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April 5, 2009

Under The Knife

Opening Day Uncertainties

by Will Carroll

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There is a game tonight, and I'll watch it, but I refuse to acknowledge that "Opening Day" could be anything other than the first Monday. Every team should play, not just in the majors, but everywhere-minor league, college, high school, and little league. It should be a national holiday, and everyone should take off work. America didn't come back from September 11 with a kickoff, we did it with a pitch. Powered by #671, on to the injuries:

Ichiro Suzuki (10 DXL)
A bleeding ulcer? No one saw this coming. Suzuki is in peak physical condition and has a Zen halo surrounding him, and he'll only miss the minimum in his first trip to the DL. The long-term concern is that his conditioning will be slightly down or that he may lose stamina, though Ichiro starts at a higher level than most. This is likely just a sign that he's mortal. The medication seems to be working, and Suzuki is only expected to miss eight games. There has been some discussion of how the M's will handle his return, but it looks as if he'll be close enough to go full-out, and he'll use some extended spring training games to get his swing back up to snuff.

Ervin Santana (30 DXL)
Several of you have asked why Santana hadn't been placed on the DL as of Saturday afternoon. There's really no reason to make the move before the final 25-man rosters have to be in, nor is there any reason not to. As the expected DXL figure reflects, they don't need the retro move since Santana will be out more than fifteen days from the maximum backdate, so in essence, they just haven't bothered yet. Santana is doing well in his rehab, progressing to long toss and ready to move to the mound within the next ten days. He's on track for a return around May 1, but there are still a number of hoops he'll have to jump through in his rehab. We'll have plenty of warning when he begins an assignment that could involve as many as three starts.

Justin Morneau (0 DXL)
It's bad enough that Joe Mauer is going to begin the season on the DL, but the Twins simply can't hope to compete if they're missing both "M's" for any significant portion of the season. Morneau's missing time late in spring training with a stiff lower back raises some warning flags. The Twins are being cautious at this stage, so the time he's missed so far is hardly a good gauge of just how serious this is. Instead, we've got to go to the sources, who tell me that it's one of those injuries that's minor but troubling. The team hasn't succeeded in helping to rid him of the stiffness in his back, and worse, it seems to be most affected by hitting. The Twins are considering putting Morneau on the DL, but they already lack flexibility with the current injuries and the glut in the outfield/DH slot. There's some consideration being given to playing Michael Cuddyer at first base; that could open things up a little, but no decision has been made. Morneau did play on Saturday, so that's a positive.

Scott Baker (10 DXL)
Baker wasn't exactly having a good spring, but he went from "working on pitches" to the DL in such a short time that many wondered what happened. There's always the possibility that roster moves can influence how these situations are handled; they may be trying to decide between Phil Humber and R.A. Dickey, or choosing to free up another slot for a backup catcher. Sources insist that Baker has had only minor soreness, and that it hasn't become better or worse. Combine all of these factors with the poor results that he's been having and it looks as if the team is merely trying to make sure he's not pitching through an injury, and they'll take the opportunity to give him a few starts in Ft. Myers under controlled conditions where he can be watched closely. Everything I'm hearing indicates that the Twins' expectations of Baker missing only one or two starts will hold true.

Trevor Hoffman (15 DXL)
Chris Capuano (90 DXL)

The Brewers tend to take a conservative approach to injuries, and while it pays off in making sure their players return healthy, that extra time incurs some loss as well. It appears that's the case now. Hoffman has missed much of spring training with a strained oblique, and there is still no solid timetable for when he'll be back. Age is something of a factor here, but not so much that he should be missing more than the back end of a normal four- to six-week recovery period. He's still not throwing from a mound, but he'll be back quickly once he does. It's unclear if the Brewers will keep him in Arizona or give him a few outings somewhere in the minors, and until then, they'll go with a committee to close games, despite the rumors that Carlos Villanueva was first in line for saves. The Brewers also received some bad news about Capuano. His rehab from Tommy John surgery will be slowed by some swelling where the ligament was attached, but he was ahead of schedule, so this shouldn't be that bad in the long run. He'll be back on the mound sometime in May, and the Brewers still think he could be in the rotation mix by mid season. (Yes, the rotation. They believe that his terrible run prior to surgery can be blamed on the injury.)

Brad Penny (0 DXL)
Penny was clocked at 96 mph in his last outing; not bad for a guy with shoulder issues. After a few minor setbacks early in spring training, he hasn't had much trouble either in games or in between. His recovery and stamina are the biggest concerns, though hitting 96 at this stage is a very good sign. There's a confluence of building up stamina and hitting the first big wall of fatigue here at the end of training, a time when we can figure out if a player is making a full recovery between starts. That's one test that Penny has passed, but don't be overconfident and start bidding him up. He's always been better during the first half of the season, but last year he didn't win a game after May 2 and had clearly lost it. The Sox are hoping they can keep him together, but I'm not sure how much more they can expect. Will June 1 be considered a win for them?

Takashi Saito (0 DXL)
Last year's elbow problems haven't cropped up again for Saito, making him a set-up role option for the Red Sox. What seems to be escaping attention is that it's the experimental procedure done on him at Kerlan-Jobe last season that's allowed him to pitch at all. While Dr. Neal ElAttrache still isn't taking credit, the platelet-rich plasma injection has to be considered a success, allowing Saito not only to come back to pitch last year, but also to hold up through spring training. No one, not even Saito, has any idea how his elbow will fare this season. It will be interesting to find out, as well as to watch for who's going to become the second pitcher to have the procedure done. (I wonder, would Ervin Santana be helped by this?)

Justin Duchscherer (30 DXL)
Joey Devine (90 DXL)

Elbow surgery is never minor for a pitcher, especially one with a medical file as thick as Duchscherer's. (Will that "thick" adjective stick as teams shift to online medical records?) He had bone chips cleared out of his pitching elbow, and there was no further damage found. He'll be throwing in a couple of weeks, and he shouldn't be out for much longer than a month, though he may not have any control of where he slots back in. The A's will be watching to see if he's needed more in the pen or the rotation while he's out, with a bias towards him starting when he returns. The team is unsettled in both areas, so Duchscherer's flexibility is a definite asset, and he's not a bad fantasy stash either way if you have the roster space. The A's aren't waiting to see what Dr. Andrews has to say about Devine. They placed him on the 60-day DL, indicating that this is far worse than just a sore arm. Sources have been telling me for weeks that he's headed for Tommy John surgery, but I haven't been able to confirm it. Duchscherer may become even more valuable if Devine is lost.

Quick Cuts: Instead of a normal Quick Cuts today, I'm going to monitor the comments and answer any last minute questions you might have. I'll be in Cincinnati on Wednesday, stopping by at the Red Reporter get-together, and if you're in the area, it should be a nice game (Edinson Volquez versus Mike Pelfrey). Hope to see a couple of you there, though we will be doing a full-on Pizza Feed in Cincinnati in late April or early May.

Related Content:  Back,  Elbow Stiffness

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