribcage soreness" seems completely reasonable. He's not where the Tigers would like him to be in his throwing schedule, but sources tell me that the Tigers knew months ago that he'd be behind the ideal time frame, while still being within the normal range. Bonderman is an interesting case, in that he essentially took a year off, resting an arm that had been worked hard, though in the proper way. Assuming that the surgeons put everything back in the right places, Bonderman should be able to make a strong return, much the same way that Kenny Rogers and David Cone did from similar situations. It just might take a bit more time.

Jason Schmidt
Forget about throwing. When it comes to analyzing a pitcher who is coming back from an injury, it's seldom the throwing that's the problem, but rather the recovery. That's what happened with Schmidt, and though he was able to get out on the mound and throw well on Monday, when it came to getting back out there on Wednesday for a bullpen session, he had trouble with reduced velocity, and observers reported that he "seemed uncomfortable." That's the concern here, and with many other pitchers who are in similar situations. We'll know a lot more on Friday, when Schmidt is scheduled to face hitters again. The back end of the rotation remains a much bigger issue for the Dodgers than the signing of Manny Ramirez. At least Chad Billingsley has looked good in camp so far, and there's always the possibility of bringing back Pedro Martinez, something that Tommy Lasorda has long dreamed of.

Vernon Wells
The comment section for Wells in Baseball Prospectus 2009 ends with, "...if he stays healthy." Well, so much for that idea. Wells spent much of 2008 either dealing with injuries, or coming back from them, which is exactly how his '09 is starting. His hamstring is acting up again, and while the team is trying to sell this as not being very serious and the team just trying to be cautious early in camp, it doesn't exactly fit the plan for the Jays' resurgence. Wells' hamstring strain is definitely a cause for concern, but not one for panic. Like most injuries in spring training, timing is everything. He'll have ample time to recover and get in some swings, and he should be ready for Opening Day, which is all that really counts. Looking through his comps, I don't see a whole lot; it appears to be a number of recent players just on the other side of their peaks. Anyone disagree?

David Ortiz
Jed Lowrie

Batting practice is like a magic show: most people like to ooh and ahh, but there are some who sit there and try to figure out the trick. It's normally no trick for Ortiz to hit 400-foot bombs, but it became so for most of last year after his wrist injury. The tendon sheath was as much a mental issue as it was a physical one, and he wasn't able to get past the discomfort during the season. Rest and workouts during this offseason have him comfortable again, and taking those big swings and delivering those booming shots that we're all used to seeing. There's still some concern about possible fatigue and inflammation, but things look good at this stage for Big Papi to avoid turning into Medium Papi in the power department. Things are less clear for Lowrie; he fought through a hand/wrist injury last season, but the interesting thing here is not that he didn't lose anything because of it. He played so well as a rookie despite the injury that it's hard to say what he'll gain back now that he's healthy. If it was holding him back, he'll have an edge in what looks like a straight-up battle with Julio Lugo for the starting job.

Kerry Wood
Wood and spring training injuries go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It's important to remember that a lot of people are allergic to those two things, just like Wood seems to be allergic to staying healthy. This time it's lower back soreness, which may be confusing since Wood's conditioning has improved over the past few seasons. If it's transient stiffness, well, that's not even worth starting a new page in Wood's thick medical file. If it's anything more, that's why Cleveland made such a sensible destination. With Lonnie Soloff and his staff being great at doing maintenance, Wood should be able to work through things in plenty of time to get ready for the season, making this small issue a non-issue.

Hideki Matsui
Matsui is fast becoming a case study in how a reliable player might not be so reliable after all. Matsui was the Japanese Cal Ripken for a while there, except that he played the outfield, has hair, and avoids run-ins with Kevin Costner. Like Ripken, he played every day, until finally he couldn't, and things went rapidly downhill from there. It's difficult to separate aging as a factor from this rapid descent, because there's likely some component of genetic advantage that eventually ceases somewhere down the line, not allowing the player to stay healthy or recover quickly enough to continue the streak. There is also a large element of luck at work, and with the small sample size, it's impossible to come to any scientifically valid conclusions. Just know that when a player who's durable suddenly starts breaking down, it's time to figure out the exit strategy for fantasy owners, and to begin a draft of the Cooperstown speech... or whatever the Japanese equivalent might be. Matsui's knees are keeping him out of the outfield for now, and Joe Girardi has hinted that he may only use him as a DH and to play first base. This will be key if Jorge Posada doesn't make a full recovery, and could substantially reduce the flexibility of the newly constructed Yankees roster. Don't be surprised if you see the Yankees using the DL as something of a dodge here.

Noah Lowry
The Giants had high hopes for Lowry, but after more elbow trouble cropped up, it's looking less and less as if he'll be able to be at the back of their rotation come Opening Day. In fact, it's looking more and more like he could be shelved again after experiencing yet another arm problem. The Giants were patient in his slow return from a nerve impingement last year, but he'd already missed time in camp due to shoulder tightness before the elbow flared up. He was already in line for a fight to earn the fifth-starter's slot, but now my sources say that the Giants just seem frustrated trying to figure out what more they can do to get Lowry back on the mound. This is good news for Jonathan Sanchez, who is now clearly ahead of Lowry for the rotation spot, and who may want to rethink leaving camp to pitch for Puerto Rico.

Boof Bonser
If you're one of those folks who've been wondering when Boof will arrive, you're going to have a very long wait. After failing to establish himself over the past two seasons, and then seeing an influx of homegrown pitching talent flood into Minneapolis, Bonser now has to deal with a lost year. Doctors went in for a look at his sore shoulder and found extensive damage, including a torn rotator cuff and a severely torn labrum. He was on the edge, looking to be the swingman in the Minnesota pitching staff, but now he'll spend the entire season on the DL. There are some whispers that Bonser did the damage late last year as he was trying to pitch through a back injury. If that's the case, it would be a big strike against the Twins' medical staff and field staff.

Quick Cuts: Several e-mailers asked me why there was no DXL in last week's report. The answer is that there is no expected loss just yet. Sure, I could have put Jeff Francis down for 180, but there's nothing to learn from that. DXL will return once we get into, or at least closer to, the season. ... Does seeing Jason Isringhausen throwing in the Rays' pen make some teams think more positively about Ben Sheets? Izzy is coming back from a very similar injury. ... Important reading. ... Milton Bradley left Thursday's game with a tight quad. It's a precaution, but it had to have Jim Hendry reaching for the Pepcid. ... Homer Bailey has quit drinking and is throwing curves. Interesting. ... No one wins a job in the first spring training game, but Wade Davis is getting raves from virtually everyone that's seen him this spring. His emergence may mean that the Rays have some pitching to deal. They've also had some good news with Jake McGee, who's "slightly ahead" of schedule in his comeback from Tommy John. ... Things look bad early for Eric Byrnes. One observer wondered if he'll need to shift to first base.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Big Papi,  Year Of The Injury,  Elbow Stiffness,  Quad-a

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