It was a great weekend of baseball. It seemed like the sky was a little clearer, a little bluer; the balls were thrown harder, broke more, and the bats whipped around with unspoken anger. Unfortunately, there were all too many breaks in the beauty of the game, pauses for the trainers and doctors to step into the frame and ruin my lyrical revelry. The grass of Victory Field’s outfield berm is something close to heaven, especially if you’re seated in right field, near the hot dog stand and with the out-of-town scoreboard in view. Now if someone will just get me one of those XM units that I can carry around, I’ll be even closer.

Powered by a weekend of sunshine, on to the injuries:

  • Is Carlos Zambrano the best of the Cubs’ young guns–a group that still isn’t fully up at the majors–or is he simply the only one who survived 2003 intact? Although Zambrano put up great numbers in his Saturday win, he scared a lot of people when he came off the mound in the first inning, calling for the trainer. It was just a cramp in his forearm, a recurrence of a problem he had last year. It rings true, yet could also be masking other underlying problems.

    Zambrano’s workload is going to be the biggest issue. The Cubs have enough pitching that even once they move Ryan Dempster somewhere far, far away from the rotation, they’ll have enough to spot in a couple starts from their “sixth pitcher” to ease the workload mid-season. Of course, I’d rather see them all have controlled workloads, but I’m not expecting miracles.

  • The Yankees seem to have headhunters after them. Derek Jeter came back from a beanball quickly, and they hope the same for Carl Pavano. Pavano took a hard shot on a Melvin Mora comebacker and left under his own power, looking only slightly dazed. Pavano was checked by team doctors and never lost consciousness, a very good sign. He’s surely feeling it today so, depending on his response, he may need some extra time before his next start. Add in the psychological stress of standing 55 feet away from the possibility of another rocketing pellet of horsehide just days after taking one off the dome, and Pavano becomes someone to keep a close watch on.
  • Derek Lowe is just happy that the comebacker he took hit him just above the elbow and that it was wee Craig Counsell at the other end of the liner. Lowe took the ball off his arm, leaving a nasty bruise but little more. X-rays came back negative and the team will watch him closely to make sure he’s ready to go. With Brad Penny looking like he could come back by late April, Lowe needs to hold a shaky staff together until at least then. Lowe’s already wobbly mechanics might be affected more than others; his sinker demands sharp pronation at release.
  • The word “meniscus” is getting to be like some made-up curse word that Minnesota mothers will wash their sons mouths out with soap for saying. It sounds so much worse than it is and for the Twins, it often is worse than the normal knee injury. For some, a meniscus is a quick “scrape and tape” yet for the Twins, it’s often a season-ender. No, I have no idea why beyond rank speculation. Joe Mauer and Eric Milton both lost the better part of a season to the injury. Now Carlos Silva will have surgery to repair a significant tear of his meniscus. If he has it removed, he could make it back by midseason, yet he would have a much riskier profile for his career due to the bone-on-bone issue. If it’s repaired, we’ll see him in 2006. The Twins rotation would probably slot in Joe Mays, a pitcher with his own injury problems.
  • At some point, a player goes from risky to injury-prone. Beyond that, it becomes something like a curse. For Marcus Giles, it’s getting to that point. Able to come back from a deep bone bruise on his kneecap, Giles immediately smashed a ball into his left foot, putting him on crutches. He was dressed on Sunday, available for emergencies, but not expected back in the lineup until midweek. Giles might want to consider an old priest and a young priest rather than a trainer and orthopod.
  • Bobby Madritsch learned that his medicine wheel tattoo isn’t enough to save him from whatever seems to attack all promising young Mariners pitchers. Madritsch has a torn shoulder capsule and will need surgery that will end his 2005. He’ll have a second opinion, hoping that he’ll hear a diagnosis that doesn’t involve the business end of a scalpel. The M’s are going to have to get serious about figuring out exactly what’s going on. It’s one thing for me to sit here making guesses in my column. For the M’s, this is win-or-lose serious and I hope something’s going on internally.
  • Kelvim Escobar has been something of a mystery this spring, not having any consistency in the condition of his elbow. It’s alternately bad and great, fine and failing. Escobar will test the elbow in Single-A Cucamonga–always love saying that–later this week with an expected return in Ana … Los Angeles around the 19th or 20th. If there’s anything we can expect from Escobar, it’s inconsistency. I have a very bad feeling about the way this elbow has progressed. It will take a great outing to convince me otherwise.
  • There was a great head-to-head matchup of risky pitchers on Sunday in Atlanta. John Smoltz looked dominant–15 strikeouts and no walks–until seemingly running out of gas in a hurry, giving up three bombs to three Mets bombers. Smoltz, his velocity dropping quickly and his location sliding upwards just before the damage was done, will need a shorter leash early in the season. Stamina is clearly the major issue for him. Remember that both Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone have a repuation for letting their pitchers dictate their own terms.

    Also on the mound in Atlanta, Pedro Martinez threw a very efficient, 101-pitch complete game. The start not only made a statement to the doubters but also to the shaky Mets bullpen. Martinez won’t often go for the full game unless he can do it in this fashion, something the move to the NL might just allow. This game, win or lose, showed a lot about both these pitchers’ health.

  • DMPU: The Cubs watched Mark Prior throw off the Wrigley Field mound. While observers say he was still having trouble locating, there wasn’t much else to quibble with. He’s still on track for a start on Tuesday unless the Cubs decide to be conservative. Tuesday is also the day Dempster would throw again and they may be looking to make a decision on him quickly. Prior’s riskiest inning will be the first. Watch his front shoulder and the location of his pitches. He’ll also need to establish his curve quickly.
  • The Padres outfield is in a state of flux with Eric Young headed out for at least 60 days and Dave Roberts likely to be back by the end of the week. Roberts is certainly more valuable yet Young provided Bruce Bochy a lot of flexibility. Young’s dislocated shoulder is more severe that the one suffered by Ken Griffey Jr. a couple of seasons ago. Like Derek Jeter did two years ago, Young hopes to avoid surgery and come back. If Young can replicate Jeter’s 2003 season, that’s a success. Roberts will have one or two starts at A ball due to its location rather than level, then make a weekend return to the Pads.
  • Yes, it’s early in the season, but never too early to start bashing Mark Mulder, apparently. Two e-mails, one from a scout, say that Mulder’s done. “His top half is terrible,” I’m told, “and he’s not going to last the season. His arm is dragging. Forget first half/second half.” I’m on record as being worried about Mulder and the ongoing health of the A’s former “Big Three,” but I won’t go this far especially without more of a look at his mechanics. Dave Duncan is the master of fixing small problems, so there’s plenty of hope.
  • It will hardly start a DGAU (Daily Greg Aquino Update), but Aquino, one of the D’backs possible closers going into the season, is headed to the DL with an ulnar nerve inflammation. Aquino will undergo treatments and doses of anti-inflammatories with an expected return of around 20 days from now, very similar to Prior’s downtime. The problem of this injury isn’t the inflammation, it’s that the medical staff is treating the effect, not the cause. Even once the inflammation is driven out, there’s no guarantee it won’t come right back, now or later.
  • Justin Morneau is lucky. If it hadn’t been for the thin plastic and whatever that foam is inside the helmet that was between his skull and the ball, he would be a lot worse off than the post-concussion syndrome he’s dealing with now. That’s not to minimize or make light of these serious symptoms; I’m just trying to keep a perspective and remind everyone how important this gear is to modern players. Morneau is having enough current symptoms to scratch his return until he sees a specialist. The Twins still have the option of retroing him onto the DL, so keep a close eye on this as it progresses. Some reports have Morneau testing negative for a concussion. I just cannot imagine how that could be true.

  • Quick Cuts: Jason Schmidt started despite the flu on Sunday. Tough to argue with the result, picking up the win despite going a quick (for him) six innings … Moises Alou heads to the DL with calf problems. One reader suggests “Moises needs to pee on his calves” … Todd Walker left Sunday’s game with an injury to his left leg. The video is inconclusive and I’m working on details. It didn’t look good, but looks are often deceiving … How quickly will Ozzie Guillen shift from Shingo Takatsu as his sole closer? About as quick as batters adjust to seeing Takatsu’s odd delivery … Ted Lilly looked good in his first start, going six innings on a pitch-control plan (watch for this term to pop up more) … Bill Pulsipher starts his comeback with a trip to the DL. Somewhere, Dallas Green is laughing … Shawn Chacon is nearly back for the Rockies. He’ll slot into the rotation though the team will keep its full and necessary complement of pitchers. For any other team, that’s crazy. In Colorado, well, it’s not the worst plan, even if I think my “Arena Baseball Colorado” idea might work better … Kenny Lofton will miss another game on Monday while his hammy heals … The Royals will let Zack Greinke make his next start with Andy Sisco getting ready in the pen just in case.

Back tomorrow with all the news that hurts to print. Be sure to check out this week’s BPRCurt Schilling, Peter Golenbock and Paul Lukas are our guests.

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