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April 7, 2009

Under The Knife

Not As Bad as it Looks

by Will Carroll

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I was really stunned to see Major League Baseball's press release stating that injuries were down this spring from 106 players on the DL to begin last season to just 69 this year. Yes, I realize it was part "I told you so" for WBC nay-sayers, but it's the first time that I can remember seeing any acknowledgement of injury statistics. Teams are taking injuries more seriously, and there are signs that MLB is starting to as well. I'm waiting to see whether or not this is a real lowering of injury rate, or a simple data-point that is on the low side of the range on a day that seems more significant than it actually is. What I can do is call it a good start. It's certainly a better start than I had yesterday with my aborted trip to Cincinnati, which was fouled by icy roads here in Indy. The storms should clear by Wednesday, when I know I'll make it down. Powered by an insane number of blackouts today-seriously, the Cubs were in Houston, and St. Louis is five hours away-on to the injuries:

CC Sabathia (0 DXL)
A long time ago in a place far, far away... no, wait. It was just last year, in Cleveland, when Sabathia began the season poorly, but by the end of the year, no one was talking about those first few outings. People seemed more confused than worried about his Opening Day start for the Yankees, with Sabathia showing no dominance, some command problems, and spending his half-inning on the bench with a heating pad on his side. The heating pad had many concerned, though in the few shots I saw, it was being held in different areas along his ribcage, and Sabathia's explanation that he was "keeping warm" does make some sense. "Precautionary" would make even more sense, because it's important to remember that Sabathia has a history of oblique strains, injuring himself at the start of the season in both 2005 and 2006. With the combination of game results, his history, and the provocative image, this bears watching. I do think that there was something throwing off his release point; it could be any one of a million factors, including not being able to get his core loose.

Brandon Webb (0 DXL)
There was an element of chicken/egg in Webb's bad day. Did the shoulder become sore before he gave up back-to-back jacks to Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Ianetta, or did watching those balls go out of the park tighten things up for him? The answer is the former; if you watch the highlights, you can see that even early in the game, Webb's velocity is down, and so is his elbow. It was well below the level of his shoulder, unusual for a sinkerballer who normally comes over the top with a good deal of shoulder lean. The dropping elbow might remind you of Carlos Zambrano last year, but let's keep in mind that Zambrano remained very effective as long as he was well-rested. Webb often goes through bouts of fatigue, being a little more cyclical than most pitchers, and it could just be that he's more open about it than others. The velocity is troubling, though Webb is far more reliant on movement than velocity. It doesn't look to be a D'backs nightmare yet, and we'll know more once his throw day comes around.

John Lackey (30 DXL)
Ervin Santana (60 DXL)
Kelvim Escobar (45 DXL)

The Angels aren't down three pitchers as much as they're down two, roughly the same situation they found themselves in last season. Lackey is in the same position on the fret list, with Santana replacing Jeff Weaver as worry number two for Mike Scioscia. Escobar is more of a bonus, since the Angels went into the offseason unsure if he would contribute at all. The plan is to use him as a seventh-inning guy, maybe even in the sixth inning in some situations, shortening games for the starters, or serving as relief for the relievers if they're overworked during the first month or so. With Lackey and Santana down at least four weeks (and it could be much longer for Santana), the vultures are circling the Angels' minor leagues, anticipating the need for a deal. The Padres, holding Jake Peavy, are at the top of everyone's list, though there are plenty of teams who will make offers if the Angels do go that route. Don't bet on it though; the Angels continue to value their own prospects much more than most. We'll see if they stick to that in the coming weeks.

Bronson Arroyo (0 DXL)
I had hoped to be able to talk to Arroyo yesterday before the Reds' Opening Day game, but that will have to be delayed until tomorrow. There has been some good news in the interim, with Arroyo's new medication making enough of a difference that the Reds have put him back in his slot in the rotation. They had planned to swap him with Micah Owings, giving Arroyo a few extra days to get ready. Instead, the carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms have been reduced enough that they feel comfortable with him throwing on Thursday. CTS is a chronic condition that is exacerbated by repetitive activities, and if it's pitching that's affecting him, that's a problem. If it's playing guitar, it can be controlled. Either way, we're going to have to wait and watch.

Todd Helton (0 DXL)
The odd result of Helton's back surgery is that it could cost him some doubles. He's not fully recovered, and says that he feels it more while running on the basepaths than anywhere else. That will cut down on his doubles, though in the big outfield of Coors, he might get enough "jogging" doubles to reduce the impact. On the road, there'll be some very long singles. The upside is that Helton has begun to look for the fences more, a pattern often seen with aging players. All in all, the effect on his slugging should be negligible while keeping his value to the Rockies about the same. He's very unlikely to play full time, though Clint Hurdle is talking about creative ways to use Helton without overtaxing him.

Lance Berkman (0 DXL)
Berkman played on Opening Day and showed no real signs of trouble with his sore left biceps. He went 1-for-2 with a couple of walks, but sources tell me that the problem hasn't gone away and that the walks are telling. "He's having a problem when he misses, not when he swings," I was told. Berkman is having some soreness both from throwing and when he bats right-handed. The Astros have dealt with this kind of issue before when Jeff Bagwell was at the end of his career and dealing with arthritic shoulders, but that probably won't help. There's very little organizational overlap here-new GM, new manager, new Trainer-so I don't think they have any advantage. Berkman will continue to play through it as the medical staff works to ensure that it doesn't become more serious.

Mike Redmond (5 DXL)
The worst-case scenario for the Twins was their losing Redmond before Joe Mauer was ready to return. The season had barely begun before Redmond strained his groin early on Opening Day, finally having to be removed from the game. Afterwards, he was visibly uncomfortable, and admitted that he was very concerned. The Twins must be as well, with Jose Morales as their only healthy player at the position; he was supposed to be no more than an emergency catcher, not starting at all if possible. Sources tell me that the Twins are scrambling to figure out which organizational catcher they can have at the ready, someone they can bring to Minnesota but not activate, while hoping that they won't need to use third baseman and emergency catcher Brian Buscher.

Julio Lugo (14 DXL)
The Red Sox are being conservative with the timeline for Lugo's return from having his knee scoped. He'll head back to Florida later this week to take part in extended spring training, and will then be evaluated at the beginning of next week to determine when he'll return. It's going to end up costing him two weeks of the season rather than just one, and it gives Jed Lowrie a little extra time to try to establish himself at the position as well. Lugo shouldn't have any difficulty coming back from the torn meniscus, but there's always the danger in baseball of getting Pipped.

Quick Cuts: Felix Hernandez was efficient? What's next? ... Dustin McGowan was scheduled to throw in Florida. No reports at deadline on what the Jays thought of it. ... Jeff Brantley is from Alabama and he went to school at Mississippi State. How did he become "The Cowboy"? ... Willy Taveras missed Opening Day while recovering from flu-like symptoms. He's expected back later in the week, though there remains some concern about his conditioning. ... While the TV blackouts were bad, at least the new Gameday Audio in MLB At Bat was working well, as were the new features on MLB.com. ... Jamey Carroll broke a bone on the outside of his hand during the last exhibition game and heads to the DL. He'll miss around a month. ... As expected, Matt Lindstrom will close, but he won't be used on consecutive days, pairing with Leo Nuņez for the time being.

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