With the first spring training UTK, I’d like to certify that UTK is completely drug free, unless you count Peet’s coffee, alpha-lipoic acid, megadoses of Vitamin E, the boosts they put in Jamba Juice, and handfuls of Lilly samples. Onto the injuries:

  • Reports from Braves camp indicate that John Smoltz is in mid-season form. He was at full velocity during a bullpen session and reported no more than normal soreness following the workout. There are two things we can draw from this. First, Smoltz’s elbow is doing well after the late-season problems. Second, the Braves and Smoltz are more concerned about that elbow than they’ve been letting on. The only reason for testing the elbow so early is to gauge whether or not John Schuerholz needed to go work the phones for bullpen depth. Expect Smoltz to be used differently this season–the Braves want to use him in pure save situations only, while Smoltz is asking to go longer.
  • The first Phillies camp for Billy Wagner started off poorly, but the soft-tissue injury in his middle fingers doesn’t look to be a long-term concern. There’s no real consensus on a cause, which is mildly concerning, but the Phillies have depth to deal with any minor injuries to their flamethrower.
  • One of the buzzwords you’ll hear in this column and many others will be “core strengthening.” A hot topic in medhead circles, core strengthening is a new focus on a holistic approach to abdominal, back, and trunk strength and flexibility. Using plyometrics, Pilates, and other multidisciplinary approaches, most teams are using some form of core training as a focus of both in-season and off-season workout programs. Leading the pack, once again, are the A’s. Tim Hudson has had oblique problems for a few years running and he’s using core training to fight off that injury.
  • Perhaps Rafael Soriano could have used some of what’s working for Tim Hudson. Slotted to be a primary set-up man, Soriano could miss as much as six weeks after a severe strain of his oblique. This could push Soriano to extended spring training if this goes the max expected length. Since muscles never fully recover, this could become something of an ongoing problem.
  • Reports that Shawn Green‘s shoulder are less than 100% should come as no surprise to regular readers. Jon Weisman has done an excellent job of keeping tabs on this situation, but Green is resisting a move to first base. Still, the “less than 100%” is less than genuine. Given the normal recovery time from his surgery, Green could not reasonably be expected to be full strength. He is, however, probably fully functional and that’s a major difference. At some point, the general media might learn to tell the two apart.
  • It only took a week for Tony Armas Jr. to come up with a sore shoulder. After last season’s surgery and the trade of Javier Vazquez, this was to be Armas’ breakout season, but early shoulder tendinitis points more to breakdown than breakout. The adherence to the five-man rotation not only prevents teams from returning to the more effective–if employed properly–four-man rotation, it prevents some players who could benefit from some adjustments to the standard schedule from getting that consideration. Armas is extremely talented, but he’s at a point where Paul Wilson may be his best comp.
  • The Expos get better news from Jose Vidro. Vidro fought through knee problems last season, but therapy and a new workout regimen have Vidro feeling great. The new turf at the Big O would seem to be a positive (despite a lack of objective support for this theory).
  • Austin Kearns is not yet back to full strength after late-season shoulder surgery. He’s not able to participate in full drills and may not be 100% when the team heads north. Keep a close eye on his progress and spring results if you’re counting on a comeback season.
  • The Mets may want to consider buying their outfielders Segways. Just a thought, Mr. Wilpon. Both Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd are dealing with foot problems. Cameron has a bone spur between his toes that he hopes won’t require surgery. If so, now’s the time to cut, since the recovery is only a couple weeks. While not serious, the spur could be one of those annoyances that could reduce his range and speed skills. Floyd is recovering from Achilles surgery and is making good progress. He’s cut some weight, but will never be mistaken for Joey Gathright, and beyond the heel, he’s never been an iron man.
  • The Cardinals are counting on Kiko Calero to be a key member of their bullpen less than a year out from a ruptured patellar tendon. Walt Jocketty has made some astute moves to give the team some depth, but this is the type of move that has me shaking my head. In a season where set-up men could be had for pocket change, the Cards are going with a risky strategy that could force them into a trading situation they’re ill-suited to handle. With Woody Williams already suffering through some shoulder tendinitis, this team will need all the depth it can muster.
  • If the Rangers fans don’t have Alex Rodriguez to come see, I’m sure they’ll be happy to know that Jeff Zimmerman will probably be there for them in the bullpen. Small consolation, I know, but Zimmerman is looking good in early workouts. After a two-year comeback from a laundry list of arm problems, Zimmerman is throwing every day and had no problem when he progressed to breaking balls. He’s probably one of the better sleeper candidates to grab some saves.
  • Quick cuts: If J.R. House can stay healthy through June, expect him to end the season as the Pirates’ primary catcher. There are several teams that could use a catcher like Jason Kendall, including the Pirates’ parent club, the Cubs…The Brewers plan to keep Nick Neugebauer at Triple-A Indianapolis for the first half of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery…The Royals are being very conservative in saying Kyle Snyder‘s out for the season, but reports I have say he could come back late this season. It’s a question of whether they need him or if Zack Greinke is ready by then…Is Roberto Alomar the latest Mark Verstegen miracle?…Does anyone give it any weight when a player says he’s at 100%? Didn’t think so.
  • Breaking News: Bernie Williams was taken to the hospital Thursday morning for an emergency appendectomy. The team thinks he’ll be out about three weeks, but there’s a chance he’ll need a little extra time getting back into shape. Curt Schilling was able to return to the mound in roughly three weeks, so this seems like a reasonable time frame for Bernie, barring complications.
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