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April 16, 2009

Under The Knife

Fixer-Uppers

by Will Carroll

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Daisuke Matsuzaka (20 DXL)
Sox fans should understand this one, because it's what one (geeky) source called a "Galactica injury," a reference to the show's line of "This has happened before and this will happen again." Matsuzaka heads to the DL with what is officially a strained pitching shoulder, and what one source called a "very, very, very minor strain," that amounts to little more than fatigue. This DL trip is virtually identical to the time that he took off last season to focus on strengthening his shoulder, and he came back from that without any problem. The read here is that the early start for Matsuzaka has him fatigued, putting his arm at risk. By shutting him down and working on his shoulder, the team thinks he'll return quickly. I believe that he'll miss somewhere just over the minimum, maybe three starts, and he'll come back as the brilliant but frustrating pitcher we're accustomed to seeing.

Xavier Nady (170 DXL)
Several pitchers have come back from a redo of Tommy John surgery. The replaced ligament breaks, much in the same way, and for much the same reason, as it did in the first place. As far as I can tell, no position player has needed a redo, largely because few players put the same kind of repetitive stress on their arms that a pitcher does. Nady looks to be the first, a unique spot I'm sure he didn't want to be in. He's headed for at least one more opinion before surgery, but multiple sources report that he's telling teammates that's where he's headed. He'll be done for 2009, but there's a small chance he could play late in the season, and no reason to think he won't be 100 percent by 2010. That sets him up as an interesting free agent.

Chris Carpenter (40 DXL)
While most are busy saying "at least it's not his arm," I'm going to play the killjoy here. Carpenter's oblique strain may have happened while he was swinging, but it's still what I call a "kinetic chain" injury. The kinetic chain is that series of movements that moves force through the body, from push-off to release, allowing a ball to go toward the plate at upwards of 90 mph. Any chain has a weak link, and any weak link can throw off both the force and the way that force is distributed through the body. Why do Tommy John pitchers often end up with shoulder problems shortly after returning? With the elbow fixed, the shoulder is often now the weak link, and is taking more of the stress. The oblique, a difficult muscle to build up but key to the motion, is often a weak link as well. Because of both this and Carpenter's history, I think he'll end up toward the back of the 4-8 week range, probably at around six weeks missed.

Chipper Jones (3 DXL)
Tell me if you've heard this somewhere before. "I just keep aggravating it," Chipper said when asked why his thumb keeps hurting when he keeps trying to play through it. Did you ever try to teach a dog to roll over, following all of the tricks you saw on "Dog Whisperer," and then the dog just keeps looking up at you and you just give it the treat anyway? Jones is the dog. This is a normal pattern for him: he has a minor injury, tries to play through it, realizes that he can't, takes some time off, then comes back to hit like a demon. Maybe I'm the dog, trained to write this time and time again, even though Jones and the Braves are going to keep doing the same things, again and again.

Cristian Guzman (3 DXL)
It's been easy to see who followed PECOTA's suggestions for drafting their fantasy teams. All of the people that did have been in a panic about Guzman and his hamstring "pops." The news has been all positive since the initial item, with Guzman running on a treadmill and taking batting practice. The Nats are being cautious, holding him out until the weekend to make sure that his legs heal up and that the treatment has a chance to really take hold. He'll be under orders not to run, but all indications are that the hamstrings aren't so much a concern as something the team has been monitoring and trying to minimize.

Jed Lowrie (30 DXL)
Julio Lugo (15 DXL)

The Red Sox got good news on both of their shortstops who are out with injuries. Lowrie appears to have avoided surgery on his wrist, though he will miss at least a month. He had anti-inflammatories injected into two sites inside his wrist in hopes of clearing up the issue, but it will be splinted, rested and monitored over the next week. Sources tell me that while this was described as a cortisone injection, it was actually much stronger, and a more complex mix of drugs was used, in large part to combat the severity of the localized swelling. The Sox should have a better read on both the timing and his rehab progression at this time next week. There was also good news on Lugo, who will play over the weekend in Ft. Myers. He's been doing well enough with the knee that the Sox are considering skipping or shortening his stay with Pawtucket, and just activating him sometime next week. The urgency for his return is obviously in response to Lowrie's injury, but regardless, it doesn't feel as if they're rushing Lugo back.

John Smoltz (50 DXL)
There's more good news on the Sox front, where Smoltz threw a solid bullpen session. He went 60 pitches, mixing in some breaking balls and having only normal soreness afterwards. One observer said that there was some fatigue at about the midway point, with some noticeable loss of velocity, and there remains some concern about his stamina. That same observer worries that while Smoltz does have time to build up his strength, his best or at least ultimate role might be in the pen. His next step is going to take place back in Ft. Myers, throwing in an extended spring training game. The timetable still has him back in mid-to-late May, so any rumored connection to Matsuzaka's situation is ill-founded.

Mike Pelfrey (5 DXL)
When Jerry Manuel said that he was going to "sit down with Pelfrey and see if anything was wrong," it made me wonder why he would need to do that. Hadn't he already spoken to him during games? During his recovery? Hadn't the pitching coach been giving Manuel updates? Was this a pronouncement for the press without meaning, or did I really misunderstand how the Mets' manager communicates (or doesn't) with his players? I'm still not sure about all of that, but the Mets did get Pelfrey to say that he's having some tendonitis in his forearm. Pelfrey says that it's minor, and this one just screams of an "excuse injury," with the team trying to find some kind of cover for his poor start. He's scheduled to go on Sunday, but that start is in jeopardy with no clear backup plan in place. Sources indicate that putting Pelfrey on the DL and calling someone up remains a possibility.

Tim Lincecum (0 DXL)
Lincecum thinks that he's found something in his delivery that's throwing off his command. If so, it's also throwing off his release point. With some people talking about "massive" differences in his release point, I went to Eric Seidman to see if this was the case. Eric took a look through Pitch f/x data and found that yes, there was a change in Lincecum's release point. It's down about three inches, which is significant, but hardly massive. We'll have to see what the results look like next time out; he's now scheduled to start on Saturday. A front-office type I spoke with did have an interesting point to make on this. We were talking about the down starts for several staff aces, including Lincecum, when he asked who I thought this year's Cliff Lee would be. I said I didn't know yet, and he pointed out that "Lee was Lee at this stage last year. It just looked like a fluke. There's someone out there-maybe A.J. Burnett, maybe Zack Greinke, maybe Chad Billingsley-who's going to keep it up all year."

Quick Cuts: Mike Hampton had eight strikeouts in a great performance. Black is white, up is down. ... I mentioned it before, but if you like vegetables, you should check out the Bacon of the Month Club. ... Looks like Brandon Webb will be throwing in the pen by early next week as he builds toward a return. ... The rainout on Wednesday will have the Phillies juggling their rotation. They're using it to buy Cole Hamels a little more rest, perhaps even skipping his turn. ... Ryan Rowland-Smith heads to the DL with triceps trouble. The Mariners seem to be very conservative with injuries this season, a decided change from the past two years. ... Brian Moehler heads to the DL with a scuffed MCL in his knee. ... Outrageous. ... If you like hockey at all, you should be watching the playoffs, and you should be reading Puck Prospectus. I know I'm biased here, but damn, this is some good stuff. I've had Versus on the big screen and MLB.tv on the laptop all night. It's enough to give me ADD and nightmares, but if that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

Related Content:  The Who,  Mike Pelfrey,  The Call-up

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