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May 25, 2009

Under The Knife

Rays of Gloom?

by Will Carroll

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Memorial Day in Indy is always an adventure, but after a solid 500 weekend, it's back to baseball. Hanging out with half of the "Dancing With The Stars" crew isn't all it's cut out to be. I'd rather be talking baseball, judging Idol, or twittering like a six-year-old on pixie sticks than getting gift bags and seeing Brady Quinn, so let's stay powered by Helio's win and get to the injuries:

Akinori Iwamura (120 DXL)
Chris Coghlan apologized for the late slide that appears to have done extensive damage to Iwamura's knee. We'll never know if there was intent, but I doubt that Coghlan was thinking "I'm going to hurt him." He probably knows he's a rookie and he has to play hard, doing the "little things." Unfortunately, the injury is going to be a very big thing for the Rays. While there's no official diagnosis yet, it's clear that there are some torn ligaments, likely the ACL, and if that's the case Iwamura is done for the year. The team dodged a bullet later in the game when Jason Bartlett sprained his ankle; he stayed in the game and he looks to miss minimal time, perhaps something along the lines of the recent injury to Michael Young. With the Rays' emphasis on defense, it will be interesting to see how they fill in at second base. Reid Brignac, Ben Zobrist, and Willy Aybar are options, but all are defensive downgrades. (No, hopeful fantasy owners, B.J. Upton isn't shifting back.) Iwamura should be fine in the long term as far as his career, but as my initial DXL mark for him reflects, I'll be stunned if it's not a season-ender that has Iwamura heading off for surgery.

Scott Kazmir (30 DXL)
Troy Percival (90 DXL)

Kazmir will come back, but Percival may not. They're two Rays pitchers with obviously very different career paths. While Kazmir has been good enough to help bring this Rays team to a World Series, and it might be argued that his acquisition by trade signaled the rebirth of this franchise, he's been terrible this year. The quad strain on his landing leg seems to be less serious than what some would expect, but even so, there are many questions throughout baseball about whether the injury is a smokescreen. I think the key here will be how long Kazmir is sidelined before he begins throwing again, and then how quickly he gets into a minor league game. The upside is a Chien-Ming Wang-style renovation that is relatively quick and comes with solid results. On the other hand, the mental challenge for Kazmir has him wondering if Tampa is still the best place for him. For Percival, his latest injury could be his last. As Joe Maddon said, "there's only so much a guy is willing to put his body through." The breakdown at this point in the season makes it even less likely that he'd make it through the season without another breakdown, and all indications are that Percival may hang it up. The downside for the Rays is that their bullpen is no more settled than it was last year, leaving some to speculate that Price or Kazmir could be shifted to the pen. Rays GM Andrew Friedman is going to earn his money over the next few weeks.

Francisco Rodriguez (5 DXL)
Rodriguez was in such pain on Saturday that he collapsed. You won't often see a baseball player in tears, but this was a case where the spasms just got the better of him. Anyone that's had the experience of lumbar spasms knows just how bad they can be, especially if it's close to the spine, where it can grab so hard that it short-circuits the nerve paths and can lead to all kinds of bad results, such as your legs just collapsing from underneath you. (Actually, that's one of the lesser side effects, so Rodriguez can chalk that one up as a positive.) Since his issue is muscular, it can be controlled, but it can come and go quickly without any sign that the root cause is taken care of or has even been identified. Rodriguez was significantly better on Sunday, but there's no way to know the spasms won't come back. He bears watching, but then so does Bobby Parnell.

Chipper Jones (5 DXL)
The Braves are always a unique team when it comes to injuries and how they handle them. The approach that they take shows a real player-directed focus, essentially trusting their players to manage their own comebacks. It speaks to a consistency and trust that's almost unheard of, but their stable management and medical staff make it possible. Jones' toe injury has him taking a different path (for him), and he's taking some time off and letting it heal. Injury to the toes are often more painful than you'd expect, such as with turf toe, and you're reminded of the injury with every step. Jones' slow, steady pace of healing isn't a concern at all; it's just unusual for him. The same pattern of self-direction is at work across town as Tom Glavine rehabs at Triple-A Gwinnett.

Michael Young (3 DXL)
There is a positive and a negative aspect to any player who is a "gamer." On one hand, you want a guy who wants to play and understands the difference between "pain" and "soreness." On the other, you get a guy who doesn't understand that difference, and puts himself at risk by pushing to go back out quickly. Young straddles that line, but the team holds him in check with a strong manager, a strong medical staff, and depth that allows them to adjust so that his missing time doesn't hurt the team significantly. It's that latter point that holds sway with this type, and Young will take the time to heal up and make sure that he doesn't exacerbate the injury, though he should only miss a couple of days at most.

Brandon Webb (90 DXL)
The Diamondbacks' season hasn't gone according to plan. At the center of the pile of wreckage is Webb. His shoulder injury not only sent him to the DL, but setbacks during the process and a bilateral conservatism between player and team that surprises many observers might have him out until after the All-Star break. While Webb is throwing on flat ground, the pace of his rehab doesn't seem to be quick enough to have him making a minor league rehab before mid-June. At that pace, some knowledgeable sources are speculating that the break would be the logical time. I'm not so sure about that; for a team looking to get back into the thick of things, losing even one start could make a big difference, let alone the psychological effect that it might have. That said, this has been moving significantly slower than anyone has expected, with sources saying that Webb doesn't seem bothered at all by the pace. Even with his contract situation being a sore point, Webb has a no-brainer option for 2010. We'll need to see him on a mound by June 1 before we start thinking about him coming back much before the break.

Pablo Sandoval (15 DXL)
The mechanism of an injury-how it actually happens-is one of the biggest keys to analyzing an injury. If you see how a knee bends or where a player grabs at a hamstring, you'll know more about what structures were stressed and may have failed. With Sandoval, the mechanism is unclear. Some reports have him hurting his elbow on a diving defensive play, while others say something 'snapped' on a throw. It's possible that both occurred. Since it's only affecting his throwing, it's reasonable to think that he injured it on the dive, rather than that whatever was weakened gave way on a throw. We'll know more soon as he's headed for tests, but it puts the Giants in an interesting position, given that Sandoval is also the team's backup catcher. Bengie Molina has been catching a lot, but the team elected to bring up journeyman Eli Whiteside (their emergency catcher, Kevin Frandsen, really is only for emergencies). With the Giants already looking for a bat, losing Sandoval or wearing out Molina would be counterproductive.

Quick Cuts: Carlos Beltran's knee is a bigger concern than the Mets are letting on. He's likely to miss a few games, and was saved from missing the weekend by the DH slot. .... OK, you know it's going to, but you don't know how or when Rich Harden will break down. It's like a slap bet. ... Chris Iannetta heads to the DL with a strained hamstring, but he won't miss much more than the minimum. ... Chien-Ming Wang will shadow Joba Chamberlain, and the Yankees "won't hesitate" to pull Chamberlain if they think that his knee is bothering him at all. ... Joey Votto made it back quickly after they found the inner ear infection. He already seems to be back near 100 percent. ... Carlos Quentin is fine at the plate, but his foot hurts him in the field. With Jim Thome locked in at DH, this is an issue. ... J.J. Hardy is out until mid-week with back spasms. The team doesn't expect he'll need to go on the DL. ... Derrek Lee will miss some time due to FLS, not due to his neck flaring up as some sources had said. ... Andre Ethier's toe will keep him out a few more games. ... Rick Ankiel was activated by the Cardinals. ... Jorge Posada could be back late this week, but the Yankees say he will not be back during their trip to Texas due to the weather. That's a bit odd. ... Shunned? I saw Jim Leyritz at the Winter Meetings, in a bar. (He was drinking water when I saw him.) ... The Royals expect Joakim Soria to head out on a rehab assignment later this week. ... Jed Lowrie is swinging a bat and could be back by mid-June.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury,  Quad-a

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