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September 25, 2009

Under The Knife

Doubts and Quandaries

by Will Carroll

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Jorge Posada (9/25)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (9/30)

Posada's a 38-year-old catcher coming off of shoulder surgery that cost him much of last season. He's spent much of this season taking foul tips off various parts of his body, so when he fouled a ball off of his foot Tuesday, he probably barely noticed, aside from the pain. Despite all that, he's pushing a 900 OPS and helping his team into the playoffs. For Posada, that's nothing new; his five wins of value isn't even a good year for his career. On a team of superstars, Posada might be the one who's overlooked. With this latest nick, he'll nevertheless be back quickly, perhaps tonight. In other news, things looked bad for Hairston on Wednesday, but Thursday's MRI made things a bit better-he'd felt something pop in his wrist, but the images showed no structural damage. The question now is will he feel pain when he picks up a bat. Function is key here, and wrists ... well, if you don't know by now, I'll point you to Medhead Rule #6: wrist injuries linger. Hairston's versatility makes him somewhat useful, but this injury could knock him off the playoff roster.

Tim Wakefield (9/30)
After nearly eight years of writing this column, you'd think I'd have some canned things. Sure, we invented "TRIP" and "FOT" along the way, but I'm talking a canned response like a voice-mail message. Something like "Hi, you've reached Under The Knife. We can't take your call right now but Chipper Jones will be back in a few days, the catcher is dinged up from a foul tip, we think pitchers should have protective gear, and Tim Wakefield might be a knuckleballer, but his back problems are back problems." Maybe not; I hate voice mail anyway. At any rate, Wakefield is being pushed back a day, as his balky back and sore calf are still issues. At this stage, the Red Sox may not have clinched the AL Wild Card, but Wakefield is essentially a placeholder, allowing Terry Francona and John Farrell to get their rotation ready for October. It also gives us a chance to enjoy the knuckleballer just that bit fleetingly, because unless things change, we might be facing a year without a major leaguer throwing the pitch in 2010.

Kevin Jepsen (9/25)
I think Mike Scioscia is the hands-down choice for Manager of the Year in the AL, so questioning his judgement even a bit is something I do reluctantly. When a guy's good, sometimes when they do something counterintuitive, there's a good reason. Maybe there is, but I've yet to find it with the elevation of Jepsen. After coming up in June and getting torched, Jepsen's numbers have been relatively solid as he seemed to gain Scioscia's trust. He's fourth on the team in WXRL, but his strikeout and hit rates put him on level with Darren Oliver (who's admittedly been very good this season). If Scioscia trusts Jepsen more, why? If Oliver's only a LOOGY, why? What's the difference between Jepsen and Jason Bulger? Bulger was the closer in Triple-A when both he and Jepsen were there. Of course, Bulger's shoulder got sore about the time Jepsen was talked about as a co-closer. Bad timing? Quite possibly, since Jepsen's "dead arm" is more likely simple fatigue, due to his most extensive work since he was a 19-year-old starter in Low-A. Jepsen's fatigue is something he should be able to get past, as he's had no problems through the minors with workload, though that age-19 season did end his career as a starter due to elbow issues. He'll need to re-establish himself over the last week.

Pedro Martinez
J.C. Romero (10/2)
Brett Myers (10/1)

The Phillies have been at the top of the NL East all season, but they've also had a lot of questions all season. While more focus is on Brad Lidge, the rest of the bullpen is a bit problematic as well. While Pedro fixed his stiffness with a trip to the chiropractor, we'll have to see how the results work next time out. The answer isn't as easy for Romero, as he's struggling again to get past a forearm issue that he continues to make little sustainable progress with. He's expected back sometime soon, and was scheduled to throw at the Phillies' complex on Thursday, but time is running out for him and for the Phillies to get a handle on what he could do in the playoffs. The same is true for Myers, though the mild strain in his pitching shoulder doesn't seem to concern the team quite as much. Both Romero and Myers will need to show something in their late-season cameos in order to secure a spot on the playoff roster.

Alberto Arias (10/4)
Attention Celtics fans: watch Alberto Arias. Actually, the timeline's not going to be good for gaining info here, because I think Kevin Garnett will be back well before next spring, so I guess I should tell Astros fans to watch the Celtics. Arias had similar surgery to what Kevin Garnett had on his knee, removing an irritation from the area of his popliteal tendon. He should make a full recovery by the spring and since he isn't going to be asked to dunk, just throw, it should be well recovered by spring training.

Neftali Feliz
After a report in the Fort Worth newspaper, panicked Rangers fans did one of two things-they climbed to the top of Jerryworld's arches in order to jump, or they e-mailed me. By the looks of my in-box, most of them picked the second option. Fatigue is pretty normal at this stage of the season, but remember that in spite of measures to keep Feliz's workload down, it was also an entirely new role for him. The usage and recovery from relief work is different altogether from starting, so mere innings and rest aren't much of a tell, just a smart precaution. He's under his innings load from 2008, but he's pitched "more" in terms of outings and had "less" in terms of rest days. At this stage of the season, it's better to err on the side of caution, even if Nolan Ryan's pitching plan involves pushing for more.

Brandon Phillips
Phillips is already dealing with a fracture in his wrist. To get hit on the hand can't help that, or much of anything else. Worse, Phillips is being allowed to diagnose himself again. You'd think he'd have learned from the all-too-common 'fracture vs. broken' talk last month, but no, Dusty Baker is letting Phillips push for a 100-RBI season, injury or not. Hand injuries aren't as bad as wrist injuries as far as their long-term effect, and Phillips has played through the wrist injury, so is there any loss here? Maybe, maybe not, but while I don't know, no one else does either. In a lost season, maybe Baker is just letting "his guy" go for some individual glory. If Phillips misses any time, it will be minimal.

Quick Cuts: I tried to get more answers about the Wagner Mateo situation, but was no-commented all around. I think one key thing we're not sure of is how serious this situation is to how he will lead his life. If you or I (unless you're one of the MLB players that reads this-hi!) tore our ulnar collateral ligament, we could live fine without it. While I don't know Mateo's situation, I don't think he's going blind tomorrow or even ever, which is an important distinction. ... Bengie Molina left Wednesday's game with a hand injury. No details were released by deadline, but it looked quite painful. ... Clayton Kershaw will return this weekend. It doesn't appear that his glove-side shoulder is an issue any more. ... Stunningly, Francisco Liriano will be back in the Twins rotation next time through. All that stuff about stretching someone out? We'll see. ... Jeff Francis is throwing at the Rockies' complex. He won't help them this year, but he should be ready to get his job back in the spring. ... Rich Harden has been shut down. Again. For now. ... Chad Qualls is making good progress after his knee surgery and seems on track to be ready for spring training. ... Freddy Sanchez will have surgery to repair a torn meniscus, ending his season and likely his time with the Giants. ... Cito Gaston might not say so, but unless there's an emergency, Scott Downs is done for the year. ... Russell Branyan's recovery from his back issues is going well enough that he might make a cameo appearance next week. He'd probably call it a contract drive. ... Ian Kennedy made his season debut this week, coming back just a couple months after aneurysm surgery. ... I have a working title for my next book project: Rub Some Dirt On It. This one should be fun. ... Of course, the Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries will be out next month, so save your pennies.

Related Content:  Back,  Broken Wrist,  Year Of The Injury,  Bad Season

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