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August 19, 2009

Under The Knife

All AL

by Will Carroll

Justin Morneau (8/21 ERD)
Francisco Liriano (9/10)

I try not to look at the standings. I have a general sense of them throughout the season, but I barely glance at them before the All-Star break. This isn't some purist-level avoidance, but for how I watch the game, it means nothing-it's noise. I know there's a button on my iPhone where I click it and MLB.com tells me how far back someone is, but it's in and out of my brain, if I even glance. Still, it surprised me in the course of a conversation the other day about Joe Mauer that the Twins had dipped below .500. I knew they were in that range, but like the NFL, so are a lot of teams. How they "felt" seems more in line with their third-order winning percentage. So even with Mauer, the team doesn't really have much of a chance at the playoffs, and without Morneau and Liriano, the odds get worse. Morneau has been an odd case in the majors; he was an injury-prone catcher who was moved to first base because he'd lost strength fighting an intestinal condition, but since establishing himself in Minnesota, he's been downright rugged. An inner ear infection isn't going to keep him out long, but the importance of every game is amplified at this stage of the season. The news is worse on Liriano-he's never fully come back after Tommy John surgery, but there's no evidence that he shouldn't have. His arm is "fatigued", which is double-speak for a muscular deficit. The worry here is that Liriano is having the type of shoulder problems many post-TJ pitchers have. If it's merely fatigue, he can come back, but if there's underlying damage... well, we all know how that can be. He threw nearly 200 innings last year, a big workload jump for someone who'd missed almost a full season before that. The Twins are being very circumspect about addressing this issue. It's interesting to note that it appears that Liriano has been pitching through this for a while, the same kind of silence that pushed his arm too far once before. The Twins won't say it, but Liriano could be done for the season if the team doesn't get back in the race.

Mark Buehrle
DeWayne Wise (9/1)

What's this sequence: 93, 45, 10, 72, 36. If you guessed "Buehrle's game scores starting with his perfect game," you cheated, or at least noticed his name in the header. He's gone a decent number of innings in each start, and got knocked around by a solid Yankees offense, but still doesn't have a win since the no-no. I can't show a one-to-one relationship between a no-hitter and injuries, but I think I can say that a no-hitter has a stress level unlike a normal game. I'd argue that, even on a low pitch count, the stress, adrenaline, and focus take a toll. Even no-hit near misses, like when Curt Schilling came within an out of getting one, can be costly. I think it's that guys push too hard a bit too far and managers change the rules. I'm certainly not suggesting that Buehrle have been pulled, but that short of Johnny Vander Meer, we might need to thing about buying these guys some extra rest after. Perfect-game hero Wise was already shunted even further back on the bench after the return of Carlos Quentin and the acquisition of Alex Rios, and now he's on the DL with a shoulder sprain. He's had the problem nearly all season, but it's been sore and the roster's been tight. You just don't waive heroes.

Carlos Guillen
The Tigers are retooling their lineup, and last night that pushed Guillen back to the outfield a bit quicker than they'd planned. With Aubrey Huff now in the fold and the team reluctant to keep Magglio Ordoņez on the bench, Guillen's shoulder will just have to hold up in much the same way the team is hoping that Brandon Inge's knee will. The medical staff is being pushed here, and is trying to keep players productive in both the short and long term. Guillen is only in the middle of his four-year, $48 million deal, so that is a concern. Watch to see how Jim Leyland spots him out, and if Guillen is making full-distance throws. There's some speculation that the Tigers will send Adam Everett deeper into the outfield than a cut-off man would normally go, and that they will use Clete Thomas as a defensive replacement, which is ironic since he started his season recovering from his own TJ surgery.

Nelson Cruz (8/19)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (9/1)

Cruz went 0-for-3 in his second rehab game, though it's important to note that no one on the Oklahoma City team got any hits, as Colorado's Jhoulys Chacin led a combined no-hitter. So Cruz is 0-for-5 in his two rehab games, while Julio Borbon has impressed in his stead. Does that mean that the Rangers, already juggling the 40-man with the Ivan Rodriguez acquisition, will hold off on activating Cruz? It doesn't look like it, though Borbon may not be the corresponding demotion. Cruz's ankle is stable and pain-free, so the Rangers have some tough decisions ahead. As does Saltalamacchia, who was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, but who may not need surgery. After seeing a specialist, Saltalamacchia was told the symptoms that were bothering him were due to a nerve issue rather than the TOS. Surgery's a possibility down the line, but there are indications that he could try to return this year. That's going to set up more roster issues for the Rangers, but they're ones that I'm sure they'll take.

Tim Wakefield (8/26)
Wakefield threw a pen session for the Sox staff, and they just weren't sure. The limp indicated a bit too much of a problem with the calf, so they'll have him back at Triple-A for one more start while the medical team works to get the calf strain more comfortable. Wakefield was observed during his pen and workouts to be "limping less," which is good, relatively speaking. The Red Sox could use the stability that Wakefield can give in terms of innings, but with a bum ankle, he can't provide that. With his age, there's always some worry about healing response, but the key here is that if his mechanics are off, that knuckleball can prove very hittable, which wouldn't help the Sox at all, either in terms of winning games or protecting their pen.

Darin Downs (10/4)
Hiroki Kuroda was lucky. Downs wasn't. Downs was hit by a comebacker in the head during a Double-A game, and has multiple skull fractures and cranial bleeding. While the condition isn't considered life-threatening, it's never good when the team flies a player's parents in. Yes, it's completely coincidental that Downs was in Birmingham and was transferred to the same hospital where the Andrews Institute is attached. Downs is done for the season, one where the 24-year-old was establishing himself well in the Rays' minor league chain. It also reminds us that injuries like this are possible any time, and that as bad as this was, it could have been worse. We'll see if pitchers and equipment manufacturers ever step up. My idea of a baseball safety "X Prize" remains one of the things I wish Bud Selig would latch onto.

Quick Cuts: Tickets still available for the Memphis event on Monday. Check www.hitonememphis.com for details. ... According to some whispers, tests on Martin Prado showed vertigo, but the Braves say they'll keep him off of the DL if possible. ... Alex Gordon won't say it, but there's little doubt that adjusting to his surgically repaired hip has been a contributing issue for his demotion. ... Kyle Lohse's forearm remains a problem, but the team still hopes to get him back for a playoff push. He's trying a new rehab protocol now. ... Matt Holliday is day-to-day after fouling a pitch off of his leg. He played Tuesday night, but seemed affected by the injury. ... Brandon Inge could end up on the DL. He's hitting under .200 since the All-Star break, and his knee has gotten no better. ... Anibal Sanchez is expected to return to the Marlins rotation on Saturday. He's been solid during his rehab starts. ... Mike Hampton heads to the DL with a strained shoulder. I wonder what the record is for most trips and time on the DL. ... Kyle Gibson may have slid in the draft, but the new Twin is already throwing. He'll probably play in the fall. ... If you're getting ready for football season, my column at FootballOutsiders.com should be up today.

Related Content:  The Who,  Managers Of The Year

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