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April 1, 2009

Under The Knife

Ready, Set

by Will Carroll

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There are no April Fools' jokes in this column. I really thought about it, but finally decided against it. Instead, I opted to start up the DXLs today since we're so close to Opening Day. So let's just get to it, powered by my MacBook Air that made it through the Tout Wars draft without needing a charge, on to the injuries:

Dontrelle Willis (90 DXL)
I'll go on record and say I'm having a hard time with this one. It's too close to me. UTK exists in large part because of panic attacks-I had them for over a year, crippling attacks that kept me from leaving the house. It made typing on the net and making phone calls a comforting way to pass the day, and UTK's growth coincided with overcoming the attacks with a combination of treatment and Springsteen (really). Seeing that any player is suffering from them tugs at me, because I know both how overwhelmingly bad they are, and how difficult it is to explain them to anyone. That said, I'm not sure what Willis is going through; he's not describing symptoms that match with panic attacks. The tests they're quoting are a bit out there; blood tests can only confirm some things, but are seldom used as a single source for diagnosis, and according to a psychologist and psychiatrist I spoke with today, are seldom used at all. It's not like the Tigers to try and pull something shady, and it has nothing to do with the discussions of insurance fraud that many are lobbing, though I can understand why some would think that since Willis' issues were almost all mechanical up to this point. I've been making a lot of calls on this, and I'm even more confused now than I was previously, so this is one I'll be following closely. The DXL is a pure guesswork at this stage.

Ryan Braun (0 DXL)
Braun is not going to get many swings in this spring. Whether it was the back strain he suffered during the Classic, or now the hand injury he got in his first game back, he's just not going to be able to prep for the season the way he'd like. Whether or not that will affect him or keep him out of games remains to be seen, but the early results are good: the thumb isn't broken, so the focus will be on keeping the swelling down. There are only a few more days of camp left, and the Brewers are talking about Braun taking part in one of them, so the thought is that by next week he'll be fine. The Brewers are much happier to be dealing with rust than a metal pin.

Joe Mauer (10 DXL)
Michael Cuddyer (0 DXL)
Delmon Young (3 DXL)

The Twins have injury issues that will affect not only how they line up initially, but where. Mauer is making progress with his inflamed back after a change in medication and treatment, but he's still not running. Worse, two sources tell me that while running is painful for him, the swelling is affected more by rotational activities like hitting and throwing. That means that there's almost no way to keep him from aggravating the condition, even by DHing him. He's squatting and throwing, so the team is testing to see how much it will bother him and how quickly he can come back, but until he gets more into the hitting part of the game, we're not going to know how much value he'll have. That should come over the next week, barring a setback. The Twins are also concerned enough about Cuddyer's chronic finger problem that he's headed back to Minnesota for tests. The finger had a torn tendon last season, and his grip strength has been affected through much of camp. With the battle still on for the four outfield and DH spots, any minor injury could push him out of the picture. It's not clear that he'll miss any time yet, but that could change after he's examined. Then again, he's not the only one that's injured. Young has hurt his shoulder and will be kept out of throwing situations for the rest of camp. No one thinks it's serious, but he may need to DH more in the early part of the season, throwing off Ron Gardenhire's anticipated rotation of playing time across the four slots, and making it even more difficult if Joe Mauer ends up needing that slot more often. Injuries are making the roster rigid in Minnesota.

Jeremy Bonderman (10 DXL)
It's no surprise that Bonderman is starting the season on the DL. The surprise is that there's no public timeline that the Tigers are showing. That sounds to many like a setback, so I checked with my sources. While none had a firm date, they all thought that Bonderman would be back in the rotation in April, and that the team wants to see him make one start in the minors or extended spring training before coming back. That's not much narrowing, I know, but sometime after he's eligible and before April 20 seems to be the "yeah, I guess" consensus from those I spoke with. One interesting point made by a front-office type was that the injury problems in the pen might affect when Bonderman will return: "They already have Rick Porcello in there, who they'll protect, so that pen can't handle two guys who come out in the fifth or sixth, even if they separate them. I think they get Bonderman up to 100 before they activate him." That makes sense, so that DXL could end up being short.

Bronson Arroyo (5 DXL)
Joel Zumaya hurt himself playing Guitar Hero... or so we were told. Arroyo at least had a real guitar involved. He's dealing with a flareup of carpal tunnel syndrome that's hurt his grip, a bad thing for a pitcher. The Reds are trying to get the inflammation down, but sources are telling me that surgery remains a possibility. CTS release is a very common, even routine surgery for people, but a pitcher isn't a normal person. I don't have any comps for this, so there's no good way to judge how much time he might miss or how he might comeback. It's still just a possibility and the hope is that the medication will get him past this. There's some worry he won't be ready for his first start, though the Reds could juggle the rotation and get through with a skip. (Remember, 5 DXL equals one start.)

Todd Helton (0 DXL)
Helton's odd injury history isn't quite the "Iron Man Crash" that we see in some players. Yes, he was relatively healthy throughout his career, up until the intestinal trouble, but he had the nicks and dings that most normal players do. Helton is simply following a normal aging pattern combined with a chronic back-issue pattern. The surgery he had last season does appear to have helped, but it's the rehab work that Helton went through that seems to have rejuvenated him. I'm not putting as much stock in his spring stats as I am his freer swing and better mobility. The Rockies are still going to get him plenty of rest this season, though that plan might go right out the window if he keeps hitting like this. I haven't seen anyone else talking about Helton as a fantasy sleeper, so I'm leading the charge.

Eric Chavez (0 DXL)
The A's have Chavez back out on the field. With talk that he might move to first base (pushing Daric Barton out of a job), his ability to throw from third base will be critical to how the team is put together. These are early results, but things look good so far: he's made tough throws, played in back-to-back games, and he's swinging the bat hard. It still doesn't prove that he can play well enough to hold down the position or that he'll hold together, but the signs are definitely positive. He's still just 31 years old, and I think he'd take some of those late-career years that Robin Ventura had with the Mets. Great? No, but useful.

Craig Counsell (20 DXL)
Counsell is having knee problems. It's as simple as that, but it's painful and could necessitate a 'scoping. He'd miss minimal time, but he's more key to the team than you'd think given his numbers. He's a possible platoon partner at third base, the backup at both second base and shortstop, and is said by many to be like an extra coach on the bench. With less than a week to go, the makeup of the Brewers' roster is more up in the air than they'd like, so a decision on Counsell is going to affect several slots and should come quickly. His direct replacement is likely to be Casey McGehee, who's had a monster spring and brought a catcher's glove with him to camp.

Quick Cuts: Joba Chamberlain said that his velocity was fine in his last spring training start. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com tweets that he was as high as 96 mph today. ... According to several sources, Cole Hamels will make his first start of the season on April 10. That indicates that the Phillies won't be putting him on the DL. ... Following me on Twitter yet? @injuryexpert. ... The Yankees are saying that Alex Rodriguez will return on May 15; sources tell me that he's "way in front of that." ... Joe Crede was hit on the hand, but nothing is broken. He'll miss a few days and be ready for Opening Day. ... The Reds are playing Edwin Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez in minor league games, giving them a chance to make retro-active moves if needed. ... Joey Devine is heading to see Dr. Andrews, putting Brad Ziegler back in the closer role. ... Clayton Kershaw was more fatigued than most last year, and some are worried that the effects are showing this spring. One to keep an eye on. ... If you're in a really deep league and short of pitching, consider Jake Westbrook. He's ahead of pace for returning from Tommy John surgery, and he could be back by June. ... Troy Glaus may be talking about pushing through his rehab, but sources tell me that he's just not making any progress. ... Dustin McGowan has had what sources tell me is a "significant setback" with his shoulder, and he's likely done for 2009. ... Sources with the Jays sound more concerned with Travis Snider's knee injury than reports would indicate. ... Wrist troubles have Vernon Wells' fans worried. Yes, it's the same wrist that he had problems with last year. ... Rick Porcello was hit on the back by a comebacker. It's not thought to be serious, but expect the Tigers to play this very conservatively. ... I'll close with this: We're this close to landing one of the biggest BPR segments ever. I hope I'm not jinxing it, but it will be historic.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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