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August 30, 2010

Under The Knife

Looking for a Strasburg Scapegoat

by Will Carroll

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Stephen Strasburg (sprained elbow, ERD 10/4)
As Strasburg heads west to have Tommy John surgery, everyone is looking to point fingers. The "inverted W," an invention of Chris O'Leary, a "modified Marshallite," is, we must remember, purported to be an indication of shoulder problems. The White Sox' Don Cooper, one of the best pitching coaches around when it comes to results, is being quoted out of context in many cases. Remember, he was speaking just after Strasburg was removed before a start due to tightness in his shoulder. I think the money quote in that article is from Stan Conte of the Dodgers, saying, "Has anybody spotted a common thread? No. It's all to be discovered." That discovery is more likely to come from scientific studies and biomechanical analysis than it is from grainy, unlicensed videos and guesswork. As for Strasburg, he's having the surgery with Lewis Yocum for several reasons. First and foremost, Yocum is one of the best in the business. The Nats seem to prefer Yocum—Yocum's work on Jordan Zimmermann was noted by many—and Yocum's base at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles allows Strasburg to be close enough to check in regularly as he lives in San Diego. There's still some question about how—or rather who—will be handling Strasburg's rehab. Some sources indicate that it will be done at the Boras Sports Training Institute in Newport Beach, California, which makes sense. Others say it will be done at the Nats' facility in Viera, Florida, which makes more sense come January or February and spring training draws near.

Hanley Ramirez ("lightheaded," ERD 8/30)
There was a bit of a scary moment yesterday as Ramirez went into second base, then left the game clutching his chest. The announcers said what everyone must have been thinking: it looked like a heart problem. On a warm day, heat issues also had to be considered. Reports came quickly that it was an irregular heartbeat, but the official word from the Marlins was "lightheaded." Given the Marlins' issues lately, I can't say whether this is or isn't true. After the game, Ramirez was saying he was fine and expected to be in the lineup tonight. There's nothing else to go on here, so I'll say tread carefully, especially in leagues with weekly moves.

Edinson Volquez (sprained elbow)
Aaron Harang (back spasms, ERD 8/31)
Orlando Cabrera (oblique, ERD 9/3)
Brandon Phillips (bruised hand, ERD 8/31)
Mike Leake (tired shoulder, ERD 9/15)
Aroldis Chapman
The Reds are opening up a bit of a cushion in the NL Central, but they're not doing it without a cost. Given the sheer number of injuries—if I limited myself to the normal 10 injuries, I could have just done the Reds today—they're going to have to really juggle things. They'll be helped by roster expansion in September, but even then, it's one thing to replace a player and quite another to replace his production. Let's start with the rotation, where Volquez is being skipped at least once and possibly bumped from the rotation. He's still struggling with his control after coming back from Tommy John surgery. This was expected, but it doesn't help the Reds now. If you compare Volquez's return to Francisco Liriano's, you'll see the similarity. Behind Volquez, Leake heads to the DL with what the Reds are calling a tired shoulder. Harang will be taking his spot in the rotation for now, but he is also a question mark, coming off the DL after missing more than a month with back spasms. The odd thing here is that Harang's return tomorrow  will necessitate a roster move, with expansion coming the next day. Finally, we have the news that Aroldis Chapman is throwing 105 mph—yes, one hundred five miles per hour—in Louisville. Two sources confirmed that scouts had him there, but most insist it was a hot gun. "He's been at 102 since switching to relief," one source told me, but remember, when I saw him in May, his fastball appeared to flatten out when he got it up towards triple-digits. If the Reds promote him this week, as expected, everyone around the league will be waiting on the PITCHf/x numbers.

Over on the position player side, the Reds are having some issues up the middle, but luckily, this is where they have some depth. "They have holding depth," said a competing front-office type. I asked what he meant by 'holding depth,' and he explained that it's talent good enough to hold on a couple days, but that would likely be exposed with more than occasional playing time. While Paul Janish has been a bit better than that, I see what he's saying. Phillips missed the weekend with his injured hand, but part of the delay is due to the lead. Every game they're up in the standings gives Phillips (and others) a bit more rest. The hand is still a bit sore, but Phillips could play with it in this condition, if necessary. Cabrera can't play right now and is backing off, hoping his oblique heals enough to play in the upcoming St. Louis series, which starts Friday, that the Reds are keying on. He's very iffy for that and could be out until mid-month. Again, the team's context is really going to determine how Cabrera and the Reds go forward.

Tim Lincecum
Buster Posey (strained forearm, ERD 8/30)
Rob Neyer takes a strong look at the assertion that Lincecum's issue is conditioning. It's an issue that I've wondered about, but the ongoing push is interesting in that there is the opposite-but-not-really case of Pablo Sandoval to note as well. Given that we've had successful pitchers who looked more like Sandoval, I'm not sure how much what we think of as conditioning applies. The fact is that pitchers have a very specific skill and while no one does one single thing, Lincecum's skill is even more individual than most pitchers. I'm not saying that a bit of cardio wouldn't help him, but how? It's not as if he didn't complete games and it's not clear that doing that has much to do with conditioning. Pitchers run poles, not marathons. Speaking of results, there's Posey, who many are questioning in regards to Lincecum's relative ineffectiveness. He is getting some time off with a mild strain of his forearm. The Giants are making a push, though without a healthy Posey, they are not going to get much closer than they are now. There's a chance Bruce Bochy will play him more at first base down the stretch. (Stop. Go back. Click the link to Keith Woolner's research on catcher ERA. Thank you.)

Brandon Webb (strained shoulder, ERD 9/10)
Webb went 52 pitches in a side session, mixing in changeups with his fastball. All that sounds good, but you have to pause and realize something. Webb didn't throw sinkers. Now, this could be nothing. What we call a sinker, he may call his fastball. Everyone I asked stopped short and just didn't know. Given the motion necessary for the sinker, which is an early pronation that moves the ball of the shoulder, it's one that could be problematic for someone coming back from shoulder surgery. If Webb can't throw the sinker, I have no idea what he would be. It would end up a shift in style even bigger than Frank Tanana. There's no clarity on when or even if Webb will return. He'd be a reliever at best, but it's unclear how he'd have to be used due to warmups and such. That ERD is a pure guess.

Quick Cuts: Troy Tulowitzki left yesteday's game with a mild groin strain, but he's expected to be back early this week. Tulowitzki said he'd be back tonight, but he tends to be optimistic. ... Andy Pettitte had his best side session since injuring his groin. Yankees watchers still don't think he'll be back before September 10. ... Hideki Okajima is back in the Red Sox pen, but it sounds like he's going to have to earn his role back. By the way, Neyer reported from the PITCHf/x Summit that Okajima throws a gyroball. ... Dustin Pedroia might be done for the season—we'll find out about surgery this week—but this is an interesting story on his shoes, via Paul Lukas. ... Jose Reyes is day-to-day, but it's a long day-to-day. He won't go on the DL because of the date, but he won't return until he's 100 percent. That could be a while. ... After hyperextending his knee in his last start, Brett Anderson had a good side session. Sources think he'll make his next start, though the A's seem very cautious with all their young pitchers at this point in the season. ... Evan Meek got blasted in the forearm by a comebacker. X-rays were negative, but he'll miss a few days. ... Derrek Lee is expected back in the Cubs, er, Braves lineup tonight after missing the weekend with a sore oblique. ... Mark Teixeira is expected back early this week after missing a couple days with a sore thumb. It's possible the Yankees will hold him out. ... In a scary injury, Brian Wilson was hit in the throat by a batted ball during batting practice. He's fine, just sore. ... Billy Butler was back on the field this weekend, but sources tell me the thumb is an issue that's still in place. He'll need some time off here and there. ... The Blue Jays will shut down Brandon Morrow after his next start. It's an interesting move, but sources tell me his ceiling was 150 innings this season. ... One well-connected front-office type thinks there will be "at least six" managerial openings and "four, maybe five" GM openings this offseason. That's a bit inflated due to the inevitable chair shuffling that happens. I'll take the under on both, but not by much.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Shoulder,  Tim Lincecum Strong Start

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