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April 15, 2009

Under The Knife

Takeaways

by Will Carroll

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Many of today's injuries made me think of the "rules" that come up. If I ever put together a list of these "Medhead Rules," it would probably be a lot longer than I'd expect. There are a lot of injuries to cover, reminding me that the first rule might just be "Taking a day off only means more work next time."

Alex Rodriguez (25 DXL)
The rich are not like other people. Neither are athletes. After Rodriguez had his first workout, he made his first statement, and he said more than the Yankees have-and more than they wanted said, according to some sources. Rodriguez said that he's well into the second phase of his rehab, confirming reports that he's been swinging a bat for a while. He not only had no problems with that or with fielding, but he also jogged, and while it's not a run quite yet, it is a big step. He's about a week away from being ready to go full out. The important behind the scenes news is that Rodriguez is having no trouble with pain or swelling after workouts. In fact, he's doing so well that his doctors are questioning whether he'll need off-season surgery as had been expected. Rodriguez also said that he'd need "about 40 minor league at-bats" before being ready. With all of the new info, it looks like the May 1 date is on target, though some of this is a result of the conservative course the Yankees continue to enforce. One observer thought that Rodriguez looked game-ready now.

Mike Pelfrey (0 DXL)
Pitching injuries are often insidious. You only see the cause afterwards. The Mets haven't liked what they've seen from Pelfrey thus far. It goes beyond the normal first-week worries. Remember that Pelfrey was extended far into the Verducci Effect zone-Pelfrey even confronted Verducci about it this spring-as the Mets tried to win the division. The team knew they were doing it, and they did everything they could to keep him relatively safe. If that's not enough, what is? Pelfrey is a big, strong guy who didn't show any noticeable mechanical changes when I saw him live last week. Still, through his first two starts he's been so off that the question has to be raised as to whether we're already seeing the effects of that workload. The Mets have some options, but we don't have a good answer for how to "solve" the Verducci Effect in the short term. Argue all you want about the quirks of it, fatigue is the villain, and it manifests itself in a number of ways that are not always apparent. The Mets knew this might happen, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with.

Jed Lowrie (50 DXL)
Wrist injuries linger. It can be confusing, since a thumb or arm injury can also be described as a wrist injury, but have far different consequences. Lowrie has a wrist injury, one that's lingering despite a full offseason of rest. At this stage, any of the options being considered are going to cost him significant time. The most likely course, according to one surgeon I spoke with, is surgery to remove a bone or bone fragment in his wrist. That would cost him between six and eight weeks, though the results of players coming back from that have been positive. In the best case, Lowrie will be out for a month, and he'll have the typical wrist problems with bat control and power once he returns, so some of his value is gone no matter what route he takes, and Julio Lugo-who'll start it up in extended spring training on Wednesday and is still at least ten days away-becomes much more valuable.

Aramis Ramirez (1 DXL)
Minor injuries are only minor for a while; then they're lingering, chronic, or worse. The news that Ramirez is still having back problems, something that's been happening intermittently since spring training opened, reminds us that things that don't clear up in a reasonable amount of time usually end up as a recurrent or chronic problem. He had some imaging done on Monday that came back negative, though that ends up raising as many questions as it answers. If the problem is simply muscular, why is it that treatment, rest, and time haven't cleared it up? Ramirez shouldn't miss significant time now, but we'll have to watch to see how it affects him at the plate, or if this is going to be a problem that pops up from time to time, like that Creepy Backrub Guy.

Tom Glavine (30 DXL)
Injuries have context. There is no vacuum in baseball, aside from Ozzie Smith. Have we seen the last of Glavine? As the Magic 8-Ball might say, "things are pointing to yes." He has always been a pitcher who lived on the edge, both in the sense of pitching on the black and in adjusting to his declining physical talent over the past few seasons. While he never blew anyone away, the deteriorating physical skills did show up in his results. Now that Glavine's shoulder is acting up, he seems ready to hang it up. His career speaks for itself, and at some point trying to rehab becomes no fun. Glavine is going to give it a few more weeks, but it seems that the Braves are getting ready for him to walk away. They'll replace him with Jo-Jo Reyes in the short term, but sources tell me that Tommy Hanson's inevitable promotion is likely to come earlier than expected. If Glavine doesn't make it back, would he join former teammate Greg Maddux in what is shaping up to be an amazing Hall of Fame class of pitchers five years from now, along with Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Roger Clemens?

Jesse Litsch (40 DXL)
Sometimes good news really just means the news wasn't as bad as it could have been. A strained flexor tendon is hardly good news, but for Litsch, it could have been worse. The Jays have had terrible luck keeping their pitchers in one piece over the past few seasons, especially the young ones, and this is just another data point. Litsch came out of the MRI with the good news that it was not a torn ligament; the flexor tendon will shut him down for at least two weeks, but getting back up to speed is likely to take another few weeks even in the best-case scenario. Worse, because Litsch throws a sinker, the pronation is going to put more pressure on that tendon, making it likely that he'll either miss more time or reduce the pronation a bit, which could hurt his results. That's one of those rock-vs.-hard place decisions that the Jays have not managed well.

Tom Gordon (15 DXL)
Injury-prone doesn't matter when you're healthy. Flash has almost been forgotten, but with the Diamondbacks bullpen, he could end up going from forgotten to valuable. Jon Rauch has worked his way out of the high-leverage role, which is right where Gordon will fit in. He's due to begin a minor league rehab assignment, likely down the road in extended spring training or at Tucson, making his return trip a possibility that may come quickly if the elbow holds up. His curveball is almost magical, but it's also the source of much of the career-long issues with his arm. The brutal supination that makes that hammer so heavy is also slamming his elbow shut and taxing everything from the ligaments on up. Gordon makes for an interesting case in contrasts, an injury-prone player with longevity, like a car running on a rebuilt motor, a rigged transmission, and some new floor mats thrown in by the dealer. The D'backs don't want to drive him forever, just a little while longer.

Joe Mauer (30 DXL)
Baseball is like that old transmission commercial. You can pay me now or pay me later. As expected, Mauer has been moving through his rehab, and the schedule is still what we put forward last week. He's advanced to running, though sources tell me that it's still very much an irritant that necessitates a great deal of treatment both before and after. He has progressed enough for the team to talk about a rehab assignment, likely at High-A Ft. Myers. The team would like to send him to a higher level, but weather is a big concern, and their teams at Rochester and New Britain don't give them much of an option. He's on schedule, but no one seems willing to say that the trouble is going to subside. The biggest negative so far is that none of the problems are catcher-specific, so they couldn't even 'protect' him with DH time. Mauer is going to be a very risky proposition all season long.

Andy LaRoche (7 DXL)
Beware the injury that follows the slump for a player who hasn't established himself. Sometimes it's bona fide, but sometimes, it's an excuse. It can be the team looking to take pressure off of the player for the failure, and finding a way to push them aside or even send them down. It can also be the player, looking to explain something, or admitting that he'd hidden a problem. Seeing that LaRoche has back spasms could be either case here, and the fact is, it doesn't matter. He's simply not hitting, back problem or not. If it is a significant issue, they can move him aside and fill in, or call up Neil Walker, who's had a hot start at Triple-A. If it's not, he can take a few (more) days off, correct it with some rest and treatment, and get back out there. The results are going to be the key for LaRoche. According to sources, it's about 50/50 whether he ends up on the DL or not, so I'll split the difference with a week's worth. If he doesn't go to the DL, these days might not be in a row.

Quick Cuts: Late news is out that Chris Carpenter left his start with a strained ribcage. No one is sure yet how significant the problem is, but it was done while batting, not pitching. ... Arm fatigue? That suggests that the Red Sox might have a pitches-per-inning limit in place. The Sox seem very worried about Daisuke Matsuzaka's early results and some attendant shoulder pain. ... Xavier Nady had a sharp pain in his elbow. I can't think of a position player that has needed a Tommy John re-do, but that's one possibility here. He's headed for tests, and this could open up more time for Nick Swisher, who pitched Monday in mop-up. Good idea? He twittered that his arm was killing him afterward. ... Cristian Guzman says that his hamstring is fine, but "pop" is not the word you want to hear in this kind of description. ... Milton Bradley's groin isn't that bad, but the team will keep him out if the weather stays cold this week, just to be safe. ... DeWayne Wise is done for two months after a severe shoulder separation. ... Mark Teixeira was back in the Yankees lineup, but pulled an oh-fer. It will take more time to tell whether or not the wrist is still an issue, but be wary. ... I'll be On The DL tomorrow. That's a podcast you should be listening to. ... Trevor Hoffman is throwing off of a mound, but there's still no solid timetable for his Brewers debut. ... Billy Wagner is ahead of schedule, and is also throwing on the mound. He won't be back before July, but that could be very valuable for the Mets. ... The Tigers will use the rainout on Tuesday to juggle their rotation, skipping Rick Porcello. They'll be looking for ways to take innings off of his plate like this, which may reduce his fantasy value slightly, but it's the smart move. ... Melvin Mora goes to the DL with a strained hamstring. Yes, this is a chronic problem that started on the night of the last Tampa Bay BP Event, and could be a big issue for Mora this season.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Time,  Mike Pelfrey,  Julio Rodriguez,  The Call-up,  News

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