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June 1, 2009

Under The Knife

Treading Water

by Will Carroll

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Grady Sizemore (15 DXL)
Victor Martinez (3 DXL)
Travis Hafner (30 DXL)

It seems as if this year, aside from hip injuries, injury stacks are the trend. Teams are either healthy or unhealthy, but when the injuries do come they've been happening all at once. Last week it was the Mets and Rays, and this week it's the Indians dealing with a bunch of issues. The biggest, but perhaps least serious, is the elbow injury that's pushed Sizemore to the DL. His elbow isn't significantly hurt, but the medical staff couldn't get ahead of the inflammation. The Indians aren't saying what the root cause is, though all signs point to some kind of bursa-related issue. Sizemore could hit, but he couldn't throw, and his bat control was affected enough that the team felt that a couple of weeks off to get him healthy was better than having him continue to fight through the injury while DHing. Sources tell me that the team doesn't expect him to miss more than the minimum fifteen days.

Also factoring into that decision was the imminent return of Hafner. While he'll take back the DH slot, he's not quite back to the healthy state that the team was hoping for. Hafner's shoulder and back are still sore, but his rehab clock runs out on Wednesday. That's going to force them to bring him back or to lose him for another 15 days, so look for the team to use him, although sparingly. Given his production at Triple-A, it's hard to imagine how he'd get back up to his production level from April, which was turning into a solid comeback for the slugger. Worse, the Indians are also going to be without Martinez for a few days. He took a foul ball off of his knee, which was very painful. He's likely to play some first base and DH for a couple of days, made possible by Sizemore's DL move. The team called up a backup catcher, giving Eric Wedge a little more in-game flexibility, but how the Indians deal with this rash of injuries will go a long way in determining whether or not the team can get back into the race. Their flexibility, especially with Mark DeRosa in place, helps that cause.

John Smoltz (70 DXL)
While Tom Glavine is hoping to make it back to the Braves, his former teammate is hoping that he'll be ready to make his first start somewhere other than for the Braves. Things are going well for Smoltz-especially in relation to the struggling Glavine-and his second rehab start has to have the Red Sox both happy and working the phones. It's impossible to have too much pitching, but the Sox are going to have just that. Their "Frankenstein" fifth-starter pitchers-an expected combo of Brad Penny in the first half, Smoltz in the second half, and Clay Buchholz backstopping them both-are all healthy and effective at the same time. Smoltz made a second solid rehab start in A-ball to bookend an appearance in Double-A; it's his next start that will be the real test, as he'll move up to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he's hoping he'll make only one more start before heading to Boston. With the decisions that will need to be made, he'll really need to excel to force the team's hand.

Josh Hamilton (35 DXL)
If Rangers fans are wondering if it's déjŕ vu, it is. Many of the symptoms and facts surrounding Hamilton's groin injury are beginning to sound like Ian Kinsler's season-ending sports hernia from last season. Same symptoms, same doctor, but due to the timing, at least it doesn't involve the same downside. Even if forced to have surgery, Hamilton would miss somewhere between four and six weeks. This is the same as it was with Kinsler, but since the second baseman's injury happened late in the year last season, it was hung with the "season-ending" tag. We'll know more after Hamilton has some imaging done today. If it is indeed a sports hernia, they'll likely head to surgery quickly to get him back on the field as soon as possible. The Rangers have plenty of outfield depth to cover for Hamilton's absence.

Joey Votto (30 DXL)
Khalil Greene (30 DXL)

I won't get all personal here, but UTK exists in large part because of panic attacks. That makes me feel for Votto and Greene as they go through different situations. Votto's "stress-related issues" are vague, but in a day and age where mental health doesn't carry the stigma that it once did, it's good that both are able to get the care they need without having to face the kinds of issues or taunting that players of the past did. Greene's problems are a little more clear and disturbing, with several sources telling harrowing tales of his poor coping mechanisms. The refrain of "he plays because he can, not because he wants to" seems to be one of the biggest factors, so we'll have to see how this plays out. There's no timeline on either player, but teams have done a great job over the past decade of getting employee assistance plans, including mental health and addiction help, in place. The DXL marks here are just guesses.

Willy Taveras (3 DXL)
It's never good when a speed guy is having leg problems. It's worse when said speed guy doesn't really have any other skills. Taveras was brought to Cincinnati because he's fast. Now that he has a strained hamstring, the worry is that the Reds don't have the depth to cope, especially with Votto out as well. Dusty Baker has plenty of options for the outfield with Chris Dickerson and Jerry Hairston Jr. (especially once Edwin Encarnacion is back in a few weeks), but there's a stylistic adjustment that Baker will need to make as well. Without Votto and Encarnacion, the team lacks power. Without Taveras, the team lacks speed as well. Managers usually don't balance the two, swinging from one to the other; teams either "wait on homers" or they "manufacture runs" in the old-school way. Lacking both, Baker is going to shift where he can and look to his pitching staff. (Of course, getting Baker focused on pitching is seldom a good thing.) Taveras' hamstring has been lingering for over a week, so even if he avoids the DL, look for Baker to get Taveras some days off, especially if he can find ways to string them together.

Eric Stults (15 DXL)
Hiroki Kuroda (45 DXL)

The Dodgers pushed Stults to the DL on Sunday, as much to make room for the return of Kuroda as for Stults' injured thumb. Sure, the thumb kept him from starting, but this was mostly a roster move. The Dodgers want Kuroda back to take some pressure off of Chad Billingsley, and they're also trying to see what, if anything, Eric Milton has left. While Kuroda's comeback from an oblique strain should go well given the methodical rehab, the Dodgers still need all of the pitching depth they can get. Clayton Kershaw, the de facto third starter, was taxed with a high workload last year and is headed for more this season, assuming he stays healthy. Ned Colletti may be checking with teams to upgrade his pitching (Brad Penny boomeranging back to Tinseltown, or another deal with the Indians, this time for Cliff Lee?) but he's also got to build depth in order to keep his staff together beyond 2009.

Quick Cuts: Congrats to Friend of UTK Peter King for completing his 20th year at SI. Meeting my heroes has been one of the best things about this job, but finding out that guys like King, Peter Gammons, and Gary Huckabay are all great guys too? Priceless. ... The Cubs expect to have Rich Harden back soon. ... Jose Reyes is in Florida at the Mets complex. He'll test his leg this week and should be back on Friday. ... John Maine will be fine for his next start after leaving his last start with an upset stomach. ... Sources tell me that Oliver Perez has had a pretty serious setback with his knee; we'll know more about this after imaging. ... Coco Crisp will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, but the shoulder strain seems to have him headed for the DL. ... Sounds as if Francisco Liriano is ticketed back to Rochester in the near future. Glen Perkins has a couple of rehab starts left before Liriano's leash gets tugged. ... Chad Tracy hits the DL with a right oblique strain, an injury he's had before. ... It's always hard to tell with Rule 5 guys, but Donald Veal's groin strain is serious enough to land him on the DL. I'm sure they'll be in no rush to get him back, and he'll likely be handled very conservatively before a rehab assignment. ... Rafael Betancourt left Sunday's game with a groin strain, and late word is that he's headed to the DL, another blow to the Indians. ... Scott McCauley warns that Gwinnett has some hometown scoring going on, so stats from Tom Glavine and Tommy Hanson might not be as good as they look.

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