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August 18, 2009

Under The Knife

Piling High

by Will Carroll

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David Wright (9/1)
"Embarrassed?" Are you kidding me? I had to call and make sure that Wright actually said that he was "embarrassed" that he went on the DL. As if there's something wrong with it, after he was inches from being killed, after his brain was sloshed around inside his skull. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard an athlete say. I can only hope that the statement is in fact a symptom of the concussion itself. Wright is one of those players that kids actually look up to and the idea that he's going to the "rub some dirt on it" card for something so serious could have deadly consequences down the line. Be embarrassed if you show up drunk on Deadspin or if your paycheck exceeds your performance, but an injury? That's something you deal with as it comes. There's no shame in not ducking fast enough, David. This episode makes me wonder if he'll push himself back; at least he'll have a couple weeks off and that 'embarrassing' concussion can fade some.

Carlos Beltran (9/1)
Yes, there are other possibilities for Beltran, aside from microfracture surgery. In fact, there's no certainty that he'll have that procedure, just a probability given the known evidence and the thinking of both Beltran and the Mets. Implants, transplants, and matrix/scaffolds are all part of the medical technologies coming in a different path than we've seen before. It used to be that technologies like the arthroscope were used in athletes first; they got the best care, which was often the most expensive and experimental. Now, we're seeing the profitable seniors market drive advances in orthopedics that are coming back down to athletes. Think we won't see this kind of tech in athletes soon? The developer, Smith & Nephew, sponsors a chair at ASMI, the one held by Dr. Glenn Fleisig. Beltran, for his part, is progressing well, going from shagging flies to running in straight lines. He'll probably try running the bases by the end of the week and appears on track to get in games before the minor league season wraps.

Alex Cora (10/4)
Let's finish up the Mets section of UTK with Cora. He's headed for surgery on both thumbs, which will end his season because of the timing. In order to not be completely helpless, surgeons will work on one thumb this week, and then the other in about a month. He's been playing with pain for a while, but simply couldn't go on anymore. I hope he's not embarrassed. He should be back next year, though he will be a free agent. He makes for a productive backup, something the Mets will need.

Nate McLouth (8/30)
The Braves tried to let McLouth play through a hamstring strain, giving him a couple of days off and letting him guide them. It didn't work out, even after Bobby Cox said that McLouth would avoid the DL. He didn't, and the team was forced to push him for 15 days in order to fill out the roster. With Martin Prado ill, the team wasn't flexible enough to go with the short bench, costing McLouth a week in which Cox expected he'd be able to play. He should return at the minimum and slot right back into his roles, playing center and batting atop the order. The only worry here is the chronic hamstring problem he's been dealing with on and off since June. He's been a solid acquisition for the Braves, producing almost exactly as expected, though this appears to be a real win-win trade in the longer term.

Hiroki Kuroda (8/26)
After taking a ball to the head, Kuroda will miss his next start, which was scheduled for Thursday. Word is that, given his symptoms now, it's possible that he'll avoid the DL and slot back into the rotation, missing just the one turn. He's said to have a mild headache and that the swelling on his head has been controlled, though there's still some and some bruising in the area of the impact. Importantly, he's showing no mental deficits or severe concussion symptoms. The Dodgers will continue to monitor him and have him evaluated by neurologists before they allow him to do anything more, but he's lucky that we can even discuss such possibilities after that near-miss.

Justin Upton (8/24)
As the D'backs start a long road swing, it looks like Upton could join them sometime during the trip. Upton's missed just over a week with an oblique injury and seems close to a rehab stint to get some swings in. The injury has healed normally and there's thought that Upton could return in the minimum 15 days. It appears that the D'backs status will slow things a bit, but not by much. Upton's performance in rehab will determine how quickly he comes back. With Eric Byrnes also close to a return, Arizona is about to be forced to make some tough roster and playing-time decisions over the last six weeks of the season, ones that will give us a good preview of their 2010 plan.

Todd Wellemeyer (9/10)
There were some whispers over the last week that Wellemeyer might be headed for Tommy John surgery, given his elbow problems. At least right now, he's avoiding that. Wellemeyer was cleared to begin throwing again, though there's no solid timetable on when he'll be back in the Cardinals' rotation. Dave Duncan is well suited to making do with whatever pitchers he has, allowing Wellemeyer a couple of weeks to ramp back up. One thing to note this year is that the World Baseball Classic pushed the minor league season back about a week (as well as bumping everyone's last series on the big-league schedule into October), so there's more time for MLB players to get rehab work in, especially if their affiliates make the playoffs. Wellemeyer likely won't be back before early September anyway, giving Mitchell Boggs a few more starts.

Workload List

It's about that time of year when we should look at what young pitchers are bumping up against workload milestones. Our database wizards, Clay Davenport and Bil Burke, pulled together this list for me:


Pitcher           Age   IP '09  IP '08    Diff.
Sean West          23    129.0   100.2   -28.1
Joba Chamberlain   23    126.2   100.1   -26.1
Max Scherzer       24    133.0   109.0   -24.0
Brett Anderson     21    126.2   105.0   -21.2
Trevor Cahill      21    139.1   124.1   -15.0
Brett Cecil        22    119.1   118.2    -0.2
Rick Porcello      20    112.0   125.0    13.0
John Lannan        24    159.0   182.0    23.0
Ricky Romero       24    136.0   164.1    28.1
Chris Volstad      22    146.1   175.1    29.0
Clayton Kershaw    21    136.0   169.0    33.0
Jordan Zimmermann  23    100.0   134.0    34.0
Felix Hernandez    23    165.1   200.2    35.1
Johnny Cueto       23    136.2   174.0    37.1
Jair Jurrjens      23    150.1   188.1    38.0

A negative number means that they've already exceeded last season's innings totals. Note that these do include minor league innings, something that I've had some issues with in putting these in line with injuries or poor results the next year. The obvious guys to worry about here are Porcello, Volstad, and Kershaw, guys who have ace potential but are facing big increases in their seasonal totals. With some names on here already showing problems or breaking down (Cueto and Zimmermann), teams are going to have to start making hard decisions about the balance between winning now and protecting arms. I don't envy them that task.

Quick Cuts: I'll be in Cincinnati tonight, getting my first live look at Tim Lincecum. ... Late word that the Twins have placed Francisco Liriano on the DL with "arm fatigue." ... The quote from Kenny Williams that Jake Peavy won't pitch against the Cubs in early September just means they don't want Peavy batting under NL rules, not that his return date has been pushed back from August 28. ... Clay Buchholz scraped up his hand on a head-first slide, but it shouldn't affect his pitching. ... Justin Morneau left Monday's game with dizziness. He's had a history of intestinal issues and is prone to dehydration, so keep an eye on this. ... Dontrelle Willis has been pushed back again. His rehab start is delayed due to a hip strain. ... Best injury quote I've heard in a while, in relation to a minor league catcher who broke both hands: "He's on the DL, and we've ruined his dating life." ... Now that Stephen Strasburg has signed his deal with the Nats, I expect the mechanics gurus to shift their focus to him. Look for Mike Marshall to tell us why Strasburg will break down, and for new combinations of letters of the alphabet to fear. Just remember, if there's anything we should have learned from Mark Prior, it's that we didn't know enough about the kinetic forces of pitching or the insidious power of fatigue to make the kind of "bulletproof" pronouncements we made about Prior. Worse, we haven't learned enough since to say that Prior will be the last victim of those concerns.

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