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September 18, 2009

Under The Knife

Interest Over Impact

by Will Carroll

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Billy Sadler (10/4)
Normally I pick the most important injuries to lead, so why am I picking a nearly unknown pitcher on a non-contending team? Because he was placed on the 60-day DL with a diagnosis that's meaningful. Sadler has what the team called right shoulder scapular dyskinesis, or what Dr. Ben Kibbie calls "SICK Scapula." It's no coincidence that the website there, Throwinginjuries.com, is maintained by Astros team physician Dr. David Lintner. Houston's done a lot of work with pitching injuries, and while some of that effort was sidetracked by some off-field issues, this kind of diagnosis reminds us that teams are quietly doing work that will pay off years from now. People laughed when Tampa Bay made a commitment to health, won the Dick Martin Award, and then saw that commitment help catapult them to the World Series. Teams that have focused on player health-the Brewers, Rays, White Sox, and Indians-have all seen payoffs in the form of playoff appearances. (I bet the Pirates hope that indicator is a true one.) So while Sadler isn't an important injury in the grand scheme, what the medical staff in Houston is doing might save someone down the line, even if they're not an Astro. While on the topic, I do think that SICK Scapula is one of those injuries you're going to hear a lot about over the next five years.

Zack Greinke (9/22)
The presumptive AL Cy Young Award winner was cruising once again before the angles ran out on him. Greinke took a hard shot from Miguel Cabrera off of his pitching elbow, and the Royals smartly pulled him from the lineup. Oh wait, they didn't. That's right, despite a visible mark from the ball reddening on his pitching elbow, the Royals left their most valuable asset in the game. I should stop here, before I just begin ranting about incompetence and risk. He finished off the inning and then, with a lead tacked onto by a homer in the next half-inning, Trey Hillman then finally pulled Greinke. After the game, the skipper said that he was going to pull Greinke regardless of the score, but it's hard to tell. At least the X-rays were negative, and Greinke gets points for making the play after being hit, but the Royals? Well, I'm out of words there.

Jonathan Papelbon
Kevin Youkilis

Papelbon was available yesterday and likely will be going forward, but he had been unavailable on Wednesday after slipping in the bullpen. I've always wondered why teams have so much concrete around with players in spikes, which with Gatorade and spit becomes a situation that a personal injury lawyer dreams of. Some teams have put things like cork or even what looks like railroad ties (Miller Park) on the floors of the dugout, but there's a lot of possible slippery spots elsewhere. Jeez, when did I become the overprotective parent for baseball? Anyway, Papelbon should be fine after the initial tightness was dealt with, and there should be no long-term consequences. The Red Sox also almost got Youkilis back. He was left in the on-deck circle at the end of last night's game, but hey, he was available. His back has loosened up enough that he's likely to be in the starting lineup today. Back problems can recur, so expect that Youk will be spending some extra time in the training room to keep loose.

Chan Ho Park (10/4)
The Phillies lost a key cog in their bullpen this week. If I'd asked you in April who I might write that sentence about, I doubt many of you, even the Phillies fans, would have said "Chan Ho Park." Park has had a nice comeback in the pen after being bounced from the rotation, but a severely strained hamstring might keep him out through the regular season and beyond. Early estimates on the injury ran two to three weeks, with one source saying "If this was June, he'd have gone on the DL without a thought, and no one would say he'd be back in just 15 days." By my iPhone's calendar, there's just under three weeks before the playoffs start. There's a 98 percent chance that the Phillies will be there, but Park's a big question mark. For the Division Series, it's going to be very tough for him to get to a point where the team can trust putting him on their playoff roster. Keep an eye on this, because the pen is the one place where the Phillies' Secret Sauce gets a bit sour.

Rich Harden (10/4)
We know that Harden will miss his next start, but whether he takes a turn after that or gets shut down for the season is a matter of some debate. The Tribune reported that Harden would be shut down, while Lou Piniella said he hadn't made up his mind yet beyond the next start. I always love it when managers phrase things, especially medical things, like they're The Decider. Paul Sullivan points out that Harden has had some control problems over his last few starts, which points to elbow issues, but earlier this month he was having a 10-strikeout game while walking only one. That the Cubs are even talking about this decision tells us that something's up, and with Harden about to hit the free-agent market as one of few compelling pitchers, this is a bad sign for his wallet.

Chipper Jones (9/21)
Derek Lowe (9/23)

Jones has fought injuries for much of his career, but this season has been different. Is it a bad year, filled with tweaks, pains, and time in the training room, or is it his late-30s body telling him it's time to get a standing reservation at Hooters after golf? It seems that Jones is talking about retirement, but sources in Atlanta say that it's frustration with the physical issues he's had more than any real soul-searching. They are worried that Jones isn't doing more to help his conditioning, such as upping his off-season routine. The Braves have a more immediate issue with Lowe, who has a blister on the ring finger of his pitching hand. He left after three uncharacteristically rough innings Wednesday. They'll monitor it closely, but they may need to push back his next start.

Carlos Delgado (10/1)
With all of the Mets' issues, we've kind of forgotten Delgado. He had the FAIL hip surgery that several others have had and... hasn't come back. He was taking batting practice back in August, but since then, not much has happened, and I'll admit that I lost track. Delgado was said to be coming back for the end of the season, something of a courtesy to him in order to show that he was healthy before going into free agency, but there's been no movement towards that. It's notable more for the fact that Delgado is the one player to have the surgery not to return. Alex Gordon had issues that were likely interrelated with the surgery, but other than that, the returns by all of the others have been as expected and, in many cases, better than expected. There's always a downside to surgery, and maybe Delgado represents that downside, as a bigger guy who's aging and wasn't all that mobile to begin with. I'm not sure we can completely rule him out, but it's more likely that Delgado will have to play winter ball to prove that he's healthy.

Quick Cuts: The latest word on Huston Street is that he'll join the Rockies this weekend. ... Johnny Cueto will miss his next start, but don't get too worried, Reds fans, he's just ill, not injured. ... Gavin Floyd is having trouble with the hip of his landing leg; he had push-hip problems earlier this season. ... J.A. Happ heads back into the Phillies' rotation, as his oblique strain seems to have cleared up. ... Michael Young is expected to play for the Rangers this weekend, though the role depends on his hamstring. ... Jose Reyes is not running-at all. Surgery is still an option. ... Gary Sheffield made an appearance Thursday, his first since back problems sidelined him in mid-August. ... Brett Tomko has been shut down by the A's. ... Tanner Scheppers signed with the Rangers. As for his health, a bonus of "more than a million dollars" tells you that the Rangers think he's healthy, but risky. ... Congrats to friend of UTK Pete Abraham, who will be moving to the Boston Globe. ... A great article about kicking conventional wisdom in football, but what would be the baseball equivalent? ... Finally, a request: I love having conversations with you, the readers and friends of this column. Whether it's here or Twitter or a chat, one of my ways of thanking you and earning the dollars you spend with us is by answering questions. It does get really frustrating, however, when comments turns into a string of "What about this guy?" I can't write about every injury, so I pick the most impactful or interesting (as in the case of Sadler). Let's have a conversation.

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