We’re at the stage in the season where two things change the way that UTK works. It’s still all–OK, mostly–about the injuries, yet September is different. First, placement on the DL stops being the best indicator of injury. There’s no roster-based reason to put someone on the list, so for the most part teams stop doing it. This allows more injuries to be hidden just below the surface, disguised as off days, as playing the prospects, or some other shenanigans.

Also, our focus moves a bit more to the playoff races. Each injury now is magnified. Teams’ benches may be deeper, but two weeks now will seem more important than any other. Sure, teams have wins in the bank from healthy, productive periods earlier in the season, but a .550 team turns into a .500 team with one injury, throwing off what we know and think we know. There’s no time to recover, there’s no margin for error, and one game, win or lose, can make all the difference.

Powered by cardboard boxes–seriously, they’re one of the great inventions of all time–on to the injuries:

  • “The hambone is connected to the backbone…”. Well, that’s how the song goes, and it’s partially true. There’s a big connection between tight, inflexible hamstrings and lower back problems. It also works the other way, with tight backs causing hamstring problems in many athletes. It’s likely a contributing factor for Roger Clemens, who left his Saturday showdown with Chris Carpenter after just five innings. Clemens has battled back spasms since just after the All-Star break. They haven’t affected his pitching yet, but the Astros’ inability to find Clemens extra rest may cost him a bit down the stretch. The big three in Houston may scare teams come a short series, but that little extra expected from them has some short-term consequences.
  • There are times when a medical staff gets credited with something they had nothing to do with, and times that they get hit by an injury that really shouldn’t count against them. Two cases along these lines involve star NL first basemen.

    Albert Pujols has made it through the entire season generating his typically astounding results despite off-season heel problems. They’ve shown up a few times, and are bothering him again, but the team will just rest him a couple days, maybe give him some extra treatment and then he’ll be back out there terrorizing pitchers. Barry Weinberg and his staff deserve some credit for this, despite the fact that they’ll show a lot of injury days at the end of the season.

    On the other hand, the Astros kept Jeff Bagwell in the lineup a lot longer than many expected. When he finally had to have surgery, he came back quickly. While he’s not the same threat he once was, he’s still a positive for a team in the playoff chase. His DL days were minimized by the Astros staff’s hard work, but our stats are, at best, a primitive measure. There’s lots more work to be done here to get a better read on this. The Astros are one of the leading contenders for this year’s Dick Martin Award.

  • Bartolo Colon looks more like he belongs on Celebrity Fit Club than he does on the short list for the AL Cy Young Award. His back problems aren’t serious, and had he not had a three-run lead on the Mariners, he probably would have kept going. Mike Scioscia and Bud Black know how to get their pitchers rest, and they used this as an opportunity to get some work for their deep bullpen. Colon is not expected to miss any time and the back problem doesn’t appear to be affecting what really counts: his results on the mound.
  • The Yankees continue to patch together a rotation with the baseball equivalent of change you find in your pocket. Sometimes, it’s a penny that’s not good for much. Sometimes, it’s like finding a twenty in your jeans pocket that you didn’t realize was there…that rush of “wow!” lifts your spirit. Aaron Small has been a twenty, maybe a fifty, and Shawn Chacon has been a solid acquisition. Jaret Wright looks to have dodged a bullet, if not a baseball, and will not miss a start after being hit with a comebacker. Chien-Ming Wang looked bad at Triple-A Columbus and might have had another start there if their season wasn’t coming to an end. Mike Mussina is only listed as out for two starts, but the Yankees know that the tendonitis and other problems in his elbow are likely to keep him out until at least the last week of September. That’s a blow that will necessitate more starts like the one Randy Johnson provided his last time out. The biggest problem is that Mussina’s loss exposes those spare parts a bit too much.
  • It was yet another missed side session for Rich Harden, and another setback for the hopes of the A’s on Sunday. Harden had a long-toss session scheduled and it looks like the “everything must go perfect” smokescreen that Larry Davis is throwing up is starting to fall apart. Harden is frustrated with his lack of progress and starting to show that. The reason for the delay in his session is that the dye used in his last imaging might not have been completely out of his body. Gadolinium DPTA, the most common contrast agent, usually is out of the body in 72 hours, so this is a difficult one to analyze from here. Watch to see if Harden is able to throw on Monday, and note that each day Harden doesn’t throw reduces the chance that he’ll get two or three more starts over the last few weeks of the season.
  • The Braves will give Mike Hampton one more chance to prove he belongs on the postseason roster. Hampton has battled injury all season long, yet has shown just enough in his two years with the team to engender some of the famous Bobby Cox/Leo Mazzone loyalty. That loyalty goes a long way towards keeping a job but not a long way towards winning championships. Even if Hampton is healthy, he’s not well-suited to the bullpen, isn’t one of the Braves’ best four starters, and really only holds his bat and athleticism as reasons he might be considered over someone like Jorge Sosa, Kyle Davies or even Todd Hollandsworth.
  • The game broadcasters noted that Ken Griffey, Jr. was icing his hamstring, not his foot. Replays also suggested that Griffey’s problem was in his chronically weak hamstring rather than the foot as the team suggested after. Either problem is disappointing since Griffey has had such a great comeback season, brought on merely by being healthy, and either would be interrelated to his string of leg injuries. The team will have to be conservative with this injury; Griffey is too important, too expensive, and while the team has played well since realizing none of their games counted, they’re too far back to risk anything.

  • Quick Cuts: The Mets will use Steve Trachsel to buy Pedro Martinez an extra day of rest. They’ll both pitch against the Braves this week … Carlos Zambrano had some flareup of his lower back problems during his Saturday start, but he pitched through it. Don’t think that his being left in an inning too long had nothing to do with his recent soccer match … Francisco Cordero is still battling a triceps strain. Expect him to be treated very conservatively. He’d be very affected by losing Orel Hershiser in the off-season … Michael Cuddyer just can’t stay healthy. His injuries are seldom serious, but he beats himself up with his high-effort style. He’ll miss a week with a sore wrist and bruised ribs after a diving catch … Sammy Sosa has gone AWOL from the O’s. Don’t expect him back this season or next season in Baltimore.