I’ve had my problems with the Cubs over the last couple of years and couldn’t even go to a game at Wrigley last season, so going back on Friday seemed like a reunion. It was more fun because I got to be with friends, including both my best friend and Jenn Sterger. It was a perfect day for a ballgame, complete with light fluffy clouds and a full house. We had great seats, and the Cubs won, looking like the team to beat in the NL Central. This team has finally found itself, while the Astros looked more like the Bad News Bears, and Lance Berkman looked completely lost both in the field and at the plate. After the game, Jenn and I headed over to WGN to chat with Dave Kaplan and, if you were listening, you may have heard “assless chaps” said over the airwaves of Chicago’s #1 station. The Cowgirl and I wandered over to Harry Caray’s for a great meal, joined by the good doctor, Rany Jazayerli. Since Rany and Jenn have been going at it in NL-Kings all year long, it was fun to see them finally meet. I spent the rest of the weekend just chilling, taking some time off, meeting up with friends, doing some shopping, and getting ready for that time of year where I go Bo Jackson.

Powered by a great weekend of friends and good food, on to the injuries:

  • I’ve spent much of the last two days–despite my Chicago weekend–running down information on the major setback experienced by Chris Carpenter during his most recent rehab outing. What I’ve been able to come up with doesn’t all fit together, so I’ll just toss out what I know and let you make of it what you will. Carpenter came out of his third rehab start with pain and stiffness in his pitching elbow, then had swelling in the elbow the following day. Sources tell me that all the symptoms were very similar to what he was experiencing before the bone spurs in the elbow were removed. Media stories point to arthritis as the culprit, something that was noted previously, but had never created much of a problem. There’s no next start date for Carpenter, but they’re not rushing him back to see team doctor George Paletta either. This one’s going to get a big ‘wait and see’ stamp, though it’s safe to say that Carpenter’s late July/early August return date is now going to be pushed back, perhaps significantly. If the elbow has large-scale degeneration, it could be the biggest blow that the Cards have to take in an already tough year.
  • No matter what you think of the big new contract, Ichiro Suzuki earns his money by getting out there game after game. He’s been exceptionally healthy throughout his American career, which has often been credited to strange techniques (like his foot stick), rather than to his exceptional fitness and work ethic. That was until he was smited by a 96 mph Justin Verlander fastball just above his knee, which forced him to leave the game after hobbling to second one batter later. Word from sources is that it’s simply a painful bruise and that he’ll be checked on Monday to see whether he’ll need some more time off. Given the velocity, Suzuki could have broken the kneecap if the ball hit a bit lower. It’s that kind of “luck” that a team like the Mariners needs as they continue their chase of the Angels.
  • The Red Sox seem to have a player with injury concerns for every game they have in their AL East lead. That alone is reason for the teams behind them to have some hope, though looking at Boston’s depth dims that hope somewhat. Curt Schilling is due to throw a simulated game on Monday, and could be in Pawtucket by the weekend. J.D. Drew has a mild hamstring strain and the team is protecting him from exacerbating it; he’s not headed to the DL and doesn’t expect to miss much time. The team is more worried about Kevin Youkilis and his strained quad. This is his second bout with a similar strain, one the team is trying to keep from going chronic. David Ortiz is going to try and play through his meniscal tear, something that should be manageable; word that Dave Magadan made a mechanical adjustment to Ortiz’s swing before his recent power surge tells me that the quad and knee might be taking a bit more blame for his play than they really deserve. Finally, Jason Varitek will get a couple of days off to heal his hand; his thumb is still swollen after a hard night behind the plate for Daisuke Matsuzaka, where he took multiple foul balls and even a cross off of his wrist.
  • Miguel Tejada thought he’d miss ten days, while the team had a timeline that was more like a month. With Tejada starting up baseball activities, it looks like he’ll be back in the orange and black somewhere in between those two targets. The O’s would be smart to slow him down, but it looks like Tejada is in the driver’s seat and forcing his way back, even with his streak in the rear view mirror. Tejada’s not trade bait as attractive as he was last year, and the O’s aren’t playing for anything more than a spoiler role, so a rush isn’t accomplishing much beyond spit-shining Tejada’s pride. I’d watch his power numbers closely when he comes back, especially if he declines to take a rehab assignment.
  • Ben Sheets didn’t feel better on Sunday, a bad sign for his scheduled Thursday start. After leaving Saturday’s start with a sprained distal knuckle on his pitching hand, the Brewers were hoping that they could merely push their ace back rather than replace him. It was easy to see that Yovani Gallardo was ready to step in, and no matter what the news is on Sheets this week, Gallardo is likely going to get a start. A decision will be made Monday on whether Sheets will miss a start or simply be delayed, but with the Brewers in an increasingly close battle with the Cubs, they can’t afford to lose Sheets or any of their key players down the stretch. On a positive note, it looks as if Bill Hall won’t be out much past the minimum with his ankle sprain. That’s really more hard work by the medical staff than luck.
  • The Mets are keeping things very quiet, but everyone is watching for any info on Pedro Martinez. I’ve talked to multiple sources who say that the Mets have all but compartmentalized the rehab plan, making it a “need to know” basis even for people inside the organization. What we do know is that Martinez’s time off is coming to an end, and that he’ll gear up for his impending rehab assignment with a couple of bullpen sessions and maybe another simulated game. The information I have puts his most likely minor-league start date around July 26th, which would put his Mets return date around the middle of August.
  • Another fracture has put Howie Kendrick back on the DL, but don’t be fooled. Kendrick’s latest problem–a fractured tip of his left index finger–is not related to the previous fracture in his hand. It’s pure coincidence that it’s the same hand, and a bit of bad luck, but there’s not even a hint of cascade in action according to a noted hand surgeon I spoke with (but who has not seen or treated Kendrick). He’ll be out a couple of weeks, perhaps a month at most, but will once again have to deal with bat control issues upon his return. This injury is very comparable to the one that pushed Chone Figgins to the DL early this season; it took Figgins a while to get back on track.
  • You might remember some speculation surrounding Chris Duncan and his knee infection. While Duncan didn’t have MRSA, the infection was serious enough to slow him down and cost some power. Now that Scott Spiezio is headed to the DL with an infected finger, is it enough of a pattern to ask whether there’s a problem? MRSA is known to have infected several players, but it’s not the only type of community-acquired infection. Players live in close proximity to each other and, let’s face it, sometimes they aren’t the most hygienic people. We’ll only hope that Spiezio’s problem is as minor as it sounds. We can also only hope that this is the last of the creeping crud that’s attacked the Cards.
  • Mark Teahen was shifted out of position by Alex Gordon on the heels of his own shoulder surgery. While Teahen’s beginning to hit like he did last year, the power is still not back. As he gets further removed from the surgery, it becomes less and less of a reason or excuse for the lack of power, so it grows increasingly worrisome that his slugging has actually gone down over the past couple months. Right now, Teahen isn’t quite at that disappointing first half level from last season, but he’d better show similar second-half numbers if he wants to remain a valid option in the outfield. The shoulder shouldn’t be holding him back now.
  • T.R. Sullivan nails it, as usual. The Rangers do face a hard decision on DL’ing Akinori Otsuka or not, one made harder by the knowledge that the trading deadline in many ways hinges on what Jon Daniels decides. Otsuka isn’t hurt badly, but he also isn’t available, putting more pressure on guys like Joaquin Benoit and the underrated C.J. Wilson while making it tougher to deal Eric Gagne. Some sources have told me that Otsuka is more coveted and by more teams than Gagne is. It’s notable that Jamie Reed and his staff have been very conservative with timeframes this season. The Rangers were hoping that Vicente Padilla would be back by now, but instead, he’s behind schedule for his pre-start work.
  • Huston Street won’t be back this week, but don’t take that as too much of a negative. He’s scheduled to make a rehab start later this week, likely at an upper-level team like Triple-A Sacramento, and he has had no serious problems since returning from Toronto. Street’s new target date is a week from today, which is relatively positive, given previous reports. More interesting is one source is telling me to look for Mike Piazza to be activated from the DL this week. Whether that’s a result of the trade market or a reflection on the state of the A’s offense is unclear.
  • One of the things that you never hear about in the mainstream press is the support system that baseball puts in place for its players. I’m not saying that it does enough, especially for players who don’t speak English, but it does a lot. The Employee Assistance Programs throughout the league do an amazing job, dealing with everything from drug and mental problems to marital and cultural issues. I’ve heard of EAPs doing everything from helping players find an apartment to very literally saving lives. While mental health isn’t something we talk about much, it’s as important for baseball players and teams as it is for you and me. Marc Lancaster mentions that Elijah Dukes is participating in a program now, and while no one can talk about it, let’s hope that it works. The people doing the hard work in these programs don’t get enough credit, so I’m taking this chance to tip the UTK cap to them.
  • There’s not much to say about Kerry Wood beyond the results: one inning, three strikeouts, and a 93 on the radar gun. He came out feeling good, and reports are that he still felt good Monday morning when he came in for his normal treatment. Yes, it’s just one inning against rookie league competition, but a couple more of these and he’ll be back in Wrigley pretty quickly. There is no question that Wood’s presence alone would be a lift; if he can fire mid-90’s heat in that bullpen, that’s not going to hurt their chances of catching the Brewers. The Cubs are also hoping for Ryan Dempster to come back soon; he’s headed out for a rehab assignment by mid-week.
  • Quick Cuts: Jason Giambi has begun the more intensive stage of rehab on his foot. There’s still no real indication if he’s going to be able to come back this season. … Moises Alou should be starting his rehab assignment Monday night in High-A Port St. Lucie, though sources tell me that no one seems happy with the progress he’s made so far. … Randy Wolf is progressing, throwing long toss and moving closer to a return. The timetable for that return is still fluid, but if he gets on any part of a mound this week, that’s a big positive. … The news isn’t so good for the Dodgers when it comes to Chin-Hui Tsao. He was placed back on the DL as a precaution, protecting a shoulder that always seems to need protection. … Al Reyes should be back in the Rays bullpen soon. … A correction: my note from last week regarding Matt Garza was poorly written, and the tense made it seem as if he was back in Rochester. My apologies.