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August 20, 2009

Under The Knife

Seeing Red

by Will Carroll

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Yeah, I'm a ramblin' man these next couple weeks. Memphis tomorrow, Mobile next week, then Ft. Myers the following weekend. As always, I'd love to get together and talk baseball (or even football) with some of you. Drop me a line if you'll be in the area. UTK will continue on a bit of an irregular (i.e. filing as much as I can) schedule through the first week of September, but trust me, I'll be keeping you updated through use of Unfiltered, comments, and my Twitter feed. I'm lucky to be able to do this and technology is making it possible for me to do this from anywhere, something this year has shown me more than ever. So come along for the ride. Powered by knowing there's a Jamba Juice in the Charlotte airport, on to the injuries:

Johnny Cueto (8/31)
It'd be easy to blame Dusty Baker for the problems suffered by his pitchers. I'm just not sure that would give us a complete picture. It's almost a tale of two seasons. Through the first half, up to one disastrous final performance just before the break, Cueto was doing everything right; he was just crossing the 100-inning mark when everything went downhill. First it was a shoulder problem, then a hip, and now it's back to a shoulder problem. While seeing his ERA go up by two runs, Cueto was able to go to or over the 100-pitch mark in his turns. Was he dancing on his own grave, or was he being pushed? That's really hard to say. He was effective enough to keep going out there, but not effective enough to win. Did they wait too long? Is the damage done? We simply don't know. Right now, there's nothing as cut-and-dried as Edinson Volquez's exploding elbow; Cueto's shoulder is more wait-and-see. The problem is, there's no good answer here. While easy to point at Dusty-and there's surely some blame he should carry-doing so doesn't teach us anything we didn't know. Cueto and other young pitchers deserve better. The current plan is that he'll return on August 31, but when he does, I don't expect we'll see any real change.

Willy Taveras (9/5)
Scott Rolen (8/22)

Cueto is not the Reds' only problem, not by a long shot. Taveras has been a problem all season long, so a minor quad strain gives them the excuse to sit him down and see if anyone else can solve the problem. Drew Stubbs has been doing everything Tavares was supposed to down in Triple-A, so he finally gets his shot. Taveras will be back when rosters expand, so we'll see whether Dusty will realize he has better options once Taveras is available. Rolen is headed my way, coming to Indy with Triple-A Louisville for a couple of games' worth of at-bats. He still has a "very low level" headache, but no other deficits during workouts. He'll be watched closely to make sure exertion doesn't trigger anything. If not, he'll be activated for the weekend by the Reds.

Jason Varitek (8/24)
The Red Sox seem to be lost without Varitek, which is interesting. With all the debate about MVPs, I always try the mental exercise of "what would the team be without him?" Varitek isn't the MVP, but he does have a value higher than what we note because of those little things and the confidence the team-and especially the pitching staff-has in him. It doesn't make him a better player, just a more important player to his team. He's not seeing much improvement with his cervical spasms, and there's no timeline on his return. It has to be more serious than the team is letting on or Varitek would be fighting to play through it. With Victor Martinez available, there's no rush to get him back, but if this one extends past the weekend, they'll look to DL him.

Oliver Perez (8/23)
J.J. Putz

'One wrong step' could be the title of a book about this season's Mets or Oliver Perez's career. There's been far more than one wrong step with both, of course, but one step did injure Perez's problematic knee again. In the midst of Tuesday's start, Perez stumbled covering first, after which his knee began to "throb." That's never a good sign, but they treated it quickly and it seemed to respond. Perez will throw on the side today to determine if he'll make his Sunday start. It's unclear who would be the fill-in or shadow, but Perez is always going to be a high-risk pitcher, whether it's this weekend or any time. I'm hearing that he's likely to take the ball on Sunday. The news is also good on Putz-he'll throw a simulated game at CitiField over the weekend, then take a train out to Brooklyn for a rehab assignment. He should be back in the bullpen by this time next week, likely replacing Billy Wagner.

Jake Peavy (9/4)
The Sox are pushing Peavy's return back a bit, saying that he'll need at least two more rehab starts. It was clear that he was still hobbled on defensive plays, and the Sox don't want to risk things by putting him out there against a tough Yankees lineup for his first start back. That pushes his return back to September, with many guessing that he'd be back around September 3rd or 4th. The latter makes sense to me, as it would be a home game. Peavy's ankle seems to be healing up on the schedule that the Padres were discussing at the time of the original injury, so this isn't so much a setback as an acknowledgement that there was no "inside info" on Peavy. Even context, where each and every game is valuable for the Sox, isn't enough to push Peavy out there early. I do expect him to be effective when he does return.

Tim Hudson (9/1)
The Braves think they'll get Hudson in September. His recovery from Tommy John surgery was slowed by a simple hamstring strain, but with that behind him, he has been able to get on the mound for Triple-A Gwinnett and showed no issues aside from some missing stamina. That's to be expected. He'll have one or two more starts, only to prove that he's got enough stamina to go 80 pitches or more, then he will slot right back into the Braves' rotation once rosters expand. All reports from his start indicate good velocity and command for Hudson. He's not likely to help the Braves much this year, but there's no reason to think that he won't be the same consistent Tim Hudson when 2010 starts.

John Smoltz
The problem with Smoltz isn't stuff, but recovery. Coming off shoulder surgery, Smoltz was having trouble getting back to his maximum, both on velocity and stamina, between starts. That's created questions over whether he could relieve effectively, but when working short stints, the recovery is different. I'm not sure he has the stuff to be effective as a set-up man for the Cardinals, but he's the type of pitcher that Dave Duncan seems to gets results with. Granted, he usually has a bit more time to work on things. I don't have much hope for Smoltz being anything more than minimally effective as a starter or reliever. My only real hope is that the Cardinals' staff will know how to mix and match him to get some sort of production out of this low-dollar gamble. Keys to look for in his first start is velocity (90 mph or better) and movement, but it's his second outing where we'll have to watch to see if he's recovered.

Quick Cuts: Joey Votto had some blurry vision and was scratched on Wednesday. He's not expected to miss much time, though the Reds will monitor him closely. ... Hiroki Kuroda went to the DL, a smart play after his incident. He should miss two starts. ... Freddy Sanchez will miss a couple of days while his shoulder gets some treatment and rest. That usually equals "cortisone shot." ... Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled back in the Sox rotation on September 8th. ... Jason Kubel is back in the lineup, having rested after fouling a ball off of his knee. He'll play, but it's still painful ... Trevor Crowe has a setback with his oblique, reinjuring it in batting practice. Matt LaPorta will take his roster spot. ... Eddie Guardado isn't "Everyday" any more, and knee inflammation will keep him out until the end of the month. ... Justin Upton took batting practice, and will head out on a rehab assignment early next week. ... Jesus Flores will start a rehab assignment and should be back for the Nationals in September. ... Edgar Gonzalez started a rehab assignment as he comes back from his concussion, and hit a homer in his first game back. ... Mike Hampton has a partial thickness tear of his rotator cuff. He'll try to rehab and is determined to come back this year and next.

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