At risk of sounding like I’m writing a game story, last night’s Brewers/Cubs game was a tale of efficiency. Ben Sheets made it through his six innings without aggravating his blister, while also keeping his pitch count low. He left the game with a one-run lead, having thrown 86 pitches. Carlos Zambrano was just under the 100 mark when he came back out for the seventh. Sixteen pitches later, Zambrano left the game three runs down, and remains winless since signing his long-anticipated contract extension.

Zambrano is known as a durable “hoss” of a pitcher, as Dusty Baker used to call him, but that’s part of the problem. He’s been treated like a hoss for so long that maybe, just maybe, he’s not one any longer. He’s a big guy and not getting smaller. He’s an emotional guy and not getting mellower. He’s got a pretty heavy workload, pretty much the same one that doomed Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, plus two years where he was healthy and they weren’t. At some point, with a deep bullpen, Lou Piniella is going to have to realize what Zambrano is now rather than what’s on the back of his bubblegum card. He’s not efficient, and tonight, that cost him.

Powered by Enhanced Gameday, which is rapidly becoming my favorite way to watch a game, on to the injuries:

  • So Erik Bedard has been pitching hurt, huh? You could have fooled the batters he’s been dominating for the last few weeks. Bedard admitted that his oblique had been sore for “three or four weeks,” manager Dave Trembley said. While the injury is not considered serious, Bedard is going to miss his next start. He’d likely go to the DL, one source says, were it not for the impending roster expansion (yes, I’m getting tired of typing it, too). At this stage in the season, there’s no good reason to push Bedard at all. He’s proven that there’s still some pixie dust in Leo Mazzone’s touch and that he’s one good piece for Andy MacPhail to build around in Baltimore. That’s enough for most medical staffs to get very cautious in order to prevent that mild oblique strain from becoming anything worse down the line.
  • As stated before, Ben Sheets made it through his first outing back without blister problems. Just as importantly, he made it through without any sign that his tendon sheath problem was affecting him at all. Sheets is getting to a point where a good portion of his paycheck ought to just be handed over to Roger Caplinger, but this win is an example of how a good medical staff can actually help put wins on the board. In a big game–nearly a must-win game–the Brewers were able to put their best pitcher on the mound for a reasonable amount of time despite his having a pair of physical problems. We’ll have to see if Sheets’ blister gives him any problem before or during his side session later this week, but this was as good a performance as the Brewers could have hoped for.
  • So Manny Ramirez‘s problem isn’t in his back. It’s his oblique, a small but important distinction, though it doesn’t appear that it’s a terribly serious problem in either location. This isn’t a case of Manny being Manny; it’s a case of a small muscular strain and a smart medical staff catching something quickly and using a lead to make sure players get necessary rest, regardless of whether the team is playing its chief rivals.

    One of the hardest things a medical staff has to do is convince the player and manager when a player really shouldn’t be available. It’s the manager’s job to keep the team’s best interests at heart, but it’s the trainer’s job to keep the player’s long-term health at heart. It’s a balancing act that, sadly, few teams get right. The Red Sox look like they are. I don’t expect Ramirez to miss much time, but with roster expansion coming, he could miss a few more than normal.

  • The Mets still haven’t made a decision on who will start for them this weekend. Mike Pelfrey is the most likely candidate, but Philip Humber could be the guy as well. Unfortunately, Humber left his last start after taking a comebacker off his right (pitching) shoulder. On the one hand, he did keep his pitch count low and he should be fresh for the possible start, but there are better ways to go about that. Pelfrey was pulled after 42 pitches his last time out, which might tip the Mets’ hand, though Humber has been lights-out in his last two starts. Unless the shoulder is bothered by bruising, he seems the better option right now.

    The Mets let Damion Easley head home, acknowledging that he wouldn’t be able to make it back this season. He’ll likely be back for the playoffs, at least as a cheerleader.

  • I’m still a bit confused about what’s going on with Rocco Baldelli. The minor league season is winding down, he’s all but shut down with soreness while still trying to get some sort of work in, yet the Rays have manager Joe Maddon twisting in the beatwriter breeze saying he was “waiting on an update.”

    I think the world of Joe Maddon, but I have to call him on that statement. Like most teams would, the Rays know exactly what’s going on with Baldelli. They may not have made a final decision, and that decision may in fact be over the head of Maddon, but the Rays are smarter than implying that they don’t have constant, near-real-time updates on the condition of players. No, they don’t have GPS tracking yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did by 2010. Sources continue to tell me that the team thinks that Baldelli will be better served by more work on his running outside a baseball context, but that they’re hesitant to “officially” shut him down.

  • Vinnie Chulk should join up with Joe Garagiola‘s campaign against tobacco in baseball. He’s getting a first-hand lesson in why tobacco is dangerous, beyond the things we normally think of like cancer. Chulk found out that he has Buerger’s Disease, a circulatory problem caused by tobacco use. Chulk is going to have to quit before the problem ends his pitching career. The question is, if you can’t have band-aids on your pitching arm, is it OK to have a nicotine patch? Good luck, Vinny.
  • Reader Rob Aquino reminds me of this gem from 2004: “Will’s free tip to front offices: Daisuke Matsuzaka won’t break down in his first year over here. If he doesn’t win 12 games and Rookie of the Year, I’ll come bat against Rob Dibble without the benefit of a batting helmet between innings of your first home game in 2006.” Ok, Matsuzaka came over a year later than I expected–and that’s a good thing because he wouldn’t have beat out Justin Verlander‘s production from last year. His current 41.2 VORP is well ahead of other rookies, hitting and pitching, so I may yet come out three-for-three, avoiding a Dibble decapitation.

Quick Cuts: Watch Brad Penny. I only got to see highlights, but something looked off with his mechanics. I hope it was just the camera angle. … I talked about this in Tuesday’s chat, but I have no idea why you think about shutting Tim Lincecum down. If you have a freak, you let him freak ’til he can’t freak no more. … Roy Oswalt sure had no problems in his first game back. He looked filthy against the Cards. … I’m just wondering–when it comes to Matt Murton, is there some standing baseball jinx about redheads? I mean, baseball teams used to have midgets they’d bring around, so anything’s possible. … Alfonso Soriano is going to end up around 25/50/20 (HR/RBI/SB). If I give you that number at the start of the season, do you think the Cubs are in first?

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