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September 1, 2010

Under The Knife

The Toughest Month for Injury News

by Will Carroll

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September is going to be an interesting month. In this neck of the woods, September is when I have to really work hard. The DL stops being the "easy way" for teams to deal with injuries, since roster relief isn't needed with the limit expanded from 25 to 40. Teams will stop using the DL altogether, pulling some guys off even though they remain unavailable, and generally twisting and squeezing the 40-man roster as much as they can within the rules to either chase a pennant or build for next year. It makes it very difficult to judge how long players will be out. At times, we'll see a player get shut down, giving someone a chance to show their stuff and at others, teams will rest guys so they will be ready for October, mostly when they have a lead. We'll see the end of minor-league rehabs after this weekend, due to the minor-league regular season ending. It does give teams with affiliates in the playoffs a slight advantage. Just remember that the roster expansion is going to change how teams deal with injuries. You'll see guys benched with no explanation for a couple days. Injury? Rest? I'll do my best to give you guidance, but remember that you have to factor uncertainty into any projection, even when you're just trying to figure out who to put in your fantasy roster. Powered by Bell's Two Hearted Ale, which is good, but not nearly as good as their Oberon, let's get to the injuries:

Justin Upton (strained shoulder, 9/1)

Genetics fascinates me. I don't pretend to understand it, but I'm lucky to have friends that do. We have a ton of relatives in the game, whether it's generations like the Griffeys or the Boones, or brothers like the Giambis, Cansecos, and Uptons. (Even in PEDs, there's a massive lesson. Why did Jason hit homers and collect millions while Jeremy didn't on what both testified were similar regimens?) The Uptons don't have the drug issues, but they may have something they inherited from their parents aside from ridiculous athleticism. Justin Upton is dealing with a shoulder problem that sources say is similar to the one that forced B.J. Upton to have shoulder surgery after the Rays' playoff run in '08. The basic problem is a laxity in the shoulders that is taxed by the sheer forces of the swing. Both swing very hard and very long. I'm hardly an expert on swings or the physics, but knowing that it's enough to pull the head of the humerus slightly out of socket on some swings is certainly enough to realize it could be a problem. Whether Upton eventually will need the shoulder tightened remains to be seen. The Diamondbacks will be conservative with him over the next month, so look for off days here and there, as was the case on Tuesday night.

Josh Hamilton (inflamed knee, 9/3)

Hamilton's knee has long been an issue. He had surgery in his first professional season (1999) after tearing his lateral meniscus. If you think back to the start of this season, you'll remember that Lance Berkman was having similar issues due to a surgery in the same year. Interesting. The need for a joint lubricant suggests there are bone-on-bone issues, just like Berkman. Hamilton had a similar injection early this season and as you can tell, he was able to play pretty well after it. The timing's a bit interesting, in that the lubricant can't be used again this season if the recommended pattern is followed. That leaves about two months, if things go the Rangers' way. There are a lot of other options, including increased rest, which the Rangers will have, given their lead. Hamilton will get tonight off to pair up with the Thursday off day, but he is expected back for the weekend series. Yes, Jeff Francouer will provide some cover for those offdays or as a defensive replacement for Vlad Guerrero if the Rangers shift Hamilton to DH more.

Alex Rodriguez (strained calf, 9/5)

The Yankees have been careful with their players that have been injured over the last month. It's normal for playoff teams to focus on getting players healthy and playing things conservatively, but the George Steinbrenner Yankees often focused on the short term—beating the Red Sox and winning the division. This year's Yankees aren't giving anything away to the Sox or the Rays, but they're also more focused on October. If they get in as the wild card, but have Andy Pettitte, Rodriguez, and the rest of the team healthy, they seem fine with that. Rodriguez has all appearances of being ready to come back this weekend from his calf strain. The Yankees put him on the shelf to make sure that his calf didn't change his gait and the limp affect his hip. It was the smart move. Rodriguez won't have a rehab assignment, but has been hitting for the last few days and the Yankees don't think he'll have a big adjustment period.
 

Derek Lowe (strained elbow)

Lowe says he's been dealing with elbow soreness for a couple weeks, but it's hard to find it in his numbers. He hasn't been great over the last six weeks, but he hasn't been great all year. He's been serviceable, consistent, and exactly what the Braves needed this season. Lowe's groundball tendencies aren't as severe as they used to be, making me think a bit less velocity is costing him a bit of movement or perhaps giving the hitter just a fraction of a second more time to adjust. Lowe had a cortisone injection that should get him through the next couple weeks, but at 37 and with two years remaining on a big-dollar contract, the Braves will be happy to focus on the short term for now. If they win the division and give Bobby Cox a last run at another ring, I'm guessing most will take eating a bit on the back end of Lowe's deal.

Brandon Phillips (bruised hand, 9/2)

While a seven-game lead is good for a lot of things, it's also very good for health. The Reds have some room to let Phillips recover from his bruised hand by spotting in Chris Valaika, who's holding up his end of the deal pretty well. As before, Phillips could play if needed, but the extra time is going to help make sure that he's ready. If they keep this up, I'd expect it will not only allow Phillips rest, but at some point, Scott Rolen and Joey Votto could see a bit more rest, though Votto's situation is going to be complicated by chasing the Triple Crown. It's tough to predict when Phillips will be back, but I don't expect it to be much longer. Dusty Baker will want to see him hit a little bit before the key series with the Cardinals. 

Gordon Beckham (bruised hand, 9/4)

People can argue against padding pitchers, as they often do when I bring it up, but as yet, I've not heard one good reason why batters don't use padded gloves. Whether it's a simple pad, a hard piece of plastic like Mike Lowell, or something like the XProTex gloves that have gotten little traction in the game, players continue to resist even a small change. What strikes me (no pun intended) is that even after a scare, most players don't even temporarily try something. Beckham is just the latest to get smoked on the hand by a heavy fastball and was lucky that it wasn't worse than a bruise. Yes, yes, you can point to the relative luck of Beckham and Phillips recently, but I can point to just as many guys who went to the DL or worse. With Beckham out until the weekend, Omar Vizquel will fill in. Is the difference between their production enough to give the Twins an edge in the AL Central? This race could be decided not by a hair, but by a glove. 

Geovany Soto (inflamed knee, 9/2)

On a rate basis, Soto's 2010 season is equal to his rookie campaign of two years ago that gave the Cubs such high expectations. That comeback has to be tempered a bit by the injuries he's dealt with all season. Soto recently gave the Cubs a scare with a knee that was "popping and locking". Since Soto's a catcher, not a dancer, that's bad. The Cubs sent him for an MRI, which came back with what sounds like a good report—no structural damage. Problem is, structural damage isn't what anyone expected the issue to be. No, this type of thing is normally a meniscus problem and sources tell me that's exactly what the Cubs doctors believe this is. Watch for Soto to have an off-season cleanout. It's not a problem in the short term, but even minor knee problems can end up as a big issue down the line. Soto is not Joe Mauer athletically, so this could be a bigger issue for him quicker. In the short term, the Cubs will be careful with him, giving him days off as necessary as they play out the string.

Dan Uggla (strained groin, 9/3)

The Marlins are taking heat off the field and pretty much out of it on the field. That means they can be more conservative with Uggla than they might be if they were contending. Uggla's groin strain is said to be mild to moderate (Grade I/II), but there's no reason to push. He's day to day for Edwin Rodriguez and they seem content to let him have the rest of the week off to heal and not have to deal with the issue. The flip side of this is that Uggla is a gritty, gutty guy, one who's going to push to be back on the field, even lying to the athletic trainers in the way that other players have with poor results. That leaves Rodriguez and the Marlins medical staff with a tough call on how to best handle it. Best guess at this stage is they'll let him test it on Thursday or Friday and that they'll once again be conservative.

UTK Flashback

Back in the pre-BP days of Under The Knife, I was given the chance to write about the "Redbook", an internal MLB report on injuries that was published by baseball's insurance company. That article was re-published at BP in 2003. By 2005, MLB had stopped publishing the Redbook and according to an interview by ESPN's Peter Keating, had barely done anything to research injuriesat all. I ran into Pete Eshelman, one of the men behind the Redbook last weekend. Instead of ligaments and tendons, these days he's talking a lot more about meat. Wagyu beef, actually. Eshelman was sampling his restaurant's wagyu beef at a local food festival. Joseph Decuis' is one of the best reviewed restaurants in the country now in addition to producing some of America's only wagyu beef. Pretty amazing how things can change in just eight years. Sadly, injuries haven't changed much, lacking basic research by baseball over that time. (By the way, if any of you that have been with me since the beginning have some of the earliest email UTK's—April or May of 2002—I'd love to see them. I never thought to keep them!)
 

Quick Cuts:

I'm going to just completely avoid the "inverted W" stuff today and say, fine—if you believe it, prove it. Finance a study and publish it. If you're right, I'm on board 100% ... Troy Tulowitzki was given Tuesday off with a mild groin strain, but he was able to do all the warmups. He's expected back in the lineup tonight for the surging Rockies ... Try this. Pound a nail into your knee and try to hit a baseball. That's the type of pain Carlos Beltran is playing through right now, according to a source. "I'll be stunned if he tries to play next year without relief." Sounds like microfracture surgery is a real option ... 103 is pretty impressive for Aroldis Chapman, but Carlos Gomez put a 99-mph fastball into play. Velocity isn't everything ... Brandon Webb's agent thinks his client will get Ben Sheets money this offseason. I can't believe some team would do that, but then again, I didn't think Sheets was going to get much either ... Rafael Furcal's back is making some progress. He'll head out late this week on a quick rehab assignment before the minor-league season ends and should be back at the beginning of next week ... Vicente Padilla was hit by a comebacker during his last rehab start. He's due for a side session today to be watched by Dodgers brass. Word is that he's still expected to be back next week, though the team is unsure in what role ... Brian Roberts is going to get extra days off as he fights through his hip strain, but he's showing that he can still be productive when able to play ... Matt Lindstrom is expected to be activated tonight. Brad Mills says he won't immediately close  ... The White Sox think Matt Thornton will come off the DL this weekend. He's looked good in side sessions ... Let's stick to baseball discussion in the comments today, please?

Related Content:  Gutty,  Back,  The Who,  Strained Groin

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