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July 22, 2010

Under The Knife

It's Strasmas in Cincinnati

by Will Carroll

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From the stands, 98 doesn't look that much different than 89. That was the difference between Stephen Strasburg and Bronson Arroyo. To the hitters, it was a lot different. I sat in the stands, rather than the press box, because I wanted to get as close as I could without getting too close to the $250 scout seats. (That's a good thing, since Pete Rose was attending the game.) Strasburg's delivery is easy. In warmups, there are some jumps to it, things that you notice. I think his timing is just off a bit when he slows things down. The foot strikes a little bit before the elbow is in position, but that straightens out once he turns the dial up. Strasburg was living at 98 for the first few innings, but as he sweated through jerseys, he lost some, ending at 95 as his pitch count neared 100.

The word that comes to mind about his delivery is "easy." He doesn't look to be working. He had some grip issues and Ivan Rodriguez got a bit cute with what appeared to be a sign-stealing issue, but otherwise, every pitch looked the same. His changeup—the one that comes in at 90—actually looks like he's throwing a bit harder, if you can believe that. I can't look at his delivery and see any massive flaws, but we also know that, absent a high-speed analysis, no one else does either. Watching Strasburg's easy, repeatable motion and comparing it to Arroyo's, or Bill Bray's, or even Arthur Rhodes' double-pumping, long-lasting delivery, provides a lesson in efficiency. As I was driving home, I realized that Strasburg seems like the engine in the new Mustang—you've probably seen the commercials, 300 horsepower and still gets 31 mpg. Strasburg's like that.

One thing that I do think gets neglected is his pitch selection. Whether this is Strasburg, Rodriguez, or pitching coach Steve McCatty, there's no discernible pattern. He'll throw any of his pitches at any time, in any count. There's so much motion in all of his pitches that I can't imagine how a hitter can make solid contact at all, let alone do something good with it. A lot of the hits I've seen have been of the "oops" variety. He throws the ball hard enough that he does give up homers, but keeping hitters off balance—good hitters with good patience, like Joey Votto—is a real skill. The slurve he throws is just ridiculous. From behind the Reds' dugout, the two-plane movement is apparent. I would have liked to see the from-behind view, but motion that apparent has to be brutal from the batters' box.

While impossible to predict, I don't see Stephen Strasburg ending up in the body of a UTK column any time soon. At least I hope not. With a crowd of nearly 40,000 in Cincinnati on a warm Wednesday night, Strasburg's show is good for ball. He's the kind of tell-the-kids circus that baseball doesn't get very often, and as a starter, you can see when it's coming. Tim Lincecum and David Price are really the only two in the game that can do this, but even they don't bring it (the attendance, that is) like the Nats' ace has been. With only about 40-50 innings left on his meter this year, the chances to see the rookie campaign are running short, in the District and out. That limit might also cost him the RotY, which will be an interesting vote with several deserving candidates.

It says a lot when a fan near me was disappointed: "I wanted to see 100."

---

Carlos Gonzalez (bruised finger, ERD TBD)
Dexter Fowler (bruised arm, ERD 7/22)
Troy Tulowitzki (fractured wrist, ERD 7/28)
As the Rockies chase the Padres, injuries continue to foul up the works. They've held serve as Troy Tulowitzki has been out, but an injury stack in the outfield could be a major issue. Carlos Gonzalez has been playing through an injury to his left index finger, but he seemed to exacerbate it on Wednesday. Originally listed as a bruise, we have to assume that the injury got more painful somehow, but there's no specifics at this stage. Finger injuries have a broad range of effects and timelines, with Gonzalez only missing one game previously, so the assumption is that this is a pain tolerance and comfort issue. The Rockies' medical staff will have to find some treatment or device that will allow Gonzalez to hit without that pain. With Dexter Fowler out, also with a bruise, but this time to his upper arm, it puts the Rockies at a real disadvantage. Fowler is expected back in the lineup on Thursday, though his swing could still be affected by the effects of a HBP.

There's some good news here though, in that Troy Tulowitzki played his first rehab game, going 1-for-2 and showing no issues with his wrist. Power is going to be the big concern, but having Tulowitzki back in any capacity is going to be a boost for the team. Forty days missed for a fractured wrist is pretty incredible in its own right.

Justin Morneau (concussion, ERD 7/30)
Morneau is "making progress," but not so much that he's staying with the team. Travelling is one of those things that can aggravate post-concussion symptoms (PCS), so it's not worth taking Morneau along. Tests with a concussion specialist showed the progress, which was measured by a variety of measures, but remember that there's really no good way to mark these. Several stories pointed out that Morneau, a former catcher, has a history of concussions, though none gave much in the way of detail. Concussions are thought to be cumulative over both the short- and long-term, so this is definitely a factor the doctors will be watching. There's still no real timeframe for Morneau's return. As with any concussion, progress is good, but setbacks can come at any point. Watch for Morneau to ramp up the physical activity over the weekend, which will be the best indicator if he's really in the clear. The Twins won't put any timeline on Morneau publicly, for good reason, but the progress leads me to think he'll make it back before the end of the month.

Ryan Doumit (concussion, ERD TBD)
While concussions can happen anywhere, as Morneau showed with his, they do seem to happen more often to catchers. That's no real surprise, especially after watching a collision like the one that occurred involving Doumit. John Russell questioned whether there was some element of heat injury here, since Doumit didn't take a direct hit to the head. Doumit was dizzy and nauseous, so the Pirates medical staff did the smart thing and sent him to the hospital for tests and obsveration. Depending on what they found, Doumit could have a broad range of outcomes. He did just miss a much more serious situation, but again, cumulative concussions are part of the worry here. Doumit will miss at least a couple game and potentially much more. Eric Kratz is in line for more work in the short term.

Jacoby Ellsbury (fractured ribs, ERD 8/15)
Victor Martinez (fractured thumb, ERD 7/26)
Jeremy Hermida (fractured ribs, ERD 7/22)
The Red Sox are a bit closer to the return of one of their injured stars. Martinez won't be back to catch Josh Beckett's return game, but he won't miss by much. After a hitting session on Tuesday, Martinez's thumb has passed most of the tests the medical staff was looking for. He'll catch a bullpen session on Saturday, which looks to be the final barrier between Martinez and a return. The news isn't as clear, as usual, on the Ellsbury situation. Ellsbury remains in Ft. Myers, with the team saying that he's progressed enough to start some baseball activities, like hitting in the cage, but that they have no idea when he might be back in Boston. He's still experiencing pain with the rib injuries on activity, though we don't have much in the way of specifics. It's going to heat up for Ellsbury soon, due to the return of Hermida; he's been out since early June with what is perceived as a similar injury, so the Boston media is going to ramp up some comparisons. No matter the explanation from Ellsbury and his team, a big gap is going to cause a "soft" perception, if that isn't already sticking.

Quick Cuts: Todd Helton is going to need at least a few games of rehab before the Rockies will activate him. He could be back by the weekend. ... Aaron Laffey insists he's not injured, but the Indians are getting an MRI on his "dead arm." ... David Freese dropped a weight on his toe. Ouch. That sets his rehab back three weeks. ... Rick Ankiel is expected back for the weekend series against the Yankees. It could come as soon as today. ... Yunel Escobar's start with the Jays isn't starting out well, because he's out with a bruised hand. The DL isn't likely, but a few more games out is. ... Homer Bailey threw a simulated game yesterday and will head to Dayton for rehab. He's likely to get starts to help Mike Leake and the staff rest. ... Ramon Hernandez is coming off the DL for the Reds. All that means so far is that Joey Votto will get a day off. ... Brett Anderson could get the start on Sunday for the Athletics.

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