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September 8, 2009

Under The Knife

Down and Out

by Will Carroll

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I was going to recap the Pittsburgh event, but Shawn Hoffman already did that. It was a great event, and my only regret is that more people couldn't make it. Don't get me wrong, it was a great crowd with a ton of smart people asking (or answering) solid questions, but what I'd like to see at some point is a general manager willing to do what Neal Huntington did: stand in front of his team's biggest fans and toughest critics, and answer them honestly and directly. Explain your plan and what you're doing directly to the people. I'm not sure how we could do it bigger since most facilities don't have a huge secondary spot, but I'm going to challenge some team that hasn't done one of these to figure it out. How can we put a GM (and a couple other front-office guys, along the lines of Dan Fox and Kyle Stark) in front of a group of season-ticket holders? It doesn't have to be a Baseball Prospectus event, and I'm sure there are better emcees than me who'd be available, but I'll do it if they want. If your GM won't do it, ask him: Why not?

Carlos Peņa (10/4)
B.J. Upton

Peņa has two broken fingers after getting hit by a pitch on Monday, and he's done for the season as a result. It's that simple and that quick, but did it have to be? In the same week where everyone from teammates to media made fun of the few players that wore a better new batting helmet, Peņa might have been saved by better safety equipment, as a glove with even a modicum of padding could have been the difference between a stinging bruise and a pair of fractured fingers. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Lowell have MacGyver'd solutions of their own, and Paul Lukas found out that Jason LaRue once wore a similar pair, and his picture is much clearer. But there's already a solution: cricket batsmen wear gloves that are much more padded, and as far as I can tell, there's no reason they would be illegal under baseball rules. Sure, someone might make fun of the pioneer who wears them, but for someone like Peņa, why not? The news is better on Upton, at least, as he was able to play in the second game on Sunday, though he was lifted early. There's no word on why, but Upton didn't appear to have much trouble moving around while he was in the field.

Clayton Kershaw (9/18)
It seems just a bit odd that Kershaw isn't due to start for a while, yet they've already ruled his next start out. Sure, the shoulder is bruised, and sure, it happened the way the team said it did... which reminds me, why do pitchers go shag flies? The key here is that this is a way to get Kershaw some rest without affecting his confidence. As a young pitcher, even one as talented as Kershaw, one of the questions is how to protect him and his golden arm without making him feel like he's packed in bubble wrap. Confidence is a huge thing for any pitcher, let alone a young one in a pennant race. While running into a wall isn't something you plan, it's a happy accident, as it was to the non-pitching shoulder, which makes this something of a win-win. Kershaw should be back for his next turn.

J.A. Happ (9/13)
Shane Victorino (9/9)

Rookie of the Year candidate Happ missed a start with a mild oblique strain. It's not actually a pitching injury, having suffered it taking batting practice, but it would have affected his pitching. There's no reason for the Phillies to take a chance here, though there's been some discussion about whether Happ would get a playoff start. While he's been very good, he has pitched out of the pen with some success, something the team's not sure would be true for Joe Blanton or Pedro Martinez. Happ will likely miss one start and be back to make a couple more before heading into October. The Phillies are also being more conservative than Glenn Beck when it comes to Victorino. With a lead and a long bench, they're going to give him lots of time off to heal up the knee that's been swelling on and off over the last couple of months. He's likely to miss a game here and there to make sure he's fully ready for the grind of the playoffs.

Carlos Beltran (9/10)
Newsday seems to think that Beltran will be back this week, but even with his game performances in nearby Brooklyn, no one seems inclined to give out any time frame, on or off the record. Beltran is running well and observers say he's exhibiting no limp or any compensation. One opined that he seemed to be a bit guarded on his first steps, maybe as much out of reluctance as pain, but that he was at worst an average MLB baserunner as-is. Certainly the Mets could use some good news, so why wait if Beltran is indeed "100 percent healthy," as he says, and cleared by doctors? It's that last part that remains a bit unclear. He got a slow clearance to play in rehab games and now it seems there's a similar slowness as far as clearing him for activation as well. There's likely some debate as to whether Beltran's knee will hold up, and weighing that against the new information about how he'll hold up is a tough call for anyone. We could see Beltran this week or not at all, but the Mets' 2010 is still resting on Beltran's knees.

Michael Young (9/18)
Josh Hamilton (9/12)

The Rangers are getting some good news, as Young is making slow progress with his hamstring strain and was seen jogging over the weekend. He's still nowhere near a return, though one suggestion that he could be used as a pinch-hitter with the restriction of "go half-speed running" doesn't seem to fit-Young just isn't a half-speed guy. Instead, it sounds as if he's still targeting the Angels series that starts on the 18th for a return. The team could make some interesting moves to protect him, like changing the defensive alignment to move Elvis Andrus towards the third-base side a bit more. It does give up the middle some, but with all the data available, I imagine Ron Washington is already working overtime on the possibilities. The news is also good for Hamilton, as long as there's some patience. That's because Hamilton had his second cortisone injection to relieve symptoms from a back problem and the results are good. The team thinks he'll be able to come back by the weekend, though anything involving a back and a guy with no comparables is always going to be tough.

Micah Owings (9/13)
Johnny Cueto

Owings took a nasty hit off the head (with Friend of UTK Jon Sciambi on the call). He was batting, not on the mound, and I'm not sure even the new-style helmet would have helped him. It was an unintentional pitch that just rode up and in and seemed to catch Owings just forward of the ear flap. It moved the helmet enough to actually cut Owings' ear, and later testing found that he has a perforated eardrum as well. Owings did not lose consciousness, and the team said he did not have a concussion, though he won't fly as a precaution. If you watch all the way through the video, Joe Simpson noted that Owings had some swelling under his eye, so I'm still a bit unclear on the path of destruction this ball took. There are two things I really notice. First, that the helmet flies off, making me wonder if it was fitted properly. Most players do prefer a looser helmet, but there's a danger that comes with that. Second, note how quickly both sets of ATCs are out there. At least four medical personnel were with Owings within ten seconds, and went with him to the training room. Someday, one of these will be really bad and one of these trainers will save someone's life. The problem is that it's probably going to come to that. Meanwhile, the Reds did get some good news with Cueto, who has been solid since coming back from his shoulder and hip problem. Getting that cleared up seems to have him back on track, though the downside there is that he's healthy and effective enough to rack up more innings in a lost season.

Albert Pujols
I was in the St. Louis clubhouse on Saturday, standing with Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, when I noticed Pujols sitting about five feet away. He was watching video of his previous night's at-bats, which were pretty successful. The first thing you notice with Pujols, even when you've seen him before, is that he's huge, bigger than you'd expect. Sitting next to Troy Glaus, no small guy himself, it's remarkable. The next thing I noticed was his right elbow. There was a small triangular scar at the back. I was a bit surprised to see it, because it's well-known that Pujols had ulnar transposition surgery, not Tommy John surgery; it's TJS that creates the distinct triangular scar. I'm no scar scholar, but I know that UTS usually leaves a player with a linear scar, one that's (warning-these links are pretty graphic) large and quite noticeable, even almost a year later. Pujols' was done to minimize damage, so that it's smaller is no real surprise. That it looks just like a Tommy John scar is something to note, though I want it to be clear that I don't think the team or Pujols is hiding anything here. I'd just like to know the story.

Quick Cuts: Chipper Jones will miss a couple of games with what's being alternately described as an abdominal strain and back spasms. Whichever way, it's likely to just be something that costs him a couple of days. ... The Tigers are doing a masterful job of checking Rick Porcello's innings and workload despite a shaky rotation around him; they deserve more credit than they're getting. ... Lou Piniella acknowledged that Alfonso Soriano needed knee surgery, but that it will likely wait until after the season. ... Roy Oswalt smartly pulled himself from the game when his back tightened up. He probably saved himself extra time off, but he's iffy for his next start. ... Jake Peavy isn't completely done just yet. He'll have a bullpen session this week and is pushing for a chance to pitch this season with his new team. ... Daisuke Matsuzaka will make a start somewhere in A-ball on Wednesday. ... Mariano Rivera is available, but the Yanks will avoid using him when possible over the next week. ... Francisco Liriano will throw a simulated game on Tuesday. There's some speculation that he could pitch this week if it goes well. ... Brian McCann has a mild oblique strain. ... Wow, what's the dollar total for just the players I've mentioned so far in Quick Cuts? Why is no owner actively addressing the injury issue? ... Brett Gardner is back for the Yankees and gives them another option in their outfield heading into October action. ... The Brewers are going to hold Yovani Gallardo out from his next scheduled start. He does seem to be wearing down a bit with the innings increase. ... For playoff teams, you're going to see a lot of players getting rested and rotations juggled. Don't panic when this happens, OK?

Related Content:  A's,  Back,  Batting Helmet,  J.A. Happ,  The Call-up

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