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August 10, 2010

Under The Knife

Back Home Again in Indiana

by Will Carroll

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Thanks for waiting. I don't often put in late-edition UTKs, but I'm just back from a four-day, four-ballpark tour that was amazing. I joined the crew from Big League Tours for their trip to Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. It was a great time, great seats, great ballgames, and an experience we won't soon forget. But now it's time to get back to work. Injuries don't stop when I'm on tour, do they? One funny story—Monday night at our hotel in Cincinnati, there was a huge group of autograph seekers since we were staying at the same hotel as the Cardinals. But as Albert Pujols led the team off the bus, almost no one glanced over. Why? Apparently the hotel was also hosting the Jonas Brothers and one of them was outside taking pictures and signing autographs. I'll give whichever Jonas it was—I'm told Nick—some credit. The kid was out there for a solid hour and all reports were that he was polite and happy to talk with fans. The Cards and most teams could take a lesson from him. Anyway, let's get to the injuries:

Ryan Braun (sprained wrist, ERD TBD)
The Brewers know about wrist injuries. Rickie Weeks is finally doing what people thought he could do this season, mostly because his chronic wrist problems have been held at bay. When the cameras caught Braun in the dugout with a splint on his wrist, many immediately thought of Weeks. Early reports are that this isn't nearly as serious as what Weeks has dealt with. The splint was precautionary prior to tests, so don't read too much into it. Braun will meet with doctors to determine if he'll hit the DL, but expect the Brewers to be very conservative with this one. Power hitters and wrist injuries don't mix well, so with the Brewers already looking forward to 2011, there's no need to rush anything with this. Braun is likely to see a big dropoff in power, though Joey Votto is showing that minor wrist sprains don't sap power nearly as much as fractures, something that's intriguing.

Carlos Silva (ERD 9/1)
Geovany Soto (ERD 8/30)
"Cardiac ablation" sounds serious and it is. The procedure actually sends in an electrical current to fry off part of the malfunctioning heart tissue. There's a very high success rate and a relatively quick return rate... for normal people. For athletes—and no Silva jokes here, Mariners fans—there's just no track record to go on. The Cubs aren't likely to push Silva back into action and will watch his recovery closely. There's some discussion of being safe and just shutting Silva down, but it seems like the team is more willing to let him come back at his own pace, if at all. The team is much more concerned about the shoulder sprain that's put Soto on the DL. Soto tried to fight through the sprain, but he couldn't hit without damaging it more, so the team has pushed him to the DL and could end his season. It's not that the sprain is significant, but that there's no reason to push him back to action due to the team's context. I'm still not quite sure how this injury occurred, so it's tougher to figure out how it might affect things in the longer term. Cory Schwartz of MLB.com also noted that Soto had a similar problem last year, though that happened on a throw. Soto likely has some laxity in that shoulder, which could lead to episodes like this becoming chronic, no pun intended. Despite the chance that the team could shut both players down, I'm going to put the ERDs at a reasonable but less conservative level and adjust if necessary.

Jeff Niemann (strained shoulder, ERD 8/19)
Wade Davis (strained shoulder, ERD 8/22)
Losing 40 percent of a team's rotation is never good. The Rays don't like losing Niemann and Davis for any period of time, but they do have Jeremy Hellickson at the ready. However, if both are out for any significant period of time, it could get a bit jumbled for Joe Maddon. Luckily, neither has any significant structural damage. Niemann has a mild strain of his shoulder and will be shut down for a few days to get the swelling out. The team expects that he'll be back in the rotation when eligible to come off on the August 19. Davis is a bit trickier. While he's not "overextended" by the normal increase rules of thumb, he is under the injury nexus and pitching his first full major-league season. There does seem to be some "conversion rate" between minor-league and major-league innings, which is likely some adjustment to the hitters and something physiological. Davis also has a strained shoulder with no structural issues, but the team is holding off on the DL. I still think it's likely, but even if that happens, he should be back just after Niemann. The Rays will have to watch the workloads of both when they come back without transferring too much to the rest of their rotation or worse, their bullpen.

Justin Morneau (concussion, ERD 8/15)
Kevin Slowey (inflamed elbow, ERD TBD)
Morneau isn't accompanying the team due to his concussion, but it shouldn't be considered a setback. He isn't headed to Chicago, as the team had some slim hope of him doing. Instead, he'll continue with his workouts at Target Field and ramp up his baseball activity more. The team is now hoping that he'll go on a quick rehab assignment later this week and then rejoin it. It's been very tough to get a consistent read on this due to the nature of concussions and the mild setbacks that Morneau has had. Once he's back, he should be back and productive, something the Twins could use right now while Joe Mauer fights through his sore shoulder. (By the way, I saw Mauer working out while on the tour of Progressive Field. His long toss looked very painful and he couldn't seem to get loose. Despite this, he was back behind the dish the next day.) The news is worse for Slowey. He's got pain in his elbow, which is never a good sign for a pitcher. The Twins think it's minor and say they pushed back his start as a precaution. We'll have to see if he makes the start or if the team pushes him to the DL. There's no MRI scheduled, according to sources, but most seem to think this is headed that way.

Vernon Wells (dislocated toe, ERD 8/13)
Dislocations hurt. They're just flat painful. Beyond that, it's a question of whether any of the structures that are there to hold things in place were stretched or torn during the dislocation. Wells dislocated his big toe on a leaping catch at the wall during Brandon Morrow's near no-hitter. (Oddly, DeWayne Wise was close to the play and helped Wells off the field.) Wells basically stubbed his toe so hard that the bone popped out of place. Most of us know how much it hurts to just walk into the coffee table, so you can imagine how bad this was for Wells. The prognosis is good and once the swelling is down, Wells should be back relatively quickly. This is simply a pain tolerance issue now that the bone is back in place. He could be back as soon as mid-week, though a few more days is likely.

Rafael Furcal (strained back, ERD 8/10)
The Dodgers expect Furcal to be back in their lineup tonight, but he seems to be wavering a bit. His back is still causing problem, treading that line between "sore" and "painful." It's a chronic situation, one the Dodgers won't risk for one game, and they have an adequate backup in Ryan Theriot, so Furcal could end up being pushed back a day or even more. The Dodgers are surely working to make that decision, but even after that, Furcal will be spending plenty of time in the training room, making sure that the back doesn't start up with a new pain/spasm cycle. Furcal has been very productive when healthy, but I hope I don't have to warn you about speed players and chronic back issues. 

Quick Cuts: Andy Pettitte will throw a simulated game on Thursday or Friday. If he has no problems with his groin, he'll slot back into the rotation in the middle of next week. ... Shane Victorino will do a couple games in the minors to test his oblique. If all goes well, he'll be back for the Phillies on Friday. ... Ryan Howard will be ready when eligible to come back on August 19, though the Phillies are making noises about him taking a few extra days. ... Martin Prado is probably going to need more than the minimum to get back. He's still having some issues with his fractured finger. ... What the Athletics are calling "shoulder spasms" appears to be related to Daric Barton's chronic neck problems. These are often connected, though there have been some positive reports on Barton so far. ... Brian Moehler will make a decision on surgery soon. His groin injury has likely ended his season. ... Nick Punto should be ready to come off the DL this weekend. ... I got to talk with Manny Acta in Cleveland and he's very encouraged by the early reports on Carlos Santana. Acta thinks Santana will be fully recovered by next spring. The team is likely to use Santana more at first base and DH, but it expects he'll still be the primary catcher. Call it the "Victor Martinez plan." ... Now that I'm home, I can finally watch the advance copy of "Baseball: The Tenth Inning" that Ken Burns sent me. There will be a lot more on this before the show is debuted in September, including my small part in the film.

Related Content:  Back,  Shoulder

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