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September 9, 2009

Under The Knife

Warning Indicators

by Will Carroll

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Tim Lincecum (TBD)
Go back to what I said about Lincecum in the MLB Video I did about pitching mechanics-I wish I had a link available-and you'll find I've always been very high on him. The one worry I've always had is that arch he has in his back, and the flexibility and core strength it requires; if he breaks down there by gaining weight or losing focus on his conditioning, that's the spot I'd worry about. Worse, if he tires and hurts it, everything could break down from there. Lincecum is a holistic system, and the slightest change could have unknown consequences. With the news that he has a sore back, the Giants have done the smart thing by holding him back and making sure that his back is where it needs to be before allowing him back out on the bump. I don't think this is a bad thing and I certainly think the Giants are doing the right thing, even in the heart of a playoff race, but I do think it highlights the dangers that even the best pitcher faces. And yes, I think that Tim Lincecum is the best pitcher playing today. There are some indications he could be back later this week, but I'll hold off on an ERD until I get more information.

Troy Tulowitzki (9/12)
Ubaldo Jimenez

Backs were a big story in the NL West yesterday, what with Lincecum and also Tulowitzki. Tulo has a lower back strain that I'm told is "serious, but not serious." That usually means that the problem isn't that big a deal in the long term, but is a real problem in the short term, and that's exactly what the Rockies are dealing with, likely a muscular issue rather than anything structural. The medical staff is going to work hard to break the pain/spasm cycle; given normal techniques, the need is to make sure that the fix isn't just temporary, so that they're not sending him back out there just to reinjure or exacerbate the condition. That's critical, and indicates that he'll be back this weekend. The Rockies will have to juggle their team's needs and Tulowitzki's condition over the next few weeks, but they'll have September's extended bench to help compensate. The Rockies are also watching Jimenez, who's pitching with a slightly strained hamstring. He did it last time out on the bases, but he went six solid innings, and he didn't appear to have any issues.

Carlos Peņa (10/4)
Peņa's season is over, but the Rays are wondering what the recovery time for their slugger is going to be. At this point, surgery is an unlikely option, and even the worst-case scenario would have him back for spring training, so any concern is on the effect that is going to have on his grip. That means there may be more damage than just the fractures, perhaps having moved them enough to cause problems with the tendons and inner workings of the complex system that allows us to do things with our hands-like hold a bat. Finger problems have to be severe to have much of a lingering effect on a hitter, but keep your ears open on this one if you're facing a keeper decision on Peņa.

Carlos Beltran
Beltran was activated by the Mets, and went 1-for-4; in the outfield, he looked adequate, if not comfortable. Of course, the question is how the knee is holding up internally, which isn't something we can speculate on with any accuracy. If he's doing any damage or even risking any damage, how long do the Mets let him play before shutting him down and aiming for next season? How long does Beltran need to go to psychologically feel like he's back? This is a tough question for any medical staff, and the Mets' staff will certainly be asked to make some tough judgement calls on what the team can expect from Beltran next season. Any planning that Omar Minaya does is going to have to involve some guess work on how to best use Beltran, such as getting a solid 40-50 game backup or shifting Beltran to first base or right field.

Mike Cameron (9/15)
The Brewers aren't in any rush to get Cameron back out on the field. His "mild" hamstring strain would likely be enough to push him to the DL during most of the season, but not at this time of year. Instead, he'll just sit and watch as Corey Patterson gets the playing time in his spot. Cameron is going to be a free agent, and what to do about that is one of the tough decisions that Doug Melvin will face this offseason. Cameron's hamstring will heal up in the space of a week or so, and he has been quite healthy during his time in Milwaukee, so I don't think a small strain is going to change the team's outlook on him, but at 36 decline is inevitable.

Jed Lowrie
Lowrie was activated from the DL, but don't think that he's going to get his job back. Not only is Alex Gonzalez getting the playing time, Lowrie doesn't sound like his wrist is all that healthy; it's still very problematic. As you all know by now, wrist injuries linger, and this one has more than most. So why activate him? There's a lot of behind-the-scenes reasons, such as worker's compensation experience and the normal use of the DL during roster expansion. He can pinch-run, perhaps, but mostly it's a team-building thing, I'm told. If Lowrie wasn't activated, it could function to penalize him, isolating him from teammates and weakening a bond that could be key for him on next year's squad; there are a lot of things that teams have to think about that you don't with your fantasy squad. It also makes it difficult to track the "true recovery time" of injuries, but I have ways of dealing with that.

John Smoltz
Brad Penny

I spoke a bit about this last night with Andy Gresh on his Sirius show, but I'm beginning to think that there's something more to the success that pitchers like Smoltz and Penny have had this season after getting cut from the Red Sox than just changing leagues. Penny had 12 days' rest between his last start for the Sox and his first for the Giants, while Smoltz had 16 days off during his changeover. Give any pitcher a couple of weeks off, and I think he'll likely be better off in his next few starts. This doesn't explain how Smoltz has been effective through four starts, but with each, I think you can see him wearing down a little, and getting more hittable. As stopgaps, these moves (and the ones for Jose Contreras and Vicente Padilla) work well, but in the long term, I think we're seeing that stamina is one of the biggest issues for pitchers, one that the Red Sox have a pretty good handle on.

Quick Cuts: Looks like the Twins will activate Francisco Liriano and use him out of the pen. Wow, OK. ... T.R. Sullivan is reporting that Michael Young will be back as soon as Friday. I'm surprised, but T.R. knows the Rangers. ... Koji Uehara will be activated and shifted to the bullpen. The Orioles will likely use him there next season, and he did close in Japan. ... Colby Rasmus missed another game with a sore Achilles. There's no timeline for his return. ... I often wonder if it's going to take a death to change things. I'm just glad it didn't happen a few years back. This article from the SI Vault reminds us how close it's been; Herm Schneider is still one of the best. ... Casey Blake missed his fourth game with a hamstring strain, and isn't expected back this week. ... The Reds are leaving Jay Bruce in Triple-A to help the Louisville Bats win in the playoffs. ... Brad Lidge's blister is the least of his issues right now. ... Roy Oswalt says he'll be able to go on Thursday despite leaving his last start with back spasms. ... J.A. Happ will miss at least one more start, as his oblique strain is worse than initially thought. ... Reed Johnson will be shut down by the Cubs, due to his ongoing foot injury. ... Clay Buchholz is pitching well, his mechanics look great, and his service time looks good to the Red Sox. It's hard to say how they could have handled his development any better; they invested a lot in retreads to buy that time though, so I'm curious if they did save any money.

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