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July 6, 2009

Under The Knife

Bombed Out

by Will Carroll

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Andy Roddick may not have won at Wimbledon, losing to the man who may be the greatest of all time, but his serves are still astonishing. A couple of years ago, I came really close to getting Roddick to throw a baseball as part of the RCA Championships' "The Best Athletes" ad campaign. His agents stepped in, but I'm still convinced that his 135 mph serve would convert into a 95 mph pitch. I'm not saying that he immediately steps into a bullpen, but maybe if he'd gone for baseball instead of tennis back as a teenager, we might be looking at him the way we do with Joel Zumaya. I'm not alone here, either; both Tom House and Peter Gammons thought that his serve and arm speed would translate to a mid-90s heater. The other interesting point is that Roddick's serve stayed at the 130+ mark for the entire four-hour match. That's 243 first serves, plus 75 second serves, a number closer to a softballer than a baseball pitcher. I'd be curious why tennis players can keep this up without loss, though my guess is that it has as much to do with the long follow-through as their inherent athleticism and conditioning it takes to play at the highest level. Andy Roddick once played tennis against a writer while using a frying pan instead of a racquet; would it be so much to have him throw a couple pitches?

Powered by Starbucks' Africa (red) blend, on to the injuries:

Chien-Ming Wang (45 DXL)
Wang has had two situations that may have, inadvertently, led to his latest problem. Yes, I think the foot injury and the related "hip imbalance" led to small imperceptible changes in his delivery that ended up causing problems in his shoulder. The problem is, we'll never know. The Yankees, as far as I can tell, have never had a high-speed video analysis or a computerized force analysis done on Wang, or on any of their pitchers for that matter. For a team that spends in excess of $200 million on their payroll, and more still on bonuses, while charging the ticket prices that they do, it's as outrageous as anything in baseball. Not only could they send any of their pitchers to Birmingham, Cincinnati, or San Diego (three locations I know of with this equipment), they could have their own right there in Yankee Stadium. They could offset the cost by allowing local kids to come in for their own analysis; you can't tell me that kids from miles around wouldn't flock to that kind of operation, even at a couple hundred bucks a pop. Instead, the Yankees are guessing like I am, with the only data being an MRI that shows the results, but not the cause. Wang will miss at least a month, perhaps longer due to a shoulder strain and "severe" bursitis, both which suggest some sort of inflammation and/or impingement.

Phil Hughes (0 DXL)
Because of Wang's injury, the Yankees will need to replace him in the rotation with someone. The first name on virtually everyone's lips is that of Hughes, who would be coming back out of the pen. My feelings on his success in the role aside, the Yankees immediately waved this thought off, saying that Hughes couldn't move to the rotation because he's not "stretched out." Really? Hughes has spent the better part of his life as a starting pitcher, and only the last month or so as a reliever. He threw 90 pitches in five of six May starts (yes, I'm including the one 89-pitch outing), and he threw 63 in a relief outing on June 10. Are we saying that a month in the pen de-conditions starting pitchers so much that they're unable to slide back into the rotation? Isn't that precisely what the Yankees did last year with Joba Chamberlain? Granted, that was the "plan" for Chamberlain, but having done it once, couldn't they easily do it again? I'm not saying that Hughes could go from the pen to 100 pitches, but I do have a hard time believing that any pitcher loses so much capability in such a short time. There's likely a lot of data that could support my position here, but common sense does it effectively enough. Again, all that said, I don't think that Hughes should be moved, just that he could.

Jorge Posada (2 DXL)
The Yankees' backstop has been dealing with a sore thumb. It's one of those things that catchers deal with, and what makes it so difficult for catchers to keep hitting effectively over the course of a season. Posada's been both healthy for a catcher and a very good hitter for a long time, which highlights a couple of different skills. First, he has to be able to perform at less than 100 percent, but he also has to be able to avoid injuries in the first place. The latter seems to be more a matter of luck than skill, but time and again catchers at a young age demonstrate that they are either injury-prone or not, and it seldom changes over the course of a career. The survivor's effect is strong here, but that's not a statistical problem; the survivors are what we're looking for. Posada homered on Sunday, so it appears the rest helped. The Yanks don't have any days off until next week's All-Star break, so look for Joe Girardi to find Posada a day or two off.

Fernando Martinez (15 DXL)
"A ligament behind his right knee has been hurting for a week." That's the quote that Adam Rubin got, but this one's not about Jose Reyes. Instead, it's Martinez who is having a similar problem, and now Mets fans are doing the "oh, not again" thing. (It's not as if the Mets fans weren't already out on the ledge.) Martinez is heading for an exam with Mets team doctors and is facing a possible DL stint. Martinez apparently had a similar problem in the knee back in 2006, while playing in the Dominican Republic. He came back well from it then, but the records on the real effect and treatment of the injury aren't public. Keep a very close eye on this one, as his history of leg problems appears to be the only thing holding Martinez back. 

Scott Richmond (15 DXL)
One knowledgeable Twitterer said "don't we know Brad Arnsberg by the trail of dead?" after Richmond completed the set, giving every Jays starter this season a stint on the DL before we even get to the All-Star break. Arnsberg and his "throw harder" mentality certainly makes for an easy target, but I'm not sure he's the right one. The Jays' pitchers have had different injuries to different parts of their arms that have occurred in different ways. Dustin McGowan and Francisco Rosario have been injured initially in the minors, while Jesse Litsch and Ricky Romero made it up before showing any real problems. More confounding is Roy Halladay, who's only had minor problems and shown no ill effects during the Arnsberg era. Richmond's bicipital tendonitis is no big deal in the longer term, but when even the 'safety net' arms are breaking down, it's time for a hard look at the risk factors the Jays are taking on. While Arnsberg may not be saving any arms, it seems to be the front office and scouting staff that can't seem to judge the skill of health.

Randy Johnson (TBA)
The Big Unit called for the ATC to come out and check him, then left the game without argument. Those are two things you don't see pitchers do, and two things you certainly don't expect to see from Johnson. Johnson had injured the shoulder in the previous half-inning on a swing; he immediately tossed the bat away and appeared to be walking back to the dugout. It was surprising to see him come out to the mound, but he was quickly gone after giving up a pair of home runs. Johnson will have an MRI today on what the Giants are calling a strained shoulder. With the break coming up, it's likely that Johnson will skip a start this week at the very least. With the team's seasonal fate riding on its pitching, the Giants have to be very concerned by this situation.

Aramis Ramirez (60 DXL)
Ramirez not only made it through a short rehab stint with Peoria, he really showed all the skills the Cubs were hoping to see. He had no trouble in the field, but more importantly, no hesitation at third base. He hit, but more importantly, he hit for power. The shoulder is still at risk, but no more so than it was the day Ramirez injured himself. It was a fluke, and it's going to take as big a fluke to have the shoulder re-injured. That's not to say there won't be minor setbacks, but there's a difference between mild setback and re-injury. Ramirez will be back at third base for the Cubs in tonight's game. He'll likely get some extra rest through the break, but given Lou Piniella's roster madness, it's tough to say exactly how that will manifest.

Mark DeRosa (7 DXL)
DeRosa didn't bring the wrist injury with him to St. Louis. The Cardinals don't seem terribly concerned, as the wrist injury was a bit of bad luck, just one of those things that happens in baseball, though this obviously had terrible timing for the acquiring team, especially one that could use DeRosa's bat and positional flexibility. DeRosa reportedly responded to the cortisone injection last week and will see doctors on Monday before an anticipated return to the lineup on Tuesday. Having already missed a week and with the All-Star break just ahead, if he's not ready, the team will likely use a retroactive move to DL him and have him back after the break. That the Cards didn't use him as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement tells us they're keeping this option available.

Jeff Baker (0 DXL)
The Cubs traded for Baker as the Rockies were having their hand forced on bringing him off the DL. In something of a roster crunch deal, the Rockies flipped him for Alberto Albuquerque. (Seriously, that's an awesome name. When I initially heard it, I thought that was the Isotopes' mascot.) The trade itself isn't that interesting or even important, but it serves as an object lesson. Most baseball fans think a player cannot be traded while on the DL. Baker wasn't just on the DL, but on the 60-day DL. The exchange of medical records and the ability of the club to make the trade contingent on passing a physical made this possible. Remember it as we head through July. The Cubs did bring Baker off the DL once he'd passed the physical and he'll slot into the utility role for them.

Quick Cuts: Carlos Quentin went 2-for-3 in his first rehab game at Triple-A Charlotte. Observers say he looked good hitting but was still "limpy" both in the field and on the bases. Making it tougher is the lack of the DH option once he's back, because that job is Jim Thome's. ... There's no value in shutting Grady Sizemore down. The minor surgery he needs on the elbow has a short recovery period, and he can't do further damage by playing, though the symptoms could bother him in the interim. That's what Cleveland will focus on-function. ... Josh Hamilton's rehab was slowed by rain, not by anything physical; he was activated anyway and will play Monday. ... Hanley Ramirez has a mild hip flexor strain. It's worrisome only in the sense that he's had a litany of injuries in his young career, and this is another to add to the list. ... Raul Ibanez will play the field this week after a minor setback with his groin. He could still be back late this week. ... Alex Gordon's rehab has reached Omaha. He'll start playing the field this week and should be back in KC after the break. ... Rich Harden's velocity was fine, but his control was off in his last, terrible start against the Brewers. We all know what that can mean. ... Mike Lowell will hit off of a tee and throw, but he's a ways off from a return. ... Alexei Ramirez is back in the lineup after missing a couple of games with a bone bruise on his index finger. It shouldn't be an issue in the near future. ... Kevin Slowey heads to the DL with recurrent wrist problem he says is left over from being hit by a line drive. It's unclear what the actual problem is, whether it's soft tissue or bone. He's easily replaceable, both for the Twins and on your fantasy team. ... Mike Redmond is unable to throw after being hit by a foul tip. He could be headed to the DL if he's not able to play by Tuesday. That could put more pressure on Joe Mauer in coming weeks. ... Mike Sweeney had back spasms, the latest in a long line of back problems he's fought for most of his career. He's likely headed to the DL. ... Eric Milton heads to the DL with an upper back injury. The Dodgers won't be in any rush to get him back, though the innings they get from him will be significant as they try to figure out how to get their rotation to October with something left in the tank.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Phil Hughes,  Year Of The Injury

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