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April 23, 2009

Under The Knife

Please, No Mauer (Catching)

by Will Carroll

Joe Mauer (25 DXL)
Mauer was on the field Wednesday, going 3-for-4 and catching for six innings in extended spring training. He'll shift across the complex to High-A Fort Myers to begin his planned rehab. Expected to last six games, he's expected to catch at least four of them, including a set of back-to-back games. The hitting isn't expected to be much of a challenge, but Mauer will stay in the low minors largely because of the weather. While he is doing everything well enough to head out, he's hardly out of the woods. Multiple sources say that Mauer is requiring extensive treatments before and after games to stay functional, and that he's "on the edge." One concern that someone within the organization had was the "handover," where Mauer has to go from the rehab staff at the Fort Myers complex back to the Twins' regular staff. While they're certainly qualified, it's not the same people doing the same things with the same knowledge, so there is always a chance of a hiccup in the process. Mauer is expected back just after May 1.

B.J. Ryan (0 DXL)
Jordan Bastian of MLB.com had the line of the night on Ryan-"He's doing it with smoke and mirrors again, except no smoke." Ryan's smoke and heat are gone, and they have been all season. 'Dead arm' is a passing thing that lasts a week or so in most cases; the Jays' closer (for now) is going on two months without his usual velocity. The Jays have consistently insisted that he doesn't have a physical problem, though when you consider the ability of teams to find something, anything, wrong with someone in order to stash them on the DL, this seems uncharacteristic. If Ryan isn't hurt, then he's simply lost it, which can happen, but more likely this is a post-TJ shoulder injury or at least a significant mechanical change. Yes, it is odd that it happened now instead of last year when he came back. The Jays, via Cito Gaston, are now questioning how long Ryan will continue to get save chances, and this could come to a head quickly.

Jose Valverde (3 DXL)
Closers don't often last long term. Even Ryan (above) has lasted longer than most, despite all of his issues. Valverde has been among the best over the past few years, though he's always seemed to be a flash in the pan, as if he could be replaced at any time in the same way that he had replaced people in both Arizona and Houston. To be fair, Houston has always been good at this kind of thing, but they hardly need more to deal with this season. He's had problems throughout the short campaign so far, with back injuries slowing him down, and now a leg injury to deal with. Valverde got the double whammy, being hit by a comebacker in the ankle, and then pulling his calf as he went to pick up the ball. (Yes, they're probably related. The body tends to tighten up the muscles in response to a trauma.) The Astros aren't sure whether he'll just miss a couple of games or need to go to the DL; that will depend on how he responds to treatment. Early signs are that there will just be a short period of unavailability, giving LaTroy Hawkins a few more save chances.

Mike Sweeney (7 DXL)
Russell Branyan (7 DXL)

I've talked before about the concept of an 'injury stack,' a series of injuries at the same position that take a team down the depth chart and into the area where replacement level becomes more than just a concept. One variety of stack is the platoon stack, and it can be one of the most devastating breakdowns that can happen to a team. The Mariners are facing that with both sides of their first-base platoon down. Branyan has missed the better part of a week with a stiff back, and Sweeney joined him on Wednesday with back spasms of his own. Branyan's hurts are bad enough that the medical staff is having trouble getting him past them and making him more comfortable, let alone functional. Sweeney's are much more serious, if only because of his own extended history with back problems. When Sweeney left the game, Jose Lopez had to shift over to first base, giving the M's three middle infielders in the lineup. It's reasonably easy to find a "free talent" slugger in the minors somewhere (like Chris Shelton, currently in Tacoma), or maybe Ken Griffey Jr. borrows a first-baseman's mitt for a few days, if that's all the time this is going to take. If this becomes a long-term issue, though, the front office will have a chance to show why they have the job. Both of the DXL's above are very tentative and fluid.

Darren Oliver (5 DXL)
It's bad enough that Oliver is penciled in as a starter. It's worse when he can't even take the ball. It's been that kind of season for the Angels, unfortunately. Oliver is suffering from stiffness in his pitching shoulder, which I guess is better than most expected from him considering where he was just a few years ago. With Ervin Santana and John Lackey still away for awhile, the Angels are trying to patch through with guys like Oliver. Without him, they're down deep into the ninth and 10th slots of their rotation. Nick Adenhart's death hangs over all of this, and while the quick fix would be to sign Mark Mulder or Pedro Martinez, I'm wondering if there might not be a more creative solution. Could a fantasy-style "pitch-and-ditch" strategy work (and could Salt Lake keep playing if the big-league club tried it?) Could a bullpen game be worked into the rotation? The next few weeks will be interesting to watch, since no manager has more job security than Mike Scioscia.

Jorge Cantu (3 DXL)
The injury that teams hate more than any other is the one where a player who has been out is cleared to return, and then quickly exacerbates his injury. That's what the Marlins have going on now with Cantu. He hurt his hand after being hit there, but now the focus has moved up to his wrist. As always in this area, the descriptions often don't match the actual anatomy, so we have to be careful. A report from Juan Rodriguez adds that Cantu also jammed his wrist concurrently with the HBP, so there are likely two interrelated issues here. The weather in Pittsburgh is being looked at as one potential culprit, though the Marlins having sent Cantu to a hand specialist would indicate that they don't think the cold was the real problem. We should know by the weekend how serious this is, and the Marlins do have options available in the form of Ross Gload and Gaby Sanchez.

Franklin Morales (60 DXL)
Morales was in obvious pain as he walked off of the mound on Tuesday, which makes "strained shoulder" seem like an understatement. The strain is significant, pushing him to the DL and Jason Hammel back into the rotation. The key unknown here is which muscle Morales strained, but with his reaction and the initial prognosis of "shut down for a month," the best guess is that it was his rotator cuff. That best guess would be bad news for a power pitcher, and it's a diagnosis that the Rockies seem to see a lot of. They've had more than their share of shoulder strains and labrum tears, almost all at the major league level. It's a disturbing trend for a team that finally seemed to have a handle on how to develop successful pitchers at altitude. They'll have to keep on doing it and hope that Morales' shoulder heals up if they're going to compete in the NL West this year.

Quick Cuts: Joel Zumaya went back-to-back days for Triple-A Toledo and will be back in the Tigers pen by the weekend. ... Marcus Thames has a severe oblique strain and will miss at least a month. ... Kelvim Escobar had another setback with his shoulder during his rehab, and now has a return date in mid-June. I'm still quite dubious. ... Tom Gordon threw a scoreless inning in Triple-A, and looks to be close to making his Diamondback debut. ... Trevor Hoffman will be activated on Sunday, but he might not immediately get the saves. It won't be long, but one or two outings to get his feet wet make sense. ... I'm in St. Louis for the event, so there will be no UTK tomorrow due to travel. I do hope to have some info from the game in St. Louis soon.

Related Content:  Ryan Sweeney,  Back,  Year Of The Injury

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