Oh goody, more steroid news! There’s another day of churn surrounding David Ortiz, spinning his logical, open-minded assessment of how things have changed into something approaching an admission. The Mitchell investigation is attempting to look deep into the personal medical files of people like Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, which leaves everyone to guess their favorite sluggers to fill out the list. Let’s face it–facts aren’t relevant here. We have a raging orgy of Chemical McCarthyism, blocked by its own failings and shadowed by the threat of government intervention. Call me an apologist or an ostrich if you’d like, but the fact is that there are few facts here. Kirk Radomski’s dirty three dozen remain hidden, just like the Signature lists promised from Albany’s drug investigation.

We need more players like Ortiz, willing to stand up and say that he doesn’t know what he took ten years ago, back in his homeland where even now drug laws and labeling requirements aren’t exactly stringent. This isn’t a new story. When the buscones come and the promise of a trip to the United States comes calling, few Dominican teenagers are going to ask if there’s anything extra in the B12 shot. If Ortiz took something, knowingly or unknowingly, a decade ago, what does it matter? If he took it in 2001, it wasn’t banned, and it wasn’t tested for. If he took it in 2004 or after, then the testing system would have caught him. Juan Salas found this out, as did Mets minor leaguer Jorge Reyes, who was hit for 100 games, something that amounts to a near-fatal career move for a guy in Single-A. Are players cheating? Sure. I’d guess there are some taking steroids, and some are taking growth hormones or the more exotic concoctions that are coming out of pseudo-Japanese labs on the East Coast. I’d also guess there’s a player who’s learning how to load or scuff a baseball and one or two that knows a bookie a little too well.

Murray Chass makes an excellent point that will be roundly ignored, then sees his paper print a story that serves as little more than a press release for George Mitchell’s quixotic stumblings in the steroid wilderness. These stories will come with more frequency this summer, served up in spikes leading up to the full-fledged frenzy that will start around home run #750. Oh goody.

Powered by the appropriate Nick Cave album, on to the injuries:

  • Felix Hernandez is less than a week away from a return, but he’s not throwing breaking balls yet. For most pitchers, this would be a major red flag, but for the Mariners‘ ace it’s a sign of a new conservatism from the men managing his career. While there won’t be a full reprise of Hernandez’s prohibition on sliders, the M’s are determined to put every possible control on their pitcher. Pitch restrictions, pitch limits, timing concerns, and yes, even some work on his mechanics will be in place when he returns on May 15th, so if Hernandez is ever injured again, there won’t be anyone anywhere who will say that the Mariners didn’t at least try. Hernandez has been effective in the past without his full complement of pitches, but I’m not sure he’s not going to throw something he’s not supposed to if his arm feels good and the situation calls for it; multiple sources have told me that Hernandez is as stubborn as he is talented.

  • Jim Thome made it through batting practice. Now the road back to the White Sox makes a quick detour. He’ll head to the minor leagues over the weekend, down to Triple-A Charlotte. Assuming there are no setbacks, he’ll be back in the Sox lineup by next Tuesday. Observers say that Thome wasn’t holding back with his swings, a good sign. With interleague play starting next week in Wrigley, Thome’s appearances will be limited, giving him a little extra time to heal up. He will be joined in Charlotte by a recuperating Toby Hall. The backup catcher will have a longer stay there, but not by much. Again, assuming no setbacks, he could be back with the team within a week. Hall is playing through a torn labrum, so this is somewhat risky, but he’s had no difficulty hitting.
  • The Giants are worried that Dave Roberts may be headed to the DL with an elbow issue. Roberts first injured the elbow about ten days ago in Colorado, though no one has publicly stated exactly how the injury occurred. The team is worried that there are bone chips or spurs, and Roberts told that he can’t straighten it to throw nor bend it to hit, which sounds like a problem, given that he’s expected to do those things. The speedy center fielder will have an MRI, and it sounds like the team is ready to hear that Roberts will need surgery. Unlike Chris Carpenter, Roberts should be back quickly. You may remember Rich Aurilia having similar surgery a few years back and only missing the minimum 15 days. Roberts could do the same, though a month is the timeframe you normally anticipate for recovery.
  • The Marlins changed their mind. In one of those moves that makes you wonder what they didn’t know before, the Marlins rescinded the option of Anibal Sanchez, and instead placed him on the DL. Sanchez was due to make a start for Triple-A Albuquerque early next week, but will instead stay with the big league team and receive treatment for shoulder tendonitis. Sanchez has had a rough spring, starting with shoulder soreness, then working its way through a series of minor leg problems. His control has been terrible, with 19 walks against only 14 strikeouts in 30 innings. If Sanchez’s shoulder never got loose in spring training, that would explain a lot of his problems, but raise questions as to why he was pitching through it. Sanchez had a huge increase in innings, and it looks like this red light is one I got right. Sanchez will be shut down for ten days to the shoulder, putting a best-case return somewhere in early June.
  • One of my secret weapons in following pitching and pitching mechanics has been my friend Steve Palazollo. A minor league pitcher himself, Steve’s work with me on breaking down mechanics and charting pitches has been invaluable. He sent me a text message about Jonathon Papelbon the other day, so I figured I’d just let him tell you what he saw: “Papelbon’s arm has been noticeably lower in all or parts of his last three outings, with Friday May 4 being the worst. Earlier in the season he was very consistent and his explosive fastball that comes in at 93-97 was looking like 105 to the rest of the league. Recently his arm has lowered a bit and can best be described as his throwing hand getting too far away from his body. When he’s at his best, he’s getting ‘through’ the ball and throwing downhill with a straight four-seamer. Against the Twins on Friday night he was flying open with his front shoulder, causing the lower slot and hindering his deception. That night his 93-97 was probably looking like 88, since he was showing the ball to the hitter much earlier. This also caused his ball to run in on righties a lot, not the desired result. Based on last year’s shoulder problems, this is obviously a concern, but it’s hard to say if he’s hurt or if it’s just a mechanical anomaly. Since most shoulder problems usually result in velocity loss, I’m hoping it’s just a temporary bump in the road mechanically and all the precaution that the Red Sox have taken with regards to treatment and usage patterns have paid off.” Steve knows his stuff, so I’m watching closely as well.
  • I’ll hang a little less crepe on the prospects for Joel Zumaya after seeing reports from the Tigers and having a discussion with a hand surgeon who has consulted with several major league players on injuries (but who has not seen or been consulted on Zumaya’s case). He told me that the injury itself is easy to repair, but that the function is the harder part; exploring exactly how the tendon functioned is impossible. In many cases, a doctor or trainer will examine the uninjured side–in this case, Zumaya’s non-throwing middle finger. However, since Zumaya puts non-standard stress on that finger, it’s impossible to say if he has bilateral symmetry. Was the middle finger that helped throw lightning bolts tightened by use, or loosened by use? As with many injuries, this one, he thinks, will come down to feel.

Quick Cuts: Peter Abraham is reporting that Jason Giambi will miss at least a game due to heel problems. More on this as it becomes available. … Lew Ford is making some progress, playing in a rehab stint down at Triple-A Rochester. He’s not hitting well, but he’s staying healthy, which should be enough to get him some playing time for the Twins when he’s back next week. … I liked what I saw from Anthony Lerew in his debut start for the Braves. … Brandon Backe threw a 40-pitch simulated game, and could be back in a game sometime before May is over. He’s well ahead of schedule in his return from Tommy John surgery. … Think the gyroball is weird? Chris Capuano is throwing a change variant that Ned Yost is calling “Funky McNasty.” … Jeremy Hermida is supposed to start a rehab assignment in High-A Jupiter on Wednesday, but no confirmation was available.

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