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August 10, 2009

Under The Knife

Big Things

by Will Carroll

There are still tickets available for tonight's Tweet-Up/Ballpark Event here in Indianapolis with Sports Illustrated's newly minted Hall of Famer, Peter King. I hope to see a lot of our friends out there. I'll be there early, as will Scott McCauley and Brad Wochomurka, staff from Football Outsiders, several Indians front-office types, and perhaps a couple of players.

I'm sure that the topic of David Ortiz will come up tonight, with Peter being a passionate Red Sox fan, but for me this isn't really a story. We've learned some things about how the testing was conducted and about what players were doing in advance of the survey testing. First, we learned for the first time that there was a second round of testing, which functioned as a "B" sample. It's unclear whether or not it was done only after an initial positive, but the statement can be read both ways. It's pretty clear that this secondary round is what's been referred to in some places as the "appeals," the 13 players that were initially excluded from "The List," making it grow from 83 to 96. They were insignificant since the 83 was enough to trigger further testing, but it does tell us more about the process. It's one that's working and might even be too strict in some ways.

While David Ortiz's excuse is weak-I'm a strong believer in absolute responsibility-it's also plausible. Testing on two players in 2009 showed up with banned substances from what we know to be legal supplements; in 2003, the supplement industry was not nearly as closely monitored and players didn't have as much understanding or fear. I don't accept that Ortiz did not know. We've been told again and again that Gene Orza informed the players on the list after the government seized it in 2004. There's a bit of lawyer-ese going on here; the MLBPA says that it did not inform players of a positive test, just that they were on the list. The Mitchell Report makes it clear that, whatever the language used, all players involved were aware. If Ortiz says differently, I have no reason to believe him, though I will admit that he's in a difficult spot, proving a negative.

We're left where Jim Leyland is, tired of the story, but knowing we're not near the end. I'll get to repeat myself in print and on radio, reminding people why we can't just "release the list" and why the 2003 list is even more irrelevant to our knowledge of steroids in baseball than even the Mitchell Report. We'll just wait for the next name, one I expect in the next two weeks, and start again. Powered by an uptick in the real estate market, on to the injuries:

Carlos Zambrano (8/19)
Aramis Ramirez (8/13)

The Cubs are having some issues staying healthy. Playing well? Sure. Fighting for the division lead? Sure. As I've said all along this year, the Cubs are the most talented team in the division, and perhaps the most talented team in the National League. It was always going to be a matter of getting the most out of that talent, a volatile and fragile mix. Zambrano personifies the team, it seems-he's definitely volatile and increasingly fragile. While Zambrano may have initially seemed to sneak past the abuse that broke both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, he instead subsequently seems to have just worn down; by the time he signed his big deal, it had all caught up to him. This time it's his back, with some lower back spasms pushing him to the DL. With Ted Lilly already out, the Cubs used the DL move to juggle their rotation as much as to protect him, as he could actually be activated later this week due to the retroactive move. The Cubs are much more worried about Ramirez; he's been playing with a deficit in his shoulder, an obvious problem after his dislocation, but we were all initially led to believe he was closer to normal. Ramirez has instead been in significant pain and looks to need a cortisone shot before returning. That will keep him out a few more days at the least, and if he doesn't get significant relief, he'll be joining Zambrano on the DL. Jake Fox will get more at-bats in the interim, which is about the only positive I can find here.

Jake Peavy (8/28)
What did the White Sox know and when did they know it? With some of the best minds in baseball in the halls of Petco Park, it seems like the Sox knew that Peavy was ahead of his schedule. Was it the division race that they knew would charge him up? Whatever it is, the timing of his return from his ankle issues is huge. We could see Peavy pitching in the minor leagues this week, starting with an outing in Triple-A Charlotte on Thursday. The current, public plan is that Peavy will go for three rehab starts to build stamina, but the Sox are ready to scrap that if he looks ready. With a weekend bullpen session and a fielding drill that showed he could move pretty well, things are accelerating. The questions now are stamina and effectiveness, things we'll learn about when he takes the mound on Thursday.

Glen Perkins
The Pavano deal is making a bit more sense now, as Perkins is the latest Twins pitcher with problems, this after Kevin Slowey's surgery and Francisco Liriano's struggles. Perkins is headed for an MRI on his troublesome pitching shoulder; it has lost some range of motion, indicating some swelling inside the shoulder. The team seems to think he'll avoid the DL, but that a shift to the pen might help. I'm not sure why that would help, unless it's their way of resting him, but he's really only one injury away from returning to the rotation. That means the rest might be brief, and even then, we'll have to see how his shoulder responds. Perkins hasn't been effective since early in the season, so while shoulder problems are never good, they're at least understandable.

Chipper Jones (8/11)
The Braves are getting a bit better about convincing Jones to take some time off when he has his inevitable injuries. The guy is now in that "Moises Alou stage"-productive, but fragile. That's OK if the team has a solid backup and a manager that can spot his guy in and out as necessary. Jones should be in the perfect situation, but his ego has always been the issue. Now it appears Jones is maturing or at least mellowing in this regard. With a mild oblique strain, he sat, knowing that a Monday offday would help as well. Jones is going to continue to have these types of problems regularly, but at 37 there's no reason you can't project him to play 100-120 games per year in two or three more seasons at a very high level. He's a player I can't wait to see next year's PECOTA on. Jones should be back in the Braves lineup on Tuesday, as the Estimated Return Date (or ERD) shows.

Gil Meche (8/13)
Meche was better in his second Triple-A start. Actually, he was much better, showing good velocity and command. The back issue often presents as something of a shoulder issue because of the kinetics of the human body; if the pitcher can't bend normally, the shoulder has to push a bit more, which can wear it down, or worse. The velocity coming back shows that the shoulder wasn't damaged, and the control indicates that he's got his mechanics back to a normal point. I asked Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star if he thought there was any aspect where the Royals had gotten better under Dayton Moore, and he pointed to the pitching. Sam sees a lot more of that team than I do, but looking at the numbers, I don't see it. Meche has been a decent enough signing if they can keep him healthy through the end of his contract. He'll be back in the Royals rotation starting on Thursday. (Speaking of the Royals, keep your eye on BP Radio later today for a BP Conversation with former Royals athletic trainer Mickey Cobb.)

Billy Wagner (8/20)
There's growing speculation that Wagner could be traded. His comeback from Tommy John surgery is going well, as he's made four appearances, showing good velocity and simply blowing away hitters in A-ball. He's going to appear in back-to-back games later this week, and could be activated at any point after that. He's got a big contract and a buyout/option for next year, so he'd likely clear waivers. The Rays and Cardinals both have kept an eye on him, they both like proven relievers, and both have a need as well as some available cash. Wagner's return date is nearly matched to the month, so if dealt, he could continue his rehab assignment until August 30th. He'll be ready before then, but roster issues might creep into the decision.

Jordan Zimmermann (10/4)
In reporting the situation, the Washington Times referred to "concerning facts." That's an interesting new euphemism, but the Nats are sending Zimmermann to see Dr. Andrews about his elbow after his rehab start in A-ball left him with increased pain in his pitching elbow. Any significant injury would be devastating for a team that was supposed to be building for the future. Losing one of their best young pitchers for a year wouldn't help any more than their recent win streak, the one that could cost them Bryce Harper. (Speaking of whom, assuming that Harper is drafted high next year, does he have more leverage than most picks, being just 17 at that point?) We'll know more about Zimmermann soon, but the worst-case scenario is surgery.

Scott Rolen (8/14)
Last year, the Mets took a lot of heat for how they handled Ryan Church in his recovery from a concussion. I don't see much difference in the way the Reds have handled Rolen. Church came back too quickly and had issues; it's the same with Rolen. Post-concussive symptoms got worse after trying to play with Church and now with Rolen. Church took months to recover, though he was dealing with his second concussion of the year. And Rolen? Well, we don't know yet, but there's also no reason to risk it for a team going nowhere. The Reds clearly didn't get Rolen for this year (or did they?) and need to worry about his long-term availability. No one wants to see Rolen end up on a list that already has Corey Koskie and Mike Matheny on it-a list of the guys who had their careers ended by concussions. So far, the Reds are saying that Rolen will only miss a couple more days, and that worries me.

Death by a Thousand Quick Cuts: Joe Posnanski's The Machine is as terrific as you'd expect; I'm about halfway through. ... Cecil Cooper might say that Mike Hampton has a "strained lateral meniscus," which might be the result of my saying "a tear is a strain" so many times to Coop during his years here in Indy. The fact is that the meniscus is torn, but Hampton is going to try and pitch through it. ... Erik Bedard is heading to see Lewis Yocum about his shoulder. ... The Dodgers will make a decision today on Chad Billingsley's scheduled Wednesday start. His hamstring 'cramps' have been a problem in his last two starts. The Dodgers are reportedly looking at John Smoltz as one option to find Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw some rest. ... Joe Saunders' sore shoulder has cost him about two full runs of ERA this season. Now it puts him on the DL, and the Angels aren't sure when he'll be back. ... Tim Wakefield will throw a simulated game on Monday, and he could be back in the rotation without a rehab assignment. ... Ian Kinsler will head up the turnpike for a couple of games at Double-A Frisco to test his hamstring. He'll be activated late this week. ... Brian Roberts missed time this weekend after fouling a ball off his shin, but he's expected back today. ... Jason Bay was back in the lineup yesterday, showing just how far the Sox will go right now to try and stay in the race. Bay is "not 100%, but safe" according to a team source. ... Ian Snell could be headed to the DL with a forearm strain. ... If you don't believe in the Verducci Effect, explain Cole Hamels' 2009 to me? ... J.C. Romero had a setback in his rehab and will have an MRI on Monday to see how bad it was. ... Brett Cecil has a Grade I strain of his MCL in his push leg; he'll miss a start. ... Jay Bruce got the cast taken off, and will begin working towards an early-September return from his broken arm. ... Tim Hudson will start a minor league rehab assignment sometime soon. He's expected to rejoin the Braves when rosters expand. ... Top Snakes prospect Jarrod Parker saw Lyle Cain in Birmingham, and it looks like he'll avoid Tommy John for now. Remember that name, though; we'll be seeing a lot more of Cain over the next few years. ... The word from Marc Topkin is that Troy Percival is having more back problems, and is hanging up his spikes for now. ... A great article by Jeff Passan explains that Josh Hamilton is not in violation of his aftercare and is drug tested three times a week. That's amazing.

Related Content:  Back,  Shoulder,  Year Of The Injury,  Year-to-date

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