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March 20, 2009

Under The Knife

Cutting it Close

by Will Carroll

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Cole Hamels
The reports from early in the week read as very positive. "No structural damage" is certainly better than the alternatives, but it's important to remember that's usually not the whole story. The doctors or the team can safely say no structural damage, leaving out that there's wear and tear, or bone chips, or something else that they see inside. It's also important to note that most pitchers will have significant damage of some kind inside their elbow or shoulder, but they'll still be asymptomatic and fully functional. It does not mean that they're 100 percent. Hamels had inflammation in his elbow, but the location indicates that there's no UCL involvement. He denied that there was any significant wear and tear, so the signs are positive here. Hamels remains a risk, and it will be interesting to see how the Phillies work him back into the rotation. Something along the lines of the way Scott Kazmir was handled last year seems like a good comp, but it will probably be a little more aggressive than that.

Hanley Ramirez
It's funny; on draft day, everyone is panicking over Alex Rodriguez's hip. Last year, it was Albert Pujols' elbow. No one seems to care at all about presumptive number one overall pick Ramirez, and his chronic, bilateral shoulder issues. This time, it's simple tendonitis in his right rotator cuff, which I'm sure someone will blame on his playing in the Classic. Ramirez has had surgery on each side over the past two years and come back well, but the continuing problems indicate that this is probably some sort of chronic degenerative process. It may not affect anything more than his career path or longevity if he's lucky, but it's there nonetheless, and has to be taken into account. I still draft him first, but I'm not as sure as I was a couple of days ago.

Chris Carpenter
Chris Perez

Things really could not be going any better for Carpenter right now. If I heard he had won the lottery, it wouldn't surprise me. Carpenter is coming back from two lost years and a series of arm injuries that is unprecedented. (For more details, check this article.) You wouldn't know it from how he's throwing, and aside from all of the time spent in the training room, there's not much else to go by. Carpenter isn't back to his former Cy Young level yet, but he's looking like he'll be a solid starter for the Cards. There are concerns about stamina, recovery time, and workload management, but going into this spring, the Cards were more worried about how they'd fill that slot if Carpenter ended up on the shelf again. Now that he's locked in, the bullpen situation becomes more of a source of concern with the news that Perez has come up sore. Reports have him dealing with a shoulder impingement, which is definitely a big negative for his hopes of closing. If he misses any time, his shot at some share of the closer's job is likely gone, and could have him headed back to Memphis. He'll try to throw this weekend, despite early reports that he would be shut down, which makes me wonder if Perez might be trying to push through the pain.

Brad Penny
John Smoltz

Boston's attempt to bring in some risky but talented pitchers didn't look like a good gamble earlier this spring, but now there's hope. Penny was not only able to get out onto the mound and throw well, he did it on a five-day schedule. His command and velocity both improved, and he had his fastball up into the mid-90s. There are still questions about how well Penny can hold up over a series of starts, but these positive steps give some indication that he could produce long enough to get Smoltz into the picture. Penny's next test will be on Monday when he's scheduled to throw again. If that goes well, he might be pitching against big-leaguers by the end of the week. Smoltz is continuing his rehab and looking toward a June return, though he could be up on a mound before the Sox head back to Boston. The toughest task Smoltz faces now might be maintaining his patience.

Kevin Youkilis
Red Sox fans continue to hate the Classic, but Youkilis came limping home on a play that could have just as easily happened in Ft. Myers as in Miami. In fact, Youkilis leaked that this had been going on pre-Classic, the kind of candor we don't normally get from Boston. The Sox were being very careful, and had him undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the damage. Sources tell me that Youkilis' ankle is "ugly on the outside, but not so bad on the inside." The early word is that he's likely to miss a week to ten days, and that he'll be ready for Opening Day, assuming of course that there are no setbacks in his rehab. Given that this is a chronic problem more than a traumatic one, there's little reason to believe he'll have any major problems in the short term, but the team is looking to make sure that Youkilis' admitted lack of self-awareness doesn't hurt him. Maybe Youkilis learned something from Chipper Jones.

Chipper Jones
Jones just does not seem to learn from experience. "I could probably play through it," he said after feeling the oblique strain tighten back up when he tried to swing a bat on Thursday. Yes, he probably could, but he could also re-injure himself. If you've followed Jones over the past few years of his career, this is exactly the type of thing that we've seen over and over again. He has a minor but nagging injury, he laughs it off, he tries to play through it, and he re-injures himself, losing even more time. Worse, the injuries are beginning to get to the stage where he'll start to see an erosion of his skills. Yes, he's been very good, but so was Ken Griffey Jr., though his physical problems began at a younger age. The better comp is George Brett, on both the good and bad side. The difference between Brett's slower decline and Jones' possible cratering comes down to whether or not he'll stop trying to play through injuries like this.

Pablo Sandoval
There are bad hops, and then there's bad luck. Sandoval was the victim of both when a ball skipped up on him during drills and hit him in the mouth. The negative here is that Sandoval has braces, and the metal lodged itself in his upper lip somehow; the trainers rushed to him and had to actually pry the skin away from the metal. This isn't going to be a long-term problem, but stitches could keep him out for a few days. Sandoval was quoted after the experience as saying that he "liked it"; that's scary. He should be back in the lineup this weekend and figures to have no issues come Opening Day... well, he'll have issues, but not of the injury kind.

Chris Young (Padres)
Young has always had problems staying healthy for a full season. He's usually good for most of it, but between fatigue and some freakish injuries, he's yet to make it past 180 innings in a season. Usually the trouble comes later in the season, but this time, it's happening during the spring. Young is experiencing some swelling and pain in his pitching elbow, so the team shut him down for a few days to try and allow the swelling to go down. They moved rather quickly to the anti-inflammatory drugs, though they kept the needles away for now. Despite the minor nature of the injury, this is going to bear watching to try and determine if Young might miss any time. It looks as if he won't miss enough to put his first starts in danger, but remember that with Jake Peavy pitching in the Classic, both of the Pads' top pitchers now have altered schedules.

Jorge Sosa
Sosa has been denied a visa. I'm not talking about the result of a bad credit score, but the kind that would allow him to come play in the US. All indications are that Sosa's denial stems from his amphetamine suspension. As best I can tell, this is the first visa denial based on a positive drug test. Sosa's relative importance isn't that great, but with several suspensions coming last year to young Dominican prospects, this may end up being a major issue in the near future. Experts couldn't give a solid answer on this, but most believe that Sosa's suspension affected his immigration status because it took place on US soil. Many forms of steroids that are banned in baseball are available in the Dominican, some even over the counter. Amphetamine usage is illegal in the Dominican as well. This issue is a complex one, and unless more is done to clear out the buscons and crecimientos, it's one that we'll be hearing about again and again.

Quick Cuts: Let everyone else focus on some silly pictures. The real news is that Alex Rodriguez is "well ahead" of his rehab schedule. ... Joe Mauer is right on the edge of availability for Opening Day, but the back issue wasn't seen as more serious in the second opinion he received this week. ... Scouts are raving about Zach Duke's changed delivery (though no one seems to be able to say what's changed), and about the results. ... BP Radio is in the middle of one of those streaks. David Laurila's camp tours, Fantasy Friday with Eric Karabell, and we'll have an interview with Jeff Pearlman on Monday regarding his new Roger Clemens bio. ... Things have gone well for B.J. Upton in his return to game action, but it seems that te Rays are likely to start him on the DL anyway. Look for a move that would have him missing the first two series in the cold environs of Boston and Baltimore. ... Adam Miller may be facing additional surgery on his finger, but I'll admit I still haven't figured out why it's being called "career-ending." The use of a tendon from the wrist is common in Tommy John, so I'm trying to figure this one out. ... Any iPhone developers out there? The new features in 3.0 have me thinking there could be a BP app. ... Shawn Hill and Yhency Brazoban were waived after they didn't come back well from injury. It looks like the Mets may be close to doing the same with Freddy Garcia.

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