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May 5, 2009

Under The Knife

Down, Out?

by Will Carroll

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Rick Ankiel (NA)
The video really tells the story of how Ankiel was injured, and how he was helped by both the medical staff and his teammates. It's hard to watch Ankiel slamming into the wall face-first, his head and neck twisting to his right as he hits it. As Chris Duncan gets to him, Ankiel is conscious and has some control over his arms. (Watch Ricky Hatton's arms as he's knocked out in Sunday's fight against Manny Pacquiao for comparison.) Duncan reaches him first and smartly does nothing, simply talking to Ankiel, and keeping him down. Ankiel was immobilized as a precaution, though reports say that he never lost feeling in his arms or legs. We don't yet know how he'll recover from this, but the important thing is that he will recover. He'll be assessed over the next few days, but the best sign is that we're talking about when he'll play again rather than if he'll walk again.

Kevin Youkilis (3 DXL)
Youkilis couldn't take it any longer. Even playing the rival Yankees in their new home, he had to leave the game with what were called back spasms. It's actually nearer to his rib cage, making his situation very much like Ryan Braun's. Like Braun, Youkilis is feeling the injury on every swing, indicating that some rest might be in order. The team will re-evaluate him to see if they can get him through this series, but Youkilis is usually the position player who gives the Sox the flexibility to make moves, so losing him actually handcuffs the team. Jeff Bailey is the short-term replacement, though if this turns into a longer-term issue, there's not really much the team can do other than use David Ortiz at first base, at least until Mark Kotsay is ready to return. It's a real mess, one the Sox don't usually find themselves in. We'll know over the next few days if Youkilis is going to be healthy enough to save them again. The DXL here is a minimum, not a prediction.

Oliver Perez (0 DXL)
Perez came limping out of the training room over the weekend with an ice pack on his knee. Was this a bit of Broadway in Flushing, or has Perez been hiding an injury from everyone, contributing to his own demise? No one's sure yet, but what is certain for now is that Perez is heading to the bullpen to work on some things (and by "some things," I think they might mean throwing strikes), while Ken Takahashi takes his spot in the rotation. The Mets are selling this as temporary and the problems as mechanical, but in Indianapolis, where he was sent a few years ago after having the same issues with the Pirates, no one seemed surprised. "He came down here and was supposed to work on things, but he just reminded people how much money he was making anyway," said one front-office member. There's a lesson to learn here in that Perez did come back, but only after a trade and some work with Rick Peterson, then the pitching coach for the Mets. No one, most importantly the Mets, seems to know what the fix might be this time, or when he'll get back. Don't be surprised if we hear more about that knee in the near future.

Carlos Zambrano (15 DXL)
As expected, Zambrano went to the DL with his strained hamstring. All of the news wasn't terrible, as the team acknowledged that they were doing it to keep Zambrano from pushing himself, and wanting to prevent him from any of the injury cascades we saw him endure last season. He's not expected to miss much more than the minimum, which would slot him back into the rotation on May 19 or thereabouts. Given what we know about the strain, called a Grade I+; that's reasonable, and he shouldn't have any recurrence. The Cubs won't use Jeff Samardzija in his slot, but they also haven't made a final decision on who they will use. Randy Wells, currently at Triple-A, is the likeliest replacement for at least one of the starts Zambrano will miss. There is some thought that Lou Piniella may just juggle the rotation around to skip Zambrano's slot and get him back in whenever he's ready.

Ricky Romero (20 DXL)
B.J. Ryan (15 DXL)

The Jays have been succeeding so far almost in spite of their pitching, holding up through April with Roy Halladay and a seeming cast of thousands. The Jays' assorted injury issues in the rotation are already well documented, but few observers have noticed how variegated they are. They've had elbow, shoulder, back, and oblique issues. They've had injuries at literally every level. They've had problems with guys who they've drafted and developed, and guys that they picked up this winter. There's no one thing to blame, which leaves us looking at J.P. Ricciardi. Perhaps it's unfair, but at what point, absent other answers, does the buck stop with the GM? Organizational philosophy is about the only thing that these pitchers have in common, so unless you're willing to say this is a terrible run of luck that's lasted for three years, you have to look upstairs. The Jays should be getting Romero back from his oblique strain soon. He's scheduled to throw in Dunedin, followed shortly by Ryan, who continues to look for his lost velocity.

Bobby Abreu (2 DXL)
Abreu is always a threat for a 30-30 season, having already done so three times in his career. At 35, you'd think that those years were behind him, at least on the steals, but look at his line so far this season: zero home runs, 11 stolen bases. As I suspected this year, we're seeing the return of speed, even with guys like Abreu. I'm not sure if it's a philosophical change, a development change, or just all of the catchers with bad throwing arms around the league, but as Dexter Fowler and Carl Crawford are showing, gaudy displays of speed are back in fashion. Abreu's back could also be an issue in why that power line seems off. He missed the weekend as the medical staff worked to loosen him up, but sources tell me that the problem has been there since spring training. It affects him most, as the stats show, when he's at bat, making it tough for him to rotate, and slowing his swing. Straight-line running isn't being affected nearly as much, and Abreu is taking his chances to keep his value up. The Angels are hoping they can free up his back and balance out that line in the next few weeks, so look for occasional days off, especially when they can be paired with an offday.

Ervina Santana (40 DXL)
John Lackey (40 DXL)

The Angels need pitching, but they won't rush Lackey or Santana back. Mike Scioscia insists that no matter what Lackey does in his Triple-A rehab start today, he'll make at least one more Salt Lake start, and perhaps two, before returning to Anaheim. Lackey has shown no problems with his velocity or command during the rehab, but facing Triple-A hitters will be a big step forward, one that many in the AL West should be watching closely. Santana is ahead of Lackey in some ways, making his first rehab start yesterday, but his was in High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He hit his limit of 60 pitches in the fifth, showing good command and his normal velocity, topping out at 94 mph. Both pitchers could be back as soon as late next week, assuming they recover normally from their starts.

Quick Cuts: Josh Hamilton is throwing for the first time since his intracostal strain. He's expected to start swinging a bat later this week. ... Rocco Baldelli will begin a rehab assignment with Pawtucket today. His hamstring appears to be ready to allow him to return to right field. ... Julio Lugo is still having some issues with his knee, mostly in the field with sudden stops. ... Ken Griffey Jr. missed Monday's game with colitis. Griffey told reporters that this usually just takes a few days to clear up. .... Tom Glavine threw without pain over the weekend, and he'll take his rehab to 'the next level' over the next ten days. ... Speaking of being out at the Indianapolis game, I caught up with both old friend Scott McCauley, who's not only calling the games, but blogging about them, and with reader Jim Haug. It's hard to go wrong with a view like this.

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