Welcome to the 2005 baseball season. It’s equal parts on the field and off, magic and moronic, physical and chemical. On Sunday, we got a great matchup–if not a great game–and a story that everyone expected coming from an unexpected direction. There’s a lot of questions and a lot of bodies in the training room, so on Baseball’s Holiday, let’s get right to it.

Powered by my iPod Shuffle, on to the injuries …

  • The Alex Sanchez story started, for me, about noon on Sunday when I first got word from a source that something was happening on the steroid front. A suspension was half expected, knowing that tests had been ongoing through spring training and if one of the long half-life steroids had been used, perhaps as long ago as late 2003, it could be detected. When the name finally started to leak, I’ll admit that I was surprised as anyone. Most of the media seemed to go one of two directions–either they were very muted, saying this showed the testing program was doing something or they launched into a hard-spin “track athletes do steroids, too.”

    It is true that despite the efforts of WADA and the great people at USA Track and Field, track is more riddled with performance-enhancing drugs than any other sport. What’s laughable is that these spinners again show a lack of understanding about how these drugs work in specific athletes. Sanchez does not look like Tim Montgomery or Justin Gatlin. I hear you–“Will, you said we couldn’t judge by body type!” This is true, it’s certainly not anything to do more than speculate on, but where Montgomery (implicated in the BALCO case) or Gatlin (suspended previously for drug offenses) differ from Sanchez is in their workouts. These are very nearly single-purpose athletes, while Sanchez, as speedy as he is, must do things like change directions, cut quickly and make tight turns. Elite sprinters often look like bodybuilders because of their reduction of body fat and anaerobic capacity.

    Sanchez now heads to suspension, despite his intention to “fight” the penalty. Without knowing the substance–surprisingly, the MLB and MLBPA agreed not to release this in the current policy–we don’t know how valid this defense is. What is known is that his defense that he had “tainted vitamins” won’t wash. MLB players were provided with a list of substances that they could and could not take, making Sanchez’s defense as weak as, well, Sanchez’s hitting. In the meantime, Chris Singleton will take over in center field–does Tampa have a neverending supply of crappy outfielders stashed somewhere?–with Joey Gathright coming back from Triple-A. This story will play out more in the media than in the proper channels, so I’ll be following it closely.

  • An odd aside, if I may…. Someone I spoke with joked that “we should have seen this coming–Sanchez doubled his homers from 1 to 2 last season!” The amazing James Click ran some numbers based on that joke. If the notion were to be taken seriously, guys who also doubled their bombs in ’04 include Adrian Beltre, Paul Konerko, J.D. Drew, Travis Hafner, Miguel Cabrera and Derek Jeter at the top with some more interesting names like Tony Womack, Marco Scutaro, Henry Blanco, Neifi Perez, Juan Pierre and Willie Bloomquist down in the Sanchez power area.
  • I’d never before seen a player listed on the DL as “precautionary.” Suffice it to say that while remaining an accurate description, there’s actually more on the Standard Form for Mark Prior than that. Like many teams (more on this below), the Cubs won’t need a fifth starter until mid-month, giving them a bit more time to make roster decisions while giving Prior more time to find his release point. In his last outing, he wasn’t hitting spots, leaving the ball up in the zone according to observers. The positive from the report is that he was throwing “free and easy” instead of pulling his elbow as he had at times this spring. He missed much of the minor-league experience the first time around, so a start at Double-A West Tenn (there, instead of Iowa, due to weather) might help.
  • The Mets may be going to an early-season four-man rotation if Kris Benson keeps having setbacks. Initially, it was thought he would only need an extra couple of days, precipitating a swap in the rotation with Kazuhisa Ishii. Now, it’s uncertain if he’ll make the delayed start, forcing the question of whether an extra bat or bullpen arm would be more valuable to the Mets. Benson couldn’t be backdated significantly, making his return a true 15 days away. Watch this move closely because the Mets have options, though fewer after trading Matt Ginter away.
  • It’s no surprise that Kevin Brown heads to the DL with back problems. It’s more concerning than the normal early-season DL slot. The Yankees have the same schedule that allows a four-man rotation early, yet Brown’s continued back problems have them wondering if he’ll be ready in time. Brown’s long history of health problems, especially his recent back surgery, don’t bode well for a normal recovery, putting pressure on a thin Yankee rotation. I’m still unsure who would spot in if Brown isn’t ready by mid-month. When was the last time Tom Gordon started a game?
  • The mind is an odd thing. I often get players who aren’t connected in any real way confused in my head. It’s worse when there’s things like Billy Traber and Brian Tallet–same initials, same team, same injury. For some, I get something in my head and just can’t get rid of it. For Kelvim Escobar, I always want to call him Pablo, which is probably insulting in some way. There was a pitcher whose name I can’t remember who had the same name as Rico Tubbs’ nemesis…who’s name I also can’t remember. See, I told you it was odd.

    Escobar–Kelvim, not Pablo–saw Dr. Lewis Yocum to check his elbow, sore as a result of small changes in his mechanics due to a shoulder problem that plagued his spring. He’s expected to be back after the minimum. His two starts will be picked up by Kevin Gregg, for those of you desperately looking for starts. Escobar’s multiple arm injuries really seem worrisome and are this season’s first real cascade.

  • A lot of questions, mostly from fantasy players, about why teams wait until the last minute to drop guys on the DL. From a baseball perspective, putting Barry Bonds or Lance Berkman on the DL really has no advantage or disadvantage. With retro moves, the date of their return can be adjusted and neither these nor many other placed on the DL in the past couple days will be back 15 days from now. From a Worker’s Comp and disability insurance perspective, they limit days and hopefully keep premiums low. The roster spots freed up by these moves are planned in advance, so it’s more a function of backroom efficiency than anything else.
  • The oft-injured Kevin Mench is still a Ranger, despite a couple teams being enamored of him this spring. I don’t see the attraction, yet perhaps he has that je ne sais quois we don’t pick up on TV. He’s unavailable again; it’s his back and isn’t considered serious. For Mench, it won’t help get him on the field. Buck Showalter isn’t taking prisoners this year, sending down Laynce Nix in a surprise move. Pedro Astacio was, as expected, placed on the DL. The acquisition of Matt Riley hurt his chances, so expect Astacio to spend the full 30 days at Oklahoma City, trying to showcase himself for the Rangers and for other teams looking for pitching.
  • Words and actions often don’t mesh. In Minnesota, the Twins say all the right things about Joe Mauer and his ability to catch, yet often do the things that fit more with a more damaged version of Mauer. Manager Ron Gardenhire is finally publicly admitting that Mauer won’t catch more than twice a week, spending more of his time at DH. Moreover, Gardenhire is trying to find matchups of pitchers and teams to spot him in so his knee and arm aren’t tested. I’m guessing the next thing we hear is Mauer re-starting his defensive drills at third base.
  • The Nationals will start a player with his own steroid connection in center field for Opening Day. Terrmel Sledge gets the start now that Ryan Church is on the shelf with a groin strain. Church is expected to avoid the DL, yet there’s no word on just how long he’ll be unavailable. The Nats aren’t in a rush to put him on the DL; the likely roster move would be to bring up Endy Chavez, a player who Frank Robinson really doesn’t want to see right now.
  • The Rockies made a couple interesting moves. They decided to give Chin-Hui Tsao a bit of extra time for the anti-inflammatories to work, making some wonder if Byung-Hyun Kim would factor into the closer mix. No, the Rockies will go with a committee, hoping that the pen will sort itself out. If spring training hasn’t done that, well, I’m not sure what a couple more weeks will do.

    The Rox also put Garrett Atkins on the DL with a hamstring strain. That isn’t so interesting, though it will give us a brief look at prospect Jeff Baker at third. It’s unclear how much he’ll play, since many say this is a rush job. It’s a possibility that he could get hot and hold the job. Atkins will be hurrying to return.

  • There are a lot of people expecting Danny Kolb to fail in Atlanta and looking for that “closer in waiting” for when he does Count me among those who are Kolb believers. The guy learned during his TJ rehab that there’s more than velocity and strikeouts to being a good pitcher, something that should mesh well with Leo Mazzone. Sure, I’d like to see a few more Ks on his stat line, but I’m not digging for someone who’s a likely replacement. If you are, cross Kevin Gryboski off the list. Closer types throw hard, I’m told, and Gryboski may still end up on the DL with shoulder problems. His velocity has been off significantly during spring training.

  • Quick Cuts: No problems for Jake Peavy in a minor-league start. He’s ready to challenge for the Cy Young Award … Rich Harden will throw Monday, testing his blister to see if he’ll be ready … Everyone’s expecting Charles Johnson to land in Tampa once he clears waivers. That’s still likely, though Johnson’s still hoping the Mets get interested … Rick Ankiel hadn’t been placed on waivers as of noon Sunday, the last time I could get an update. The Cards are trying everything they can to get him to Springfield … Rudy Martzke retires April 15th. No one else does the job he does and it surprises me. Who’s going to step into that void of watching the broadcasters? No sport needs that more than baseball does … Anyone think Jason Giambi looked smaller? Weaker? Go ahead, speak up … Wily Mo Pena will avoid the DL. His back injury helped him avoid a starting slot for the Reds. He’s still the talk of trade rumors. Instead, watch for Jim Bowden to lay back and see if new ownership might let him make a run at Ken Griffey Jr. … Remember what I said about Preston Wilson being off for much of the first week? Scratch that. Clint Hurdle changed his mind … Mike Gonzalez came back from a week off with dead arm to his mid-90s velocity. He should be pretty good, for a bad team. It’s bad when a team’s marketing campaign is built around a stadium or coach. The Bucs are saying “Come Hungry.” The best they can come up with is promoting the Primanti Bros. heartstoppers?

The “real” Opening Day is today and I’ll be online for a live chat (as opposed to those dead kind) at 1 p.m. Eastern, which is noon here in Indy. I, of course, forgot the time change and had to juggle some appointments, so if I’m a couple minutes late, hang out and I’ll make it up to you. Hopefully the injuries tomorrow aren’t much. I’m still looking for that day without injuries I know is possible. I’ll have my XM skipping around to as many games as I can listen to, so it should be an interesting perspective.

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