Roy Oswalt (10/4)

The Astros gave Oswalt every chance to pitch, but in the end he understood what the Astros did-there’s just no further reason to risk anything for this season’s benefit. So, the team has shut Oswalt down to allow his bulging disc issue to get calmed down. They continue to believe that surgery won’t be necessary, though they’ll keep a close eye on Oswalt over the next few months. As is, he has until late this year to have surgery and nevertheless be ready in time for spring training. He’s made recent changes to his workout routine, and will focus on his core this offseason in hopes of providing better support for the back. Oswalt is getting older, and any back problem is an issue, but Oswalt seems the type of player who will “get religion” on back flexibility and exercise the same way that Ivan Rodriguez did.

Chad Billingsley (9/23)

The Dodgers tried to spin the extra week Billingsley will be on the sideline as matchup-related, but it’s clear that he’s being given extra rest. That’s not a bad thing, and in fact, getting the other starters some rest is why Jon Garland was brought in. No one thinks he’s a difference-making move, but Garland is an innings-eater-that’s a compliment, Dodgers fans. Billingsley should be able to recover a bit with rest, much in the same way that Brad Penny and John Smoltz did with some downtime. If the shoulder problem is really just shoulder fatigue, likely based on a subtle change in mechanics from his hamstring strain, the rest should correct that. If its’ more that that, the rest could help him go out and pitch better. The worst case would be Billingsley’s being in the same position as Carlos Zambrano last season, slowly degrading over a series of starts. The good news is that the Dodgers have a proactive medical staff that’s caught this before the significant mechanical changes we saw in Zambrano last season.

Michael Young (9/18)
Josh Hamilton (9/22)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (10/4)

The Rangers‘ story for ’09 is one of opportunity and loss. They’ve certainly done everything and more with the talent available, but the availability of that talent continues to be one of their season’s downfalls. They’ve lost a durable player, one who might be injury prone, and another one where the jury has been out over the past few weeks. Young, always one of the vocal leaders and regular contributors, has been suffering with the hamstring injury, but the idea that he’d be back seemed to lift the spirits of some on the team. That quick comeback only lasted an at-bat, with Young pulling himself rather than re-injuring the hamstring. We’ll have to see how quickly he can come back, though the Angels series is going to be huge. The team isn’t sure yet whether Hamilton will be available for that series, but its outcome could decide if he comes back at all. Right now, his back is still sore and he’s had to back off the hitting he was doing. If the Rangers don’t sweep the Angels, Hamilton is likely to be shut down. The team did announce that Saltalamacchia will have to have surgery to correct the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), but is expected to be fine in time for next year. Reader Tim Mavor and I had an e-mail conversation regarding TOS, and he pointed out that several writers have pointed to it as the cause of J.R. Richard‘s stroke. I did some research for an unpublished piece from a couple years back and heard no suggestion or even mention of that, so I’m curious if anyone has any information that’s not just anecdotal.

Russell Branyan (9/24)

Branyan’s already one of the season’s great stories, because the Mariners‘ new front office realized that what he can do could be valuable. The downside is that, like any player, Branyan has to be healthy to help a team, and his back gave out on him at midseason. Had he stayed healthy, he would have had a shot at the AL home-run title. (Granted, that would be in large part because Carlos Peña went down with his own injury.) Branyan’s back is doing much better now, and he’s expected to get back into the lineup for the last two weeks as part of a look-see. All indications are that he’ll be fine, but we are talking about a 34-year-old player who swings out of his shoes every time. Any back injury is bad in both the short and long term, but it’s worse for this kind of player.

Aaron Cook (9/25)

Huston Street (9/19)

The Rockies barely have some breathing room for the NL Wild Card and still are reaching for the division lead, but their pitching remains a spot they don’t seem to have locked down with a couple of weeks remaining. They’ve been getting by without Cook, but he’s gone from shut down to likely slotting back into the rotation next week. It’s a bit strange, in that doing this is something of an admission that the initial diagnosis was wrong and that the staff is unsure about Cook’s actual condition. They’ll look for all the measureable factors, but in the end, it’s a decision based on a ton of inputs; after sneaking away with a win on Wednesday night, the Rockies have a little more room. They still are hoping to get Street back, but his arm has really “plateaued” according to one source. “It got better, but then it just stayed there. It wasn’t as bad, but it wasn’t any better the next day or the next.” They’ll continue to work and watch.

Kevin Youkilis (9/19)

The Red Sox have extended their lead to six games up on the Rangers for the AL Wild Card, which gives them enough space to start resting guys. Youkilis is key to the Red Sox’s chances in the postseason, so getting his on-and-off back issues settled down loom large. Youkilis has had these before, and with Casey Kotchman available, it’s really only the lineup flexibility that’s lost in the short term. Well, that and about 65 points of Equivalent Average. Still, it’s precisely the kind of thing Kotchman was brought in to do, and at precisely the time that the Red Sox and other teams will start resting their regulars. Youkilis should be back by the weekend, or at least at some point during the weekend series.

Quick Cuts:
Kyle Lohse will miss his Friday start with forearm issues; John Smoltz will take the start in his place. … There’s late word that the Brewers might make Yovani Gallardo the latest pitcher to end his season early. Gallardo’s well over his innings threshhold, though last year’s injury makes accounting for things very strange. … Chipper Jones will stay out of the lineup until the team returns to Atlanta. The groin is no better than 50 percent, according to reports. … Randy Johnson was activated by the Giants and will be available out of the pen. He’ll have some restrictions on usage, but he could be a factor. … Grady Sizemore had the second of two planned surgeries, this one to correct an abdominal issue. He’ll be 100 percent in time for spring training. … Jesus Flores is out for months following labrum surgery, making it even more likely that the Nats will go out and find a veteran catcher (again) to manage their young staff, and leaving Flores as a backup. … Alfonso Soriano had his knee ‘scoped on Tuesday, and it went as planned. … After going only one inning his last time out, the Tigers may not be able to use Jarrod Washburn for fear of burning out their pen. Tigers’ pitching is painfully thin, even with roster expansion. … The D’backs will wait until the last minute before deciding whether or not to exercise their option on Brandon Webb for 2010. That’s no surprise, though it seems both parties are working towards some sort of mid-point settlement. … This Travis Snider kid is pretty good. I wish I’d drafted him-oh wait… … Thank you indeed, to the great Ernie Harwell.