Quiet week, eh? Heading into the start of the World Baseball Classic just seconds after I got used to spring training, we’re hurtling towards the start of another season. The Team Health Reports are flying, questions are everywhere, and the buzz of baseball is awesome. While the NFL has to answer questions about their labor unrest and salary cap problems, they’re also poking, prodding, testing, and re-testing the guys they’ll give big checks to in just a couple months. As I walked around the Combine with Aaron Schatz, seeing how it worked, I was reminded that there’s no reason baseball can’t do the same thing. The draft is moving back a couple weeks and if a couple top prospects are in Omaha at the time of the MLB Combine, so be it. The NFL trucks in an MRI machine to make sure a QB has a good shoulder; it’d be twice as smart for MLB to do this with the next hot Rice pitcher. Indianapolis is a great place for this, but so would Omaha or Cincinnati. It’s more information, tangible and intangible, and that’s always a good thing for baseball.

Powered by FedEx and awaiting my own copies of BP2006 like everyone else, on to the injuries…

  • Just a day after getting a green light in the Nats THR, Brian Lawrence pulled up lame. An MRI confirmed the worst case scenario and Lawrence went under the knife on Sunday. Interestingly, the Nats were originally putting the best-case timeframe on this worst-case injury, saying that they think Lawrence could be back by August. Once open, the Nats team doctors found extensive tears in both the labrum and rotator cuff, meaning Lawrence is done for the season and may never suit up for the team he was just traded to. Lawrence had passed his physical and while he says that his velocity has been off for a couple years, this is one no one saw coming, especially me.
  • When Dr. Robert Thompson becomes involved, the news is usually bad. As with any specialist, they don’t get involved until there’s a known problem. Dr. Thompson is a vascular surgeon, specializing in thoracic outlet syndrome. He’s helped several pitchers get back from serious issues, but Kip Wells‘ “total arterial blockage” sounds as serious as any he’s had in the game. Wells will have surgery soon and is out indefinitely. The glut of pitching the team has could make this his last move as a Pirate. Elsewhere in Bradenton, some are worried that Oliver Perez‘s poor weekend performance indicates injury. It’s so hard to tell anything from one performance and worse with the inconsistent Perez, especially with Jim Colborn working with him on so many things.
  • I’ll leave the jokes about Scott Podsednik and Lisa Dergan’s honeymoon to my pals at Deadspin, but this is gold to those guys and a big worry to the White Sox. Scott Podsednik slowed down after a groin injury last year, but during the offseason, the speedy Sox OF also had two inguinal hernias repaired. He’s likely to be able to return from the surgery, though there are questions about how it will affect a speed player. Others, such as Nomar Garciaparra, seemed to show little ill effect and as new techniques in hernia repair become more routine, this is likely to become an easily repaired problem. For Podsednik, he’ll be a test case.
  • Everyone seems worried about Bobby Crosby, filling my email box with concerns after the reports came out of Oakland that Crosby was dealing with shoulder tendonitis. It’s tough to get solid information out of the Oakland camp, so we’ll just have to watch and wait. Shoulder problems have been a big part of why Crosby hasn’t yet lived up to his potential, so it’s no wonder a lot of people are on edge. The A’s are also closely monitoring Frank Thomas as he gets back to hitting. He’s not ready for live batting practice and will never be fully healthy, but the A’s think they can get 300 or more ABs from him this season. If so, that’s going to be a big advantage.
  • A rib injury is not a back injury. That’s simple enough. Is a rib injury an easy way to cover a back injury? Yes. Can a rib injury occur when someone is trying to protect a sore back? Absolutely. Edgar Renteria has a mild rib injury, suffered early in spring training and if that’s all it is, then there’s not much to worry about. If it’s a sign that the back problems that plagued him in Boston are resurfacing, then Atlanta at least has decent fallbacks in Wilson Betemit and Tony Pena, but it will be much harder to win with those guys.
  • Does it make Cubs fans feel any better that Mark Prior has thrown? Sure, it was a soft-toss session from the mound this weekend, but it was from the mound, it was successful, and as we know, the only word that counts is from Dusty Baker. Dusty didn’t comment, though Larry Rothschild was kind enough to say that Prior is on track for a start sometime next week. We’ll want to continue watching him as he progresses for more signs on his health and effectiveness. Here’s a topic I’d love to see discussed on the front pages–Kerry Wood continues to impress with his throwing and looks to be on track or even ahead of optimistic projections. Given the normally gloomy returns from labrum surgery, Dr. Kremchek’s repair on Wood is going to be closely watched to see if things progress differently. Since the Chicago media all seems to be reading this column, I do want to make sure and say hi. The Tribune calls me a pain. Washington Post calls me an expert. That’s a push for the week, I think.
  • Jeff Bagwell is in camp and Drayton McLane is hoping and praying that Bagwell’s pride takes over before the insurance claim is denied. It comes down to the structure of the insurance, designed to protect the team from the monetary loss of a devastating injury to one of their top players. It’s best-called “hit by a bus” insurance, used only in the case of clear inability to play. That’s why it had the odd January 31 expiration. Bagwell does deserve better. There’s more reason to watch this situation; Lance Berkman would be a lot better off, healthwise, at 1B.
  • Torii Hunter is back patrolling the Minnesota outfield, yet even he admits the devastating injury to his ankle last season still affects him. He’s quoted as saying he’s 90%. We’ll be watching to see if it affects his speed, his quickness, his range, his power, and his overall health. If the ankle is changing his gait, watch for hamstring and groin problems.
  • Troy Percival did everything he could to come back. His arm simply won’t allow it. He has a choice: throw hard but don’t come back quickly, or throw less hard and reduce his already sliding effectiveness. The proud Percival was once an elite closer and will leave the game with his head held high and his pocket full of Mike Ilitch’s money. It’s hard to call this Dave Dombrowski’s worst move–it made sense at the time.
  • Look for Eric Gagne to be ready by Opening Day. He’ll miss being a part of Team Canada, something he regrets. There will be more regrets when hitters see his newly rediscovered slider, something he hasn’t thrown since his days as a starter. Gagne is experimenting with the pitch as a possible alternative to using his strangely gripped but filthy changeup quite so much. That strange, Vulcan grip puts a lot of stress on Gagne’s forearm and elbow.

  • Quick Cuts: In my own coffeenerdness, I got the chance to spend an hour over a cup at Starbucks with SI’s Peter King. He’s genuinely one of the nicest guys I’ve met and sitting with him talking baseball is going to be a highlight of the year. You can hear King on this week’s edition of BP Radio as well … Gary Sheffield missed workouts with back spasms this weekend. It’s not considered serious yet, but is definitely something to watch. This could not only affect his swing, but his contract negotiations … Brian Roberts is making good progress, but is still a question mark for Opening Day. He should begin hitting soon which is the big test … The more I learn about Garret Anderson, the more I think he’s resembling Tim Salmon Part Deux … The whole Rangers outfield is hurt, but none seriously. It does complicate the sorting out of the five or six guys who could be watching balls fly into the bleachers this summer … Early word from Orioles insiders is that Leo Mazzone is seeing who’s willing to listen, learn, and survive. His early workouts have been, according to one source, “harder than anything I’ve seen here. The pitchers are buckling under it.” Watch to see who comes out better and if any break under the “throw more” plan of Mazzone … Philip Humber is getting ready to come back from Tommy John surgery. He could be the first of the Rice rotation of a few years back to recover from that experience and contribute outside of college ball … If the Brewers can bring Mike Jones back after all his injury problems, the medical staff is going to deserve a lot of credit and Jim Rooney will have a major league coaching position somewhere … Dan McLaughlin has done some nice research at his site on pitching workload patterns. One of the side effects of keeping pitchers healthy is the ability to use the best players more often. Why that argument isn’t the one that wins the day still puzzles me … So who makes this brace that Barry Bonds is raving about?

Back as necessary throughout spring training.

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