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September 21, 2009

Under The Knife

Milestone Madness?

by Will Carroll

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Watching the new Cowboys Stadium open Sunday night was just stunning. I can't help but compare it to the two New York stadiums and the one-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium here in Indianapolis. I'm not trying to go all Neil deMause on you here, but I think we're about to see the end of the stadium era. With Camden Yards, we saw stadiums all play off of a theme, not in the way of the ashtray-like multipurpose stadiums, but Camden without the warehouse isn't really different from Rangers Ballpark or the Gap in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh's PNC is amazing because of where it is, just like San Francisco's AT&T. With Jerry Jones' new megapalace, I can't imagine anyone in America-maybe someone in Russia or Dubai, maybe-thinking, "I can top this." Of course, baseball could have built something like this, but they're too married to tradition. (Though Jeffrey Loria seems to be on that track, albeit on a lesser scale.) Instead of investing in their facilities, they're busy burning the money on injuries, with enough lost on pitchers over the last five years to build another Jerryworld or a new Yankee Stadium. Figuring out that issue would require vision and planning, kind of like what Jerry Jones just did. Now, powered by the final two weeks, on to the injuries:

Zack Greinke
Many of you pointed out to me that one of the big reasons that Trey Hillman left Greinke in after taking a shot off the elbow was so that he would be eligible for the win. Greinke's already the AL Cy Young favorite even with "just" 14 wins, so 13 wouldn't look that different. The logic for leaving him in is short-sighted, in that the award does nothing aside from offering the Royals some bright spot in an otherwise dark season. Greinke threw a short pen session on Saturday, and while there was still some bruising on the joint, there doesn't appear to be any real damage or reason to keep him from making his next scheduled start tomorrow against the Red Sox. With three more scheduled starts, Greinke will be bumping up against the 230-inning mark, one that always seemed to be an issue for another Royal, Kevin Appier. That Appier shows up high on Greinke's PECOTA comparables list should make some Royals fans nod, and others shudder.

Brett Myers (10/1)
For the last two years, the Phillies have been in high gear, fighting the Mets for the division title with a couple of weeks to play. This year, they've been cruising, perhaps as far back as Opening Day. It's been a much different dynamic for Charlie Manuel's team, but heading into these final games, there's less of a positive vibe due to injuries and uncertainty despite their playoff position. With Brad Lidge's meltdown continuing, Myers' return from hip surgery was supposed to give Manuel another option at the end of the game. That didn't last long, as Myers is already headed to Philly to see a doctor about his strained pitching shoulder. The biggest concern for any pitcher returning from injury is a change in mechanics that leads to additional or even just different stresses on the arm. A strain is usually caused by fatigue, but can also be caused by overexertion. Myers is coming off a hip surgery that no pitcher has had, so he was in uncharted territory from the get-go. The Phillies believe they caught this early, but there's no way to tell if Myers can make it back. They're keyed to the postseason, but they'd like to see at least a cameo before putting him on their playoff roster.

Carlos Ruiz (9/22)
Cole Hamels

The Phillies problems don't end with Myers. On the other end of the battery, Ruiz is dealing with a sprained left wrist. It's affecting him both at bat and behind the plate. As you can imagine, taking a shock 100+ times while catching a game isn't going to help a wrist heal. Ruiz missed the weekend's action, and while he's expected back tomorrow, the Phillies will likely try to rest him a bit so that he can heal, while not so much that they have to worry about his losing his timing at the plate. Hamels also said this weekend that he felt he was fatigued until the second half. It was the normal "playoff hangover" we see from pitchers combined with a big innings increase during the 2008 season. Hamels showed the effects, but by not pushing too hard, the Phillies field and medical staffs seem to have pushed Hamels through the danger zone. This wasn't just fatigue however, as Hamels had limitations on his pronation, which indicates some inflammation inside the elbow. (Just try and pronate with a flexed elbow. Not as easy, especially simulating a pitching motion.) I thought Hamels was going to end up following the pattern of Justin Verlander post-2006, but the numbers don't look that similar.

Aaron Cook (10/1)
As the Rockies head towards the playoffs, the biggest question they have remaining is whether Cook will make it a lot like 2007 by sliding into the playoff roster after suffering an in-season injury. His shoulder made it through a simulated game, but it seems that demonstration of health might not be enough for Jim Tracy. Sources tell me that at this point Tracy isn't sure that Cook would be on the roster. It's hard to believe, but Tracy doesn't feel that Cook would be a solid enough reliever, even with the struggles they've had there, and that he wouldn't be one of the four he'd put in the post-season rotation. The Rockies will continue to keep Cook's arm going, just to keep the option open to them at this stage. A start in the last week of the season seems likely, but one thing to watch for is a relief appearance, which might do more for Cook's playoff chances than the Rockies'.

Yovani Gallardo (10/4)
The season's numbers look pretty good, but the one that really counts for Gallardo right now is "2010." That's what shutting him down now is about. After 200 strikeouts and 185 innings just a year after major knee surgery, the Brewers have been monitoring Gallardo closely looking for signs that fatigue or anything else was putting him at risk; by early September, this became the plan. Two-hundred strikeouts is a bit of a phony milestone, somewhat like the 15-win mark that the Pirates pushed Tom Gorzelanny towards with ill effect, but Gallardo finished strong. Given the increased workload coming off of an injury, it's very tough to judge what, if any, effect we're likely to see next year. When PECOTA makes it's first run at 2010, Gallardo's going to be one of the first names I look for. The key thing to remember here is that there's no injury shutting him down. This is merely a matter of trying to keep it that way.

Michael Young (10/4)
Josh Hamilton (10/4)

The Rangers' new magic number is also 2010, according to Jamey Newberg's indispensable report on the ballclub. It's a good throwaway line, and one that allows the team to both look forward while taking satisfaction from the gains made this season. Now the challenge becomes how to take the next step up with what look like severe constraints on their budget. The team will try to figure out whether 2008 or 2009 was the fluke for Hamilton; a unique player is by definition almost impossible to find working comparables for, but one came up in conversation with an ATC that I think works: Kirk Gibson. Gibson had moments as an elite player, and he could be a key component for a winning team. He had his heroic flashes, just as Hamilton did, and he's remembered as much for his athletic gifts as his actual accomplishments. The difference is that Gibson could play hurt and contribute, something Hamilton hasn't been able to do yet. If he can't stay healthy, it's a skill Hamilton's going to have to pick up. The Rangers are also likely to shut Young down; he re-injured his hamstring in trying to come back early, and while it's not a significant setback, there's no reason to push it again. We're not likely to see either player again until spring training.

Joe Crede (10/4)
Crede will have his third back surgery later this week. This one is relatively minor, a modified microdiscectomy that will release a nerve that's being impinged upon. Crede's disc surgery is interesting, however, because the problem we were told about throughout September was that Crede had a lower back strain. A strain, you'll remember, is muscular. As a result, it seems that Crede's problem was one of referred pain, radiating out from the impingement near his spine. This is important, not only for transparency's sake, but for Crede's return. Muscular problems tend to recur, but a nerve impingement is easily corrected. In a sports-focused sense, this problem is more easily corrected in the short term. Crede intends to play in 2010 and would like to do so in Minnesota on their new grass field. He may always be a cheap year-to-year option for his remaining time in baseball, but he might not be quite as risky as we originally thought.

Quick Cuts: Remember when I called the Twins "fading?" Twins fans should thank me for that priceless bit of reverse psychology. ... Pedro Martinez strained a muscle in his neck, but I do have to wonder if there was any fatigue from his 130-pitch outing that contributed to it. ... Derek Lowe's blister shouldn't keep him from making his next start. ... The Cubs haven't made it official, but the problems that Angel Guzman is having at the back of his shoulder are likely to end his season, a pity since he's had a nice comeback from a previous series of shoulder problems. ... Kevin Kouzmanoff should be back early this week from his calf strain. ... Jeremy Hermida could be back within a couple days for the Fish; he's been out with a strained oblique. ... Johnny Cueto will start Tuesday after recovering from flu-like symptoms. ... Marco Scutaro left Sunday's game with a heel injury; early word on this is that he could be done for the season. Remember that even minor injuries do that at this stage, so don't read too much into it when assessing long-term prospects for any player.

Related Content:  Will Myers,  Year Of The Injury

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Premium Article Prospectus Today: Brad... (09/21)
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Under The Knife: Makin... (09/23)
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