Alan Schwarz is one of my favorite writers, and a great guy to boot. I always enjoy reading his pieces in his various outlets and always worry when he decides to tackle a medhead topic. Competition, I don’t mind. Really good competition? Not so much. His latest piece on how close Roger Clemens came to not being “Roger Clemens” and the second miracle of St. James is a must-read.

Alan did quote one of my pet peeves in the article, so I’ll take the chance to talk about that as well. It’s repeated so often that everyone accepts “pitchers throw harder after ligament replacement surgery” as gospel. After all, you see the velocity tick upwards, right? Honestly, it’s an illusion. Blowing out the UCL is almost never traumatic. Surgeons say that they never see a cut ligament; they see the telltale fraying of crescendic damage, the year-after-year breakdown of a healthy pitcher descending to Birmingham. The fact is that most major-league pitchers are not 100%. They honestly don’t know how hard they can throw. Time, fatigue and injury fades their memory and what was once 92 is now 88. What might have been 95 as a pitcher matures and hones his craft stays in the low 90s. The rebuilt elbow, now good as new after a surgery and six months of rehab, is capable of doing more than the pitcher could do previously. According to Dr. Frank Jobe, he does not gain velocity. He is merely being restored to his potential, something almost poetic enabled by
the still-evolving science of sports medicine.

Powered by further progress on the new UTK HQ, on to the injuries …

  • The collision did a bit more damage to Manny Ramirez than initially thought. The slight swelling he had on his cheek was less concerning than the blurred vision Ramirez complained of Thursday. The Sox slugger had a bit of blood in his eye, necessitating a quick trip to the ophthalmologist. The injury is not considered serious, but given the need for any player to have the sharpest possible vision, it could be a few days before he’s game ready. I consulted a local eye doctor who gave me info on the condition, called hyphaema. Besides seeing some disgusting pictures–eeww, blowout fracture!–I didn’t get much worth passing on.
  • There’s a lot of drama going on around the Yankees right now. Between the pranksters, team meetings and Player of the Month awards, the team is actually just trying to survive a bit longer, hoping that the Band-Aids over their deep scars will hold until the cavalry comes. Carl Pavano is going to be first over the ridge, coming back from another good rehab stint and slotting into the rotation Monday. Pavano did well in A ball, though his first game back will be against slightly stiffer competition: the AL-leading White Sox.
  • It worked for Curt Schilling, so the Cubs have high hopes for Kerry Wood. The Padres, however, are worried that their experiment of shifting a starter to the pen might not be as successful. Adam Eaton made his first appearance from the pen and while he threw a scoreless inning, he was in pain afterwards and there was visible swelling. The rest of Eaton’s season is now in doubt. The Padres will wait until the weekend to make a determination about his status. This gives them time to consider all the options, including watching the waiver wire closely.
  • Mark Redman pitched against his brother-in-law, Brian Lawrence, on Thursday. He didn’t look good, leaving a lot of stuff up in the zone. After the game, Redman blamed his troubles on neck and shoulder problems. Given that the Pirates are hoping Redman might clear waivers and bring some return in a market still looking for starters, I’m sure they weren’t happy he was bringing his value down. Any lost time by Redman will give Ian Snell a chance to show if he can stick as a starter.
  • Eleven runs on 12 hits. That’s not good on any level. For a rehab start made by the Diamondbacks’ multi-million dollar ace, Russ Ortiz, it’s Backstreet Boys-reunion bad. Ortiz was crushed at High-A Lancaster even worse than he was at Triple-A Tucson. There was the predictable “just getting his work in” mealymouthing from the front office. It’s the velocity–or lack thereof–that has everyone worried. Ortiz isn’t someone who had much margin for error. The team will make a decision tomorrow about Ortiz’s immediate future. Prior to this Mariah Carey-style meltdown, Ortiz was expected to return to the Diamondbacks for a start next week. That’s still possible. Hey, Mariah’s got the number-one song in the country, so anything’s possible.
  • Moises Alou played much of July with a sore hamstring. This isn’t uncommon; Alou, as well as some other more famous Giant outfielders have been able to put up good seasons while nursing sore hammies. Alou is taking some time off to heal, something you’re more likely to see many players do over the next couple months. This isn’t just an Alou thing, it’s common across baseball. For teams at the top or bottom of the standings, many will use August as rest for the playoff run or as a time to check out their prospects. September is more well-known for this with roster expansion, though checks of game logs shows that for starters, the trend begins in August, especially as teams fall out of contention. There’s definitely a pattern with the old baseball rule of “one game per week” seeming to work. (If a team is 10 back with 10 weeks to go, they’re still in it. Eleven? “Let the kids play.”)
  • Darin Erstad left Thursday’s game an inning after stepping awkwardly while chasing a pop-up over the mound. On the other hand, he hit a triple after the incident, showing no signs of a slowdown. It’s unclear how serious any injury might be, though the broadcast crew said he had inflammation in his right hip. This is something to keep an eye on given Erstad’s injury history. His back, knee and hamstrings could all be affected if the hip problem changes his gait.
  • I watch new pitchers with some combination of excitement and trepidation. Felix Hernandez made his debut for the Mariners Thursday, sporting a near-unhittable slider and a fastball that touched 95. His mechanics are a bit less than optimal, but with results like this, any pitching coach would be loathe to tinker. Hernandez seems not to use his legs, has a very soft core, a head that never quite finds its correct positions through the delivery, and a follow-through that leaves him falling towards first. All that said, he’s still a special talent with a gifted arm. I just hope it holds together long enough to let him live up to his nickname.

  • Quick Cuts: If Carlos Delgado heads to the DL, expect the Marlins to call up Jeremy Hermida. Delgado still cannot swing the bat without pain … Mark Bellhorn is still having trouble with his wrist while on his rehab stint. Some are whispering that Dustin Pedroia might be the better option, regardless … Preach on, Keith … Some have wondered if Jody Gerut was “damaged goods” when dealt from the Cubs to the Pirates. The extent of his current condition was disclosed clearly in both his recent trades, say sources from all three teams. Caveat emptor and ship the brace to the right town … David DeJesus has a concussion after hitting his head during a double-play slide. There’s no such thing as a mild concussion … Remember this term in the coming weeks: “compounding pharmacy.”

I’ll be talking steroids and survival on this week’s BP Radio. Be sure to tune in–if you have questions, e-mail me and I’ll do my best to get through them. I know we’ve all been in steroid overload lately and missing a lot of great baseball. I just don’t think we can miss this opportunity to educate ourselves about the real problems baseball faces. It’s not enough to take this as an opportunity to push agendas or shirk responsibilities; it’s our time to take back the soul of the game, something that’s been floating unaddressed too long. I think Ryno may have given us all a wakeup call last Sunday.