I’m making my annual trip to Newberg Night at … well, what is the Rangers stadium called these days? (You know, with the All-Star Game in the telcom stadium nom du jour, the commoditization of naming rights is becoming bothersome for reasons of consistency rather than anticommericalism.) Anyway, I’m headed to Arlington by way of the dreaded DFW, to speak alongside Jon Daniels to a passionate group of Rangers fans. Jamey Newberg and his team put on a heck of a show, aided by a Rangers staff that grasps that catering to those passionate fans pays off. We’ll be in suites-ten of them this year, reaching the capacity of the auditorium-and it might be the most fun I have at a ballgame all year. I only wish there were more nights like it, more teams that ‘get it,’ and more guys like Jamey Newberg who built communities that could pull it off.

Powered by genuine Texas toast in Texas, on to the injuries:

  • Alex Rodriguez won’t be at the All-Star Game, or at the very least he won’t be playing. It’s a bit unclear which will be the case, but after a long talk with Joe Torre and a check of whether his $200,000 bonus is based on playing in or being selected for the game, he’ll take a pass. An MRI was done as a precaution after Rodriguez didn’t report much progress, and he’s unlikely to play over the weekend in order to preserve a break-shortened retro DL move. Got that? Good, because it only gets more confusing. Just as with Johnny Damon, Rodriguez appears resistant to missing time, insisting that his injury is only day-to-day. In essence, Rodriguez is about where he was yesterday. The medical staff isn’t worried, but the field staff sees a chance to buy him some rest, knowing that any injury up and down the lineup might be enough to keep the Yankees out of the playoff, while also trying to deal with a superstar’s pride. There’s more good news from Tampa. Peter Abraham reports that Philip Hughes will make his first rehab start on Monday at Single-A Tampa. That’s a bit ahead of schedule, and while he’ll be on a pitch limit, there are no other restrictions. As always with a pitcher coming off a long layoff, stamina is the big question. With all of the Yankees’ percieved conditioning issues, it will be very interesting to see how they kept Hughes’ arm working while his legs weren’t.
  • John Smoltz is in a holding pattern until Monday as he awaits the results of some tests on his pitching shoulder. It seems a bit long for a series of tests, even if they ranged into the more exotic, since All-Star pitchers tend to skip the lines down at radiology. Bobby Cox thinks that Smoltz will be fine, figuring that he can slot him back in on the fourth or fifth game back from the All-Star break, buying Smoltz about ten days of rest without resorting to the DL. Smoltz left the Braves and their simmering clubhouse and will also miss the All-Star Game, replaced by Roy Oswalt on the NL roster. The bigger question now is if this problem is Smoltz’s now-normal fade that’s come in the late season since returning to the rotation, or if it might be a more serious problem. Either way, the back of the Braves rotation is about to be exposed (again), which puts the onus back on John Schuerholz to patch it up while the medical staff tries to hold together Smoltz with the athletic equivalent of duct tape.
  • As expected, Rich Harden will start on Saturday, his first since coming back from the DL, and right in line with what the timeline would have been for a more typical rehab assignment of two or three outings. Harden’s work in relief wouldn’t appear to have given him the stamina to go out and make a credible start, but it might be what we didn’t see; “It’s the side work that was important,” as one source told me. No one seems to know exactly what that side work entailed or how deep Harden has been able to go in those sessions, but reports have him with a 65-pitch limit in his first outing. He’ll be shadowed by the man he displaced, Lenny DiNardo, just in case he runs into trouble. I’ll be watching not only for his velocity and stamina, but for any signs that he’s reduced his repetoire. That might be tougher to pick up in the first outing, but remember that it was the changeup that started this series of problems for Harden.
  • When a success is followed by ten days off, people get confused. Pedro Martinez threw a great simulated game and now moves into a new phase of rehab, one where he goes from strengthening for function to conditioning for action. Pitching is a very specific activity and while Martinez has certainly been preparing for that during his shoulder rehab, it’s a different process to actually get ready to pitch-saying that he’s “doing spring training” is a vast oversimplification. It’s a different process altogether, so while it is counterintuitive for him to take off time to “recharge” (as the Mets are calling it), it’s the accepted move. More than anything else, the Mets are making sure that they do this right.
  • ‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one before’ should be a motto here at UTK. Injuries seem to follow patterns, and like Cayce Pollard, we’re just looking for them. Pitchers that alter their deliveries often have setbacks involving their knees. I’m not sure of the mechanism, but one therapist I spoke with thinks that a shortened, more vertical stride is the likeliest culprit, bringing more force down and stressing the meniscus. Brad Lidge is having popping and locking in his knee. Popping and locking is good for Turbo and Ozone, but bad for a relief pitcher. This is similar to the situation Kerry Wood had with his knee during the spring of 2006. Lidge is unlikely to immediately go in for surgery, instead shifting to a maintenance-minded model. The worry then is that Lidge, already in danger of an oblique strain recurrence, might alter his mechanics to adjust for the knee. He’s always been risky, so I don’t believe that this greatly increases his risk profile. With some players, you just have to accept the risk knowingly and hope for the best.
  • It reminded me a bit of Torii Hunter at first, but when Bill Hall hobbled off the field under his own power, things looked bad, but not too bad. Unfortunately, after the game and an examination, things seem much worse. Hall was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, an injury that has a longer recovery period and tends to linger. The team will hold him out of the next couple games and hope that with the All-Star break he’ll be ready. That said, a high ankle sprain will take more than a week to come back from. The mechanism of the injury is key here. Unlike Hunter, Hall was coming down from scaling the wall, not carrying the force of a long run. That makes this more like a basketball injury, but until we see how Hall responds to treatment, we won’t know the length of time he’ll be out. The injury normally takes between four and six weeks, but sources tell me that they think this will be on the low end, at worst. The team will likely shift Corey Hart to center field for the time being, with Tony Gwynn Jr. the likely first call if Hall needs to go on the DL.
  • Dioner Navarro took a very ugly spill in Thursday’s game after colliding with Josh Beckett. While there are no details at press time, Navarro was taken from the field with all the precautions given to a head or neck injury. Beyond that, there definitely have to be concerns about concussion. The Rays are in the midst of a terrible losing streak where nothing seems to be going right, and this would have been another tough blow. His poor batting aside, Navarro’s absence will be a tough one for the Rays to cover, because as with most teams, they don’t have much catching depth. There’s enough problems in Tampa that they’re inventing new ones for them. To that mix, you can add rumors of Elijah Dukes to the White Sox, which is at least entertaining.
  • Carlos Gomez has been a great fill-in for the Mets, bridging the gap when three left fielders went down in front of him. Now it appears he’s the fourth, as reports coming out of New York indicate that Gomez has broken a bone in his hand. The truth of the story is that what was fractured was a wrist bone-specifically the hamate. The good news is that while it does take between four and eight weeks to recover (with most falling right in the middle depending on the aggressiveness of the treatment), it’s easy to recover from. A good comp for a solid return is Ken Griffey Jr., who famously broke his wrist as a young Mariner. While Griffey has had his share of injuries recently, he’s never had a recurrence (which is actually impossible, since Griffey had the bone removed) or any associated hand or wrist problems. Mets fans only hope that Gomez comes back as well. It appears that Gomez will also have the bone removed.
  • Quick Cuts: If the All-Star Game “counts”, then why is Chris Young (a deserving final vote winner) going to pitch while suspended? … Hanley Ramirez is back in the Marlins lineup, which is why I’ve ignored him in UTK. This was a simple minor strain with a slightly conservative return plan, nothing more. … Jason Giambi may be out of his boot, but his return from a torn plantar fascia isn’t imminent. The best-case scenarios have him returning in more than a month. … Zach Duke is headed down to Birmingham. It’s something of a trend for Pittsburgh pitchers these days, as if the Buccos don’t have enough problems. … Juan Rivera is a couple weeks away from a rehab assignment, though one source that saw him recently said “I’m not sure what to expect from him.” … Wow. I guess Ricciardi could have never seen this coming, huh? Remember that Burnett has an opt-out clause after 2008.

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