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March 31, 2010

Under The Knife

Late Spring Training Hurts

by Will Carroll

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Albert Pujols (back strain, ERD 4/5)

Spring training stats mean next to nothing, but the games do as well. I don't think anyone really believes that Pujols couldn't have stayed home one March and not come out and hit. He's essentially done that this year with a minor back problem that's lingered just enough to make it seem like a serious issue. Pujols had an injection last week in hopes of breaking the pain-spasm cycle and getting back for a week of terrorizing pitchers before the season started. He's done just that, but his playing time has been a bit hit or miss. When he plays, boom, home run. When he doesn't, Cardinals fans get nervous. I'm setting his ERD as April 5, which is opening day, because I have every confidence that he'll be playing in Cincinnati next Monday, but not much of a sense on how much he'll play between now and then. Remember, Pujols has really never been healthy during his major-league career and he's still put up insane numbers. No reason to think he won't do it again and a back strain is really the least serious issue he's had.

Yadier Molina (oblique strain, 4/10)
Jason LaRue (wrist injury, unknown)

Pujols isn't the only injury issue that the Cardinals medical staff has been dealing with. Right now, the Cards seem to be heading towards opening day without their Nos. 1 or 2 catchers. Molina is very close to being ready after suffering an oblique strain, but that's precisely the problem. Oblique strains recur and when they do, the injury resets, something the Cards can't afford with Molina. That means they'll be cautious and he could miss the opening day start. Now behind him, LaRue, who was a great fit with that team last season, has some sort of wrist injury suffered in a collision at the plate with Jason Bay. (It's spring training, LaRue, swipe tags are OK in exhibitions.) There's rumor of a fracture after LaRue was sent for imaging, so Matt Pagnozzi could end up more than a short-term fill-in. With both out, that means Bryan Anderson could get some playing time as well.

Lance Berkman (arthritic knee, 4/15)

This is what I worried about. Berkman's surgery to clean out his knee doesn't appear to have done enough. Just weeks after surgery, he's still having inflammation and pain with minor activity. He has had the knee drained twice and only got up to "70 percent" in his opinion. Now the Astros are going to have to shut him down again, putting opening day in major jeopardy, but this could get much, much worse. While this article at Basketball Prospectus is focused on hoops, much of it holds true for baseball players. While the physical demands are different, a knee is a knee. I'm not saying that Berkman is headed for microfracture surgery now, but that's going to be an option that's discussed if this continues to be an issue. Arthritis is something that doesn't just get better, meaning Berkman had better get used to this ... and Astros fans had better as well.

Ian Kinsler (ankle sprain, ERD 4/10)

The Rangers want Kinsler on their opening day roster, not their opening day DL. See, it's these kinds of insights that make UTK your go-to source for information. Beyond the "duh" of that, it tells us that here, just days before opening day, we really don't know whether Kinsler's ankle sprain will keep him off the opening day lineup card or not. The Rangers will go until the last second if needed. The one skill Kinsler hasn't had is health, but he's usually had a traumatic injury at the end of the season, so this is a bit different. No one can predict something like an ankle sprain and not much can be done to prevent it. That means the Rangers are torn between wanting him to open the season and knowing that pushing it won't work well in the long term. The key here is that Kinsler should be back soon, if not opening day, and that he shouldn't have problems with the ankle besides minor things like some short-term loss of speed and range. For now, the biggest issue the Rangers have is finding his replacement. Signs right now point to Kinsler being put on the DL with a retro and missing just a few games.

Aroldis Chapman (back strain, N/A)

Even with a mild back strain throwing off the chance that Chapman could break camp with the Reds, he still did more than anyone really expected. The hype actually wasn't as big as the reality. Chapman showed more than easy velocity. He also featured a couple new pitches, an unexpected "coachability", and a command of the "little things" like dealing with the media, communicating with teammates, and walking that fine line between confidence and cockiness. In other words, he's not a future ace. He's an ace now. Sure, the back will send him down on a Stephen Strasburg-style tour of the upper minors, but he's not long from being at the top of what might be an impressive 2011 rotation of Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey. The really odd thing here is that the Reds might be decent enough in '10 to make getting to that rotation a real problem. Offloading Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang for useful parts is going to be a big challenge for Walt Jocketty in a year where Reds ownership thinks they should contend. (There's no ERD on Chapman since he's heading to the minors. It should be a very short injury and one that should have little long-term implications.)

Jose Reyes (thyroid condition, 4/15)

The Mets are being ridiculously conservative with Reyes. He ran the bases on Tuesday and was fine. He'll play on Wednesday in a minor-league game, but he'll only bat and not be allowed past first base. (What if he hits one in the gap, or over the fence?) Beyond that, the Mets continue to make it unlikely that he'll be ready for opening day, despite no evidence whatsoever that it's anything other than the shadow of last year holding him back. I'd always rather that a team err on the side of caution so maybe "ridiculously" isn't the right word by Webster's definition, but I can't think of a better one. Reyes isn't far off from being physically ready to play. He'll just need reps, in the field and at the plate, though right now, I don't see how this pace will get him there. It's much more likely at this stage that he starts the season on the DL and comes back after a couple games at some warm minor-league level. Speaking of warm, the Mets spend the first three weeks in potentially cold areas, so that could come into play. The ERD is a real guess here, so do not rule out an opening day start just yet.

Brian Roberts (herniated disc, N/A)

Roberts went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, but he was playing. It appears that the injection he had last week allowed the medical staff to get their mojo working on Roberts' back. Now that he's played in back-to-back outings, it's looking more and more like he'll make it to opening day (or at the very least, be on the field for the BP Ballpark Event. More on that in Quick Cuts.) It seems that the Orioles are ahead of this for now and while Roberts is going to be spending a lot of time before and after games in the training room, the O's will take that over the alternative. It remains to be seen what kind of effect this will have on how he performs. It's hard to tell now with him rusty with the bat, but I think the bigger concern is in the "speed categories" of steals and range.

Brandon Webb (torn labrum/surgery, 5/10)

Webb threw seven pitches off the front of the mound this week. If you just said "that's it?" then you've just had the same realization as a lot of people who drafted him. Webb went for $7 to a smart guy like Nando DiFino in Tout Wars, which tells you how much faith the experts are putting in him. The hope had been that Webb would be ready mid-April and make 30 starts this season, pushing the Diamondbacks to the top of the NL West. Instead, they're left scrambling for innings eaters like Kris Benson to make up for the starts that Webb and others will miss. Webb, at this stage, is looking like he won't return until May 1 at best and he's going to need to make a lot of progress in a hurry to get to that. Let's assume that he gets up on a mound in the next 10 days and doesn't have issues. He'll need a couple side sessions at least before going on a rehab assignment. He'd need two, maybe three games there, which puts us out somewhere around 30 days. The key here is getting up on the mound, throwing at full force, and not having a setback. Until Webb does that, it's all just guesswork and hope.

Andrew Bailey (tennis elbow, N/A)

I debated putting "lateral epicondylitis" up there, but you know what, this isn't about big words and while I like helping to explain how things work, I don't think that helps the understanding. Bailey's issues with tennis elbow seem pretty transient and while there is often some recurrence, that's in a population that's taxing that area more than a pitcher will. For the A's and Bailey, the bigger issue is will he be ready and do they know what caused it in the first place. On the first note, Bailey's work appears to have him close, if not fully there. While the A's might not go to him without question for the first week of the season, it sure seems he'll at least be there and in the mix. On the root cause of the problem, that one's a bit less clear. Sources dodged the question, not unusual for the A's with medical issues, which leaves us to hope that they know what it is and can avoid it in the future.

Quick Cuts: If you didn't see it on Unfiltered, here's the announcement: It's the first BP Ballpark Event of the 2010 season! Join Clay Davenport, John Perrotto, Will Carroll, Jay Jaffe, Steven Goldman and several other BP writers at Camden Yards at 5:15 pm on April 12 as the Orioles take on the Rays. We'll also be joined by Orioles President Andy MacPhail, Mike Ferrin from Sirius/XM, and other special guests. For tickets, contact Dan Stahl (dstahl@orioles.com or 410-547-6239). The cost is $25, which includes your ticket to the game. Hope to see you there! ... Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the season on the DL, immediately starting a rehab assignment. When he's back in mid-April, the Red Sox are considering a modified rotation, but not pure six-man rotation. ... The Royals will be watching closely on Thursday as Gil Meche goes in a minor-league game. He'll either start on the DL or make his first start as the No. 5 for KC. ... The Angels' Scott Kazmir had a solid Tuesday throwing session and appears to be avoiding the DL for now. ... Ted Lilly is making "good progress" according to a solid source. He's expected back in the Cubs' rotation around April 20. … Jeff Suppan is going to head to the DL with a stiff neck. I'm told it's a real condition, though no one seems to think his performance isn't a big part of this move by the Brewers. ... Koji Uehara will start the season on the DL with a hamstring strain. It's unclear how long he'll be out, but it seems the Orioles are letting this one go very slow in hopes of having a healthy, consistent Uehara in their pen a bit further down the line. ... I just love the name "Carlos Monasterios." ... Freddy Sanchez will miss "at least" April, according to a Giants' source. ... Good news? Bobby Seay won't need surgery on his shoulder. Bad news? He'll need all of April to get back to the Tigers' bullpen. ... Rays outfielder Matt Joyce will head to the DL with an elbow "strain." I put that in quotes because it's much more likely it's a sprain than, say, a flexor tendon. ... I had a nice chat with @calltothepen on Twitter about Jose Morales. He's a replaceable backup catcher, so his starting the year on the DL is never going to be that big a deal. Sure the wrist injury will sap his power and might have some effect on his throws, but the Twins have other options at the position and Joe Mauer gets most of the time there anyway. Sometimes a team's fan base will obsess over little things and while I don't mean to demean fandom or Morales, it's barely worth the pixels to discuss it.

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