C Dave Ross: He’s been healthy, sure. What he hasn’t done is last under a starter’s workload. Paul Bako will share the burden while Dioner Navarro gets a bit more seasoning. (Which seasoning? Salt? Oregano?) I’m not sure a yellow light matters at replacement level.
2B Jeff Kent
LF Jayson Werth: Werth is hoping to follow the Albert Pujols plan regarding his injured elbow, or at least the Luis Gonzalez plan. He’s not the player the other two are, of course, but there’s no reason he can’t play with the injury as they did. A broken wrist in camp is another story.
CF Milton Bradley: Before you ask, I don’t take off points for anger management problems. What does push him to yellow is a series of hamstring injuries that suggest a chronic problem and some reduction in his speed.
RF J.D. Drew: Drew had the season everyone expected him to have if healthy because he was finally healthy. Sprinkle in a little credit to Bobby Cox, to his place in the lineup, and to a clubhouse that let him be. It’s still not enough to shake off his injury history. He’d be better off in center field, but I’m not sure it’s worth ticking off Bradley.
SP Odalis Perez: The biceps tendonitis is already back for Perez, a terrible sign for him and his team. His workload doesn’t look as bad as it might, due only to his Tommy John surgery. How the Dodgers deal with this chronic problem could make or break their season.
SP Jeff Weaver
SP Derek Lowe
SP Brad Penny: The painful shoulder injury was one of the big injury moments of last year, raising a lot of questions about why he’d been asked to throw an extra pitch after it. He’s looked good in camp so far, yet it wasn’t long ago that his medical records were enough to scuttle some deals. He’s been worked hard and there’s usually some price to pay for that. Watch his velocity.
SP Kazuhisa Ishii: Give him some points for pitching with a plate in his head. There was no real resolution to his late-season back problems. That’s a very bad sign for someone with a tenuous hold on the rotation slot.
SP Edwin Jackson: Back and arm problems aren’t a good sign for a 20-year-old. He’s another signpost on TNSTAAPP Road. The Dodgers will need him to be healthy, because Wilson Alvarez is the next available starter. That’s ugly.
CL Eric Gagne: The THR numbers ran before his knee injury occurred. Even so, Gagne’s about as sure a thing as any closer can be health-wise. It takes something a bit flukish to bring this horse down. As such, this minor setback could be looked on as something of a positive. Some people I spoke to are raising questions about his conditioning.
The Dodgers have a special place in sports medicine history. Part of it is luck and part is having a creative physician like Frank Jobe around in the first place. Thirty years after Jobe rebuilt Tommy John‘s elbow, the surgery is now commonplace, perhaps too much so. Last season, one of every nine pitchers in the majors had undergone the surgery.
It would be interesting, at least to a few lonely medheads, if the Dodgers were a team full of Tommy John survivors or completely devoid of them. Instead, only Perez and Gagne sport the triangular scar on their pitching elbow. With prospects like Greg Miller already out for the season, the Dodgers are hoping that they can keep their pitchers on the mound rather than under the knife, but the bullpen is fragile, if not flammable.
Jobe’s UCL reconstruction may be well known, but the reduction in rotator-cuff injuries over the last few years is just as significant. That’s also a Frank contribution; his “thrower’s ten” exercises get a lot of the credit. It’s shoulders that may tell more of the tale than elbows this season for the Dodgers. Penny should be the ace of the staff if he’s healthy. He’s returning from the nerve injury that ended his 2004 early and dramatically. There’s a theory that this injury may be labrum-related, though it’s only a theory at this point.
Health is key for these Dodgers, perhaps more than for any other contender. That lineup isn’t one that puts fear into the heart of opponents and there is a lot of money invested in players who could break down or have a breakdown. I still believe that Paul DePodesta knows what he’s doing, but a few key injuries could have the media calling for his head even more than they have, if that’s possible.