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June 8, 2009

Under The Knife

The Sixth Tool

by Will Carroll

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Evan Longoria (5 DXL)
Longoria has had a virtually legendary start to his career, and he has all the tools, but he might have an issue with what I consider the "sixth tool": health. Sure, a minor hamstring strain isn't much, but the dings and dents to Longoria are adding up, little by little. Last year, he came back and came back well to help his team into and through the playoffs, so we know he can heal. The question for a player like Longoria, close to the top of his game and yet young, is whether they can play at this level and stay healthy. Guys like Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, and Joba Chamberlain have little else to prove but durability. Longoria's not going to miss that much time, but once again, the conservatism of the Rays' medical staff comes into play here.

Justin Upton (NA)
I often talk about genetics as the next frontier in sports medicine. Watching Upton take a big swing, then grimace and grab at his shoulder has to make anyone who's watched B.J. Upton play make much the same kind of face. There's no word from the D'backs on the diagnosis or severity of the injury, but even the suggestion that the talented Upton (err, I mean the younger one) could be facing the same king of shoulder issues that led to off-season surgery for his brother has to be a source of worry for everyone. Upton is the kind of talent who could end up either carrying a franchise or frustrating it, and again his brother is the model. The D'backs have to wonder what else can go wrong for them, but if they asked that question out loud, they wouldn't like the answer. It's too soon to put a DXL figure on something like this, but they're likely to be very cautious and try to catch things early if possible.

John Maine (0 DXL)
So Maine pitches through a stomach virus, comes back on schedule from shoulder surgery, and one bad outing gets his manager airing him out in public? Of all the problems the Mets are having, John Maine or any other pitcher having a bad outing is about the least of them. It just continues to show that Manuel and the Mets simply can't get out of their own way on some issues. The one troubling thing from the outing is that Maine isn't getting his velocity back. After the surgery, there's a normal period where things aren't 100 percent, but Maine's bone spur removal was relatively minor, so this might just be that either he's not getting it back or that there's something more going on in the shoulder. He'll make his next start unless Manuel does something rash, but he needs to show that this outing was a fluke, not the continuation of a slide.

Carlos Quentin (20 DXL)
Quentin is eligible to come off of the DL on Wednesday, but when last seen he was still in a walking boot. Given that he hasn't yet been seen running or hitting, that makes his coming off at the minimum unlikely, but that's not a setback, just a reality. Herm Schneider and his staff have been working to make Quentin's foot not scream with every step, and that's going to take some time. Ozzie Guillen is using Scott Podsednik in left in the meantime, but he's obviously not going to give the team the power it's missing with Quentin out. Once he's back, the recurrent nature of plantar fasciitis is going to force Guillen to keep Quentin rested, and with Jim Thome in place in the DH slot, it'll be without the benefit of turning to DHing Quentin all that often. It's going to be tricky, and given how he's recovering I'm not hopeful that this is the last that Quentin has seen of the DL due to this issue. Sources tell me that the weekend is the target date for his return, but we'll need to see some running and hitting drills by Tuesday for this to happen.

Jacoby Ellsbury (5 DXL)
John Smoltz (70 DXL)
Jed Lowrie (45 DXL)

There's good news and bad news in Beantown with their multiplicity of injuries. We'll start with the bad, as Ellsbury traded a neat diving grab for a sprained shoulder. He had jammed the shoulder on a slide earlier, but the catch is where the AC joint was exposed. The Boston Globe says that the shoulder is inflamed and tender while questioning whether or not he'll be available tomorrow. My sources are telling me that this might be a bit worse than that, however. It's hard to tell at this stage, though it's likely that Ellsbury is headed for some imaging to see how bad the sprain-and let's be clear here, this is a sprain and not a strain-should be graded. Depending on the severity, Ellsbury could miss anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and there's just no way to tell yet. That he was able to stay in is a positive, but it could also be that Ellsbury just has a high pain tolerance. We'll know a lot more by Tuesday.

The good news is that Smoltz continues to rehab well, and seems to be on track to get his first Red Sox start early next week. The Sox are also looking toward getting Jed Lowrie back near the end of the month; as with all wrist injuries, the normal bat control caveats apply, though the bar has been lowered by the issues the Sox have had in his absence. Despite the rumors and talks, it would surprise me if the Sox made a significant move before giving Lowrie the chance to re-establish himself at shortstop.

Casey Kotchman (15 DXL)
The Braves finally had to make a decision on Kotchman, and after watching him take batting practice, elected to push him to the DL. The issue? His lower leg has healed slowly after a HBP. There's no fracture, but the painful leg still isn't allowing him to walk normally, and he avoids putting normal weight on it. That leaves them with Martin Prado at first base as part of a mix-and-match lineup for Bobby Cox until Kotchman comes back next week. Injuries like this often take a little longer than expected to heal up, as this one has, but they seldom linger or recur—absent another ball to the shin.

Willy Taveras (10 DXL)
Taveras has played in two games since injuring his hamstrings, and one was last night's extra-inning affair, where he had to play more than expected. Of course, the performance has been suffering longer than his leg; he's gone from a .400 OBP on May 15th to .315. That drop is about exactly the range between "valuable" and "suck" for Taveras. It's all due to his batting average's fluctuations, exactly what we knew about Taveras coming in. With all his value tied up in his speed, and that speed held back by a hamstring injury, there comes a point where he quickly becomes valueless, and a .238 EqA shows that he's at replacement level now. The defensive numbers don't help his case either. It would take one of the sharper knives to figure out how much, if any, of the Reds' losses could be placed on the difference between Taveras and his replacement, since the team is also missing several other players, most notably their best hitter, Joey Votto. (As for Votto, there's no timetable yet on his return.) It just is interesting that Dusty Baker doesn't seem to notice that Taveras' backups have both been playing well above his level. Baker may assure Taveras that he'll have a starting job to come back to, but I'm not sure why.

Alberto Arias (2 DXL)
Injuries are never funny, especially not when a pitcher is injured because his own teammate plunked him. The initial reports were that Arias had been struck in the head by a Wandy Rodriguez pitch, but as the facts came out, it began to make more sense. Arias and Rodriguez were playing long-toss in the Houston outfield when Arias apparently lost sight of the ball and it struck him in the forehead. He lost consciousness briefly and had to be carted off. He was checked and was available as of Sunday, but still hasn't returned to play. The report was that Arias lost the ball in the sunlight, tough to do in a dome, though the roof did appear to be open on Friday. He'll be fine, and might want to consider some sunglasses.

Quick Cuts: Just another 97-pitch complete game from Roy Halladay. Efficiency is simple, but it takes a master. ... Jim Leyland didn't like what he saw from Miguel Cabrera on Sunday; look for him to get spotted in and out for the next few days, a smart play on Leyland's part. ... Chris Iannetta caught a couple of full games this weekend in Triple-A without issue. He should be back in the Rockies lineup on Tuesday. ... Cesar Izturis had an appendectomy and will land on the DL. He shouldn't miss much more than the minimum, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. ... Jose Valverde had a nice simulated game on Sunday, and is on track to return later this week. ... Justin Duchscherer is going to start throwing again in about a week, making the All-Star break a best-case scenario. ... Jake Westbrook had his first rehab start and seems on track to be back in the Indians rotation after a few more such outings. ... Koji Uehara will come off of the DL on Thursday to make the start. ... Pat Burrell's going to be a Biscuit, as his minor league rehab will start in Montgomery; he could be back by the weekend. ... Felipe Paulino strained his groin and is likely to miss his next start. Russ Ortiz replaced him in both instances. ... Travis Snider has left his Triple-A teammates to have a back problem checked out.

Related Content:  Back,  Shoulder,  Bad Start

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