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“Dance with the girl who brung ya.” I’ve heard people in baseball saying that over and over, especially recently. Heading into the last few weeks of the season, several teams are showing that the phrase might hold a curse. Staying with your strengths is one thing, but baseball is a fluid game and what was a strength might not be by the time you put 140 games of fatigue on your roster. Teams reliant on pitching might have overworked their starters, or maybe the league has finally figured out the new pitch their #3 starter unveiled. Injuries start taking their toll, exposing a thin bench or a plan that didn’t include what happens if this, that and the other thing happen. It’s good to dance with the girl who brung ya, I guess, unless that girl stops dancing with you or if you take a couple songs with the really pretty girl you just met. Baseball’s about winning, not monogamy.

Powered by the return of Survivor, on to the injuries…

  • Mike Hampton did everything he could do to avoid Tommy John surgery. Even after Dr. Joe Chandler and Dr. Jim Andrews told him he’d need the procedure, Hampton still checked with Mets team physician Dr. Dave Altchek, just in case. Altchek gave the same diagnosis: the forearm pain that put Hampton on the shelf is referred pain from a torn ligament in his elbow. Hampton first injured the elbow back in May (to be clear, this is a chronic injury, not a traumatic one) and was placed on a conservative treatment program. With the intervening back injury, it was difficult to tell how this had worked until the pain came back during his rehab work. Hampton will have the surgery soon, leaving a late 2006 return open. There is some small chance that Hampton will retire instead of having the surgery, according to team sources.

    The Braves are also watching John Smoltz closely. Smoltz has had tightness in his pitching shoulder with one of the more odd causes I’ve ever heard. According to team sources, Smoltz sleeps in odd positions and tosses and turns violently. In an attempt to control this, Smoltz is sleeping with his hands tucked into pockets on his shorts. Yeah, just try getting that image out of your head now. If Smoltz is unable to go on schedule Saturday, Kyle Davies will be ready behind him.

  • It might seem a bit odd that Ken Griffey Jr. would leave the Reds to see another physician when team after team sends their athletes to the Reds’ Tim Kremchek. Actually, Griffey is going to see a physical therapist rather than a doctor. According to Hal McCoy and team sources, Griffey wants to see how close this injury is to what he had two years ago, and will consult with the same therapist. Griffey’s injury is likely to be exacerbated by playing, so with some cleanup surgery ahead of him anyway (scoped knees and a wound from last year’s hamstring surgery that needs some work), Griffey’s season is likely over. The question now is if the foot needs surgery, can he make it back for spring training?
  • Freddy Garcia has a sore arm. Maybe. Ozzie Guillen thinks he does, and wasn’t Guillen’s close relationship with Garcia one of the reasons the Sox thought Garcia would be a good acquisition? The most likely scenario would be inserting Brandon McCarthy into the rotation, essentially making it a six-man to provide everyone some extra rest, much like the Cardinals did earlier this season with Anthony Reyes. The wild card in this is that if Orlando Hernandez has another bad outing, Guillen is already on record saying that McCarthy would slot into that rotation spot. Despite Garcia’s 207 innings pitched, his PAP isn’t very high, as he’s never gone more than 120 pitches. It’s the same with Jon Garland (max 121) and Mark Buehrle (max 120) so Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper deserve some credit for that.
  • The Astros have slid a little and Morgan Ensberg, their best offensive weapon, has been missing for most of that slide. That’s no real surprise. Given that Ensberg is making no progress with the deeply bruised hand and hasn’t been able to grip a bat, the idea that he could be back as early as Monday is a bit far-fetched. This is clearly an injury that would have put him on the DL in any other month. Many are beginning to think that the Astros are hiding a more serious injury, but team sources indicate that this is simply a pain-management issue and that Ensberg will be back quickly once the pain and swelling subside.
  • The A’s have Tuesday as a target date for the return of Bobby Crosby. This is a bit surprising, given the problems he had earlier this week taking batting practice. What it amounts to is a bit of desperation and a willingness to let Crosby make the call on playing in pain. The doctors will see him on Monday and, assuming that the leg is healed properly and poses no great threat of reinjury, Crosby would be cleared. That pain will affect Crosby in some way, so don’t expect him to be 100% for at least a couple more weeks. The A’s are just hoping he’s got enough to help them overtake the Angels.
  • The slide continues for the Angels while their rotation once again fails to stay intact for the run. Free-agent-to-be Jarrod Washburn will miss at least one start after tendonitis in his pitching forearm proved too painful. The team will continue to give him treatment hoping that he can return quickly; they’ll slot him back into the rotation whenever he’s available. Mike Scioscia can’t start thinking about a playoff rotation yet, but that should be very interesting to see. With all the injuries, Scioscia’s options are limited.

    The Angels will also be watching Vladimir Guerrero closely over the next couple of days. Guerrero reinjured the left shoulder that put him on the DL earlier this season, though early reports say that he’ll only miss a game or two, if that.

  • The Giants have Jason Schmidt penciled in for a Saturday start. Still, that is very much up in the air. Schmidt has been throwing in the bullpen under some watchful eyes, looking to see if the groin injury is affecting his mechanics or effectiveness in any way. Schmidt was expected to throw on Thursday and a final decision should be made today. If Schmidt can’t go on Saturday, Matt Kinney will get the start, with Schmidt getting another look for a start early next week, likely on Tuesday. At six games back, the Giants will likely be a bit more conservative with all their injured players.
  • I’m sure that Troy Percival didn’t want things to end this way. He’ll meet with his doctor to determine if surgery is necessary to repair the muscle tear in his pitching forearm. Surgery would cost him next year and, almost by definition, end his career. Some guys burn out, some guys fade away, but for a while at least, Percival burned brightly.
  • The Mariners appear to be trying something new with Gil Meche. The oft-injured pitcher, coming back from knee and shoulder problems, will be used as a “shadow” starter, pitching behind another pitcher who may need to come out early. This is an interesting strategy that’s shown some success in the minor leagues. For a team with as many injury problems as the Mariners, creative solutions, even if they don’t work, are a positive step.
  • Quick Cuts: J.D. Drew will have his shoulder and wrist scoped, ending his season but giving him plenty of time to heal up for 2006. Hopefully, whatever curse that the Dodgers had this season will have worn off … Michael Barrett was beaned in Wednesday’s game and is expected to miss a couple games … Scribbly Tate lives! … The bursitis that was affecting Brian Schneider in July and August has returned. Expect him to need some time off from catching … Let’s see. In 48 hours the Devil Rays have been blasted by their top two prospects. New ownership has such an uphill battle that I’m starting to rethink my position on contraction … This Francisco Liriano looks pretty good. Great motion and sick stuff … Want to feel good about something? Not only is Grady Sizemore becoming one of this year’s breakout performers, he’s also one of the most tested athletes in baseball. His time with the U.S. National Team resulted in three random tests just from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency–all negative.

Save some time for BP Radio this weekend. We’ll have Ted Leitner, the voice of the Padres, and Christina Kahrl on the show, as well as time for your calls at 800 825 5290.