September 15, 2008
Under The Knife
Coming and Going
Tim Lincecum (0 DXL)
From the sheer volume of emails, it seems that everyone not in the path of Hurricane Ike was watching Lincecum's pitch count. There was an interesting internal discussion about the value of a shutout, his long-term health, and his general Freakness. Let's look at the facts: Lincecum threw 138 pitches, an average of just over 15 per inning, and his single-inning high for the game was 22 in the first. He had thrown a 132-pitch game three starts ago, had followed that high-count outing with a 92-pitch game where his effectiveness was down, but he came right back with an effective 127-pitch game before his most recent outing. His fastball sat at 92/93 all game long, and he did not appear to be reaching back in the later innings. In fact, it seems that he was pitching to contact and trying to go for quick outs rather than strikeouts in the later innings. While I'm not big on the value of a shutout, I'm not sure that Lincecum was taxed by this. Just after the game, I wondered if the Giants might be thinking of shutting him down, and that's still not the worst idea, especially given that Brandon Webb's 20th win likely takes Lincecum out of the Cy Young running. All that said, I completely agree with Gary Huckabay-there was no reason to do this. There's a giant difference between "could" and "should," and apparently Bruce Bochy doesn't understand that.
Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
I told you that Zambrano would be helped by the extra day's rest, but I had no idea that a no-hitter would be coming. He dominated the Astros in Milwaukee-now there's an odd statement-completing the game in 110 pitches. He was clearly refreshed from the time off, and perhaps helped by the cortisone in his shoulder, throwing 95 mph in the first inning, and reaching as high as 97 (via Gameday). The key was that his elbow was higher, and on most pitches, it was right at the level of his shoulder and didn't dip as low as previously. At the very least, he was very consistent to the naked eye, so I'll be interested to see if Pitch-f/x agrees. The worry is that, as before, he'll come off of the DL rested and relatively pain-free, and then the inflammation will slowly come back. If the Cubs medical staff can't get him through the playoffs before that happens, they'll deal with the consequences. The 110 pitches in this context is tough to figure; he was cruising, and 110 isn't that high for Zambrano in normal circumstances, but then these aren't normal circumstances, so I'd have liked to have seen more caution here. His next start will be the tell. I'm also relatively sure that he threw the first no-hitter ever thrown in the first game after coming off of the DL. Even Baseball Reference doesn't have an instance of that!
Chone Figgins (3 DXL)
Juan Rivera (5 DXL)
The Angels' record has allowed them to be very conservative with the injuries they've had all season. Figgins missed a week after being hit on his elbow by a pitch, but under normal circumstances, he could have been back in a day or two; he should have no problems returning. Rivera has been used to buy some rest for various outfielders over the past few weeks, but now has a groin injury of his own and could miss a week, though again, the conservatism afforded by clinching will affect the length of his absence. His numbers on the season look pretty anemic, but he's played well lately. Even as locked-in as the Angels have been all season, they have a lot of decisions to make over the next two weeks about who will be on their playoff roster.
Paul Konerko (7 DXL)
It's taking a bit longer than any of us expected to get Konerko back on the field. The Sox have taken the long view and been very conservative with him. He's expected to return on Monday weather permitting, but even then, sources tell me that the Sox are planning on giving him more offdays, especially if they're able to clinch a playoff spot. Konerko shouldn't have any problems playing with the knee in terms of risking further damage. The concern is how the knee will respond to playing-the possible onset of any swelling or pain-and whether the bracing he'll need will limit his mobility. The knee will likely not need off-season surgery; MCLs are not normally repaired since there are adequate secondary stabilizers in most cases.
Conor Jackson (5 DXL)
The Diamondbacks continue to slide, and Jackson could be facing an early shutdown because of it. He had a cortisone shot in his shoulder after an MRI last week, but there's been no word on what the actual condition is, though there is informed speculation about it being a rotator cuff problem that will require an off-season 'scoping. It's his throwing shoulder, so any serious injury could limit his positional flexibility, something that's been a big asset for the D'backs this season, shifting Jackson around to cover for injuries and roster construction. The Snakes have a lot of talent, but they also have some tough decisions to make, and Jackson's shoulder injury could complicate many of those.
Adrian Beltre (15 DXL)
Beltre ended his 2008 season on Sunday and will now prepare for surgery on his thumb and wrist. He's played since mid-2007 with both a torn ligament in his thumb that is scheduled to be re-attached, and also a sore shoulder that will require a cleanup. The shoulder surgery is described as very minor, and will be done more for maintenance and future comfort than any real effect on his play. The thumb is a bigger concern, though he's certainly been able to play (and play well) despite the problem, which makes judging how it may have been affecting his play very difficult. Players have come back from similar surgeries in the offseason with little trouble, so I'd assume that Beltre will return to level very quickly. The upside on gain is limited, though extant.
George Sherrill (0 DXL)
Sherrill returned to the mound over the weekend, but if he didn't have his name and number on the back, and that notable cap, you'd be forgiven if you didn't recognize him. His stuff certainly didn't look the same, and many wondered aloud if he was fully healthy. The thing is, Sherrill's not a flamethrower, so the fact that he was throwing 90 isn't unusual. Yes, his pitches were ineffective, but not so far outside the norm that it seems like the injury and the time off took something away. The O's have options heading into next season with Chris Ray coming back, so expect Sherrill to have more opportunities to show that he can be a solid closer again before the end of the season.
Takashi Saito (0 DXL)
Clayton Kershaw (0 DXL)
Chad Billingsley (0 DXL)
The Dodgers bullpen was strengthened when Saito came off the shelf. He won't immediately return to the closer role, though Joe Torre made open comments that he was hoping that Saito would force that isue. In the interim, Jonathan Broxton will get the opportunities, but I'd expect that Torre will look for a three-run lead to try Saito out, maybe on a night after Broxton has closed. Saito's elbow remains a major risk, with the possibility that he could exacerbate the damage. The Dodgers are also dancing on the edge with Kershaw. The organization has been pretty clear that they want to limit him to around 170 innings on the season, and he's very near that now. With three scheduled starts remaining you would expect that he'll clear that cap, so they'll have to look for some opportunities to limit his innings to try and hit that number. The playoffs also pose a challenge; while sources tell me that Kershaw will not be part of the playoff rotation, I have a hard time believing that he's the fifth-best starting pitcher on the staff. And for those of you asking about Billingsley, I was certainly wrong about him this season, but I'm not quite as worried about him next year as you'd think. While he is showing a 30-plus inning increase year to year, those 2007 innings were not strictly as a starter. While I haven't done a full study that shows the exchange rate between relief innings and starter innings, there appears to be such a thing, skewing the results of players that did either one or the other, and in the case of someone like Billingsley or Joba Chamberlain, players who did both.
Quick Cuts: In a previous life, I was an investment banker. Thank you for letting me not be that today. ... As with Carl Crawford and the Rays, the Dodgers seem willing to put Rafael Furcal on their playoff roster without much of an in-season return. ... Alex Rodriguez left the first game of Saturday's doubleheader with a stiff neck, but showed no signs of trouble on Sunday, though he did DH. ... The Red Sox are shifting Bartolo Colon to the pen and think he could set up. The question is how quickly he can warm up. ... Andruw Jones went onto the 60-day DL, an accounting move that ends his season. ... Michael Cuddyer returned to the Twins lineup, but is still limited by his foot. The team is concerned about playing him on their home turf. ... Chris Carpenter was shut down after the Cards found another nerve irritation in his pitching arm. It's not clear where this irritation is, though they describe it as unrelated to his ulnar nerve problem experienced early this year. ... Scott Downs could be shut down after re-injuring his ankle. The Jays will wait to see how he responds to treatment. ... Carl Pavano hurt his hip during his start on Sunday. It doesn't appear to be serious, but this is Carl Pavano we're talking about.