You know what I love about this time of year? Talking to people and hearing the tension in the voices of those whose teams are in tight races, the lax pace of those whose teams are out of it, and trying to read between the lines of every word each source enunciates. I spend all year talking to these same people, professionals who have been in the trenches for years, and yet at this time of the year, just like us, they’re getting just as excited and wound up. Yes, baseball is a business, but at the exact same time, it’s also a passion for everyone in the game. I actually talked with a GM’s secretary in passing and could hear the same sort of tension. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Powered by the new Springsteen single, on to the injuries:

  • We’ll start with a litany of Mets. The team has Paul Lo Duca and Endy Chavez back in the fold, but there are still plenty of other injuries to deal with. Pedro Martinez threw on Monday in Port St. Lucie and had no real problems going almost 90 pitches, but he didn’t seem quite as sharp. Afterwards, Martinez said he was working on his secondary pitches, such as his cutter, but that he was happy with how everything had played out. The Mets weren’t quite as thrilled and will give him one more rehab outing before bringing him up. This one is likely to be somewhere in the upper minors, though no determination will be made until after his side session, scheduled for Wednesday (though he’s often thrown on Day Three, which would be Thursday).

    The Mets also got a look at Carlos Gomez, who is starting his comeback after having his hamate bone removed. The Mets seem very unclear as to how they’ll proceed with him, so they’ll likely just make him force his way past anything more than a token rehab. If he suddenly hits, he’s an option for October, but the Mets seem more comfortable going with Endy Chavez backing up all four outfield slots, meaning Gomez will only be competing with himself while trying to force the Mets’ hand with a great rehab.

    Finally, the bullpen is having some issues with its workload, and an injury to Ambiorix Burgos won’t help. Burgos appeared over the elbow problems that had cost him much of the season, but they’ve cropped back up. The Mets have sent him back to New York to consult with team doctors, but this doesn’t look good. If there’s any weakness the Mets have, it’s with the front of their bullpen and general fragility.

  • I’m getting a lot of email regarding Mike Mussina these days, all centered around a theme I often see. With players like Mussina who have been good for a long time, fans don’t want to believe that they can simply lose it. Yes, sometimes it’s injury, but we need evidence of that–a loss of velocity, some indication from sources, something, anything–before we can say it’s anything more than a simple downturn. There’s none of that with Mussina, and work with Ron Guidry simply hasn’t made much improvement, if any. The Yankees appear ready to turn to Ian Kennedy, despite the roster implications, though I’m still confused with what the Yanks will do going forward. Mussina’s signed for next year at $11 million, meaning they either have to hope he’ll call it quits, or that Guidry (or someone) can help Mussina get back to at least being effective.
  • Manny Ramirez always seems to have some small injury around this time of year, sometimes a bit earlier. He’s having some problems with back spasms, though they’re not considered serious, and could even have something to do with his always-troublesome knees, according to one source. “He’s adjusted his swing to account for his knees being a bit stiff, and it’s more arms,” the source told me. “Doing that, he cranked his back on a swing.” I don’t expect this will last very long or cost Ramirez much in the way of playing time or production, but it would be easier to play around him if rosters had already expanded.
  • Kenny Rogers made a big step with a solid side session, making a return to the rotation not only likely, but likely to happen sometime next week. This quick progression has a lot to do with the rotation’s struggles and the standings as much as it does with Rogers himself, but the result is the same. The biggest concern will be stamina, but there’s really no way to gauge that. There’s likely to be one more side session or perhaps a simulated game between now and then, but that’s not going to give us much more information. Instead, like the Tigers, fantasy owners will have to hold their breath and pray that Rogers can give them some solid innings. He’s a savvy enough pitcher that he shouldn’t implode.
  • After yet another bullpen loss, the Brewers will turn to Ben Sheets on Wednesday as they try to salvage the series and their season in Chicago. Although he’s dealing with a blister, Sheets will nevertheless get the start, with Chris Capuano ready in the bullpen should it act up. This will be Sheets’ first start back since having trouble with a tendon sheath in his middle finger, but that hasn’t been a problem since the club gave him the time to allow it to heal up. He’s throwing all his pitches without any problem, aside from that pesky blister. Sheets is coming back to pitch a day early after the Brewers placed Claudio Vargas on the DL with back spasms. While not considered serious in the long term, it’s poorly timing for the Brewers, who will be juggling their rotation quite a bit while Vargas is out. The Thursday start will be taken by Manny Parra, a sign that Ned Yost and Mike Maddux are somewhere between creativity and desperation.
  • A bullpen session for Cole Hamels was very positive, making a weekend start likely. The elbow isn’t painful, and he didn’t show any problem throwing any of his pitches, though he wasn’t at full tilt very much in the session. The most likely date for his return is Sunday, though the Phillies will be looking at the schedule to see if there’s a way to maximize the number of Hamels starts they can get from here on out. If nothing else, the injury gave him some needed rest; Hamels spoke of feeling “fresher” after his session. The Phillies aren’t quite as concerned with Freddy Garcia–they’re not expecting him back. He’s headed to Birmingham to get Dr. Jim Andrews’ opinion on his pitching arm. That opinion is more important to Garcia’s impending free agency than it is to the playoff hopes of the Phillies.
  • I may have jumped the gun a little bit in saying that Rocco Baldelli had been shut down. Instead, that’s merely the most likely option. There’s still a chance that he’ll get going again, though when you look at the structure of his rehab, the minor league schedule’s winding down, and the sheer number of setbacks he’s had this season, there’s little chance that he’ll make it back or avoid being shut down for now. The question is more what he’ll be able to do this offseason. A Jose Reyes-style reconstruction of his legs seems to be in the offing, making his status a bit more interesting. Face it–there’s almost no question about his ability, just his ability to stay healthy.
  • A’s fans have been a little less obsessive this year, for which my inbox thanks them. Rich Harden’s progress does need to be noted, however. He’s made it back to a mound, throwing 20 pitches in a side session as part of a schedule to get him back to the bullpen before the end of the season. The schedule itself isn’t known, but since Harden felt rushed previously, we can’t expect this to be anything quicker than a couple of weeks. We’ll get some signs, including a simulated game, somewhere along the line, but there’s little chance that Harden will have much effect on this season, for the A’s or for fantasy teams. Instead, the A’s are merely hoping to put a positive end on an otherwise lost season for Harden, and some information so that they can try to figure out what his 2008 season could look like.
  • Quick Cuts: Alfonso Soriano didn’t show any trouble with his quad in his first game back, though an 0-4 didn’t give his legs much of a look. … Homer Bailey made a rehab start in Sarasota and got lit up. Worse, according to one observer, he didn’t look as if he cared. … Chris Young will start for the Padres Thursday after feeling good after his latest throwing session. … Russ Ortiz will have surgery to repair his torn flexor tendon in his pitching arm. It will be done by team orthopedist Ken Akizuki. … I don’t care, Radiohead’s “The Bends” is still my favorite album of theirs. It just gets better and better. … Hope to see you all at the noon chat today.