Will Carroll
Friday July 29th, 2011

My friend Scott Long is a touring comedian and a White Sox fan. There's a joke there, but I leave those to him for the most part. He asked me a couple days ago what players have been in Under The Knife the least over the past years. It's a tough one to research, since it's essentially proving a negative. He suggested Mark Buehrle, and while I'm sure there are many players that have never seen their name in injury ink, Buehrle's about as durable as they come. Scott did a bit of research and came up with some interesting facts on this underrated pitcher.

Since 2001, Buehrle has pitched more than 200 innings in each season and is on pace to do so again this year. The only contemporary pitcher to be close to that is Livan Hernandez. In the past 40 years, the only pitchers that I can find who can top that are five Hall of Famers (Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry), one future Hall resident in Greg Maddux, and two others -- Mickey Lolich and Claude Osteen. That's pretty elite company, even at the low end. If he does it this year, he has just three more years to tie Maddux for consecutive years of throwing 200. Buehrle has a perfect game, a no-hitter, has won a World Series game, has some Gold Gloves, and has started an All-Star Game. Yet he is not considered a great pitcher by nearly everyone. He's 32 and has won 156 games, giving him an outside chance at 300. Buehrle likely rates somewhere between Roy Halladay (34, 169 wins at start of 2011) and CC Sabathia (30, 157 wins.)

Buehrle reminds me, in ways, of Bert Blyleven, who just went into the Hall. He doesn't dominate, but he consistently wins. We'll see whether Buehrle gets anything close to the same consideration if he keeps up his winning, durable ways. Powered by whatever it is Jon Heyman drinks to keep him going through the trade deadline, on to the injuries:

There's an interesting dynamic beyond the simple injury to McCann. Unlike any point during the Bobby Cox era, there seems to be a slight split in the clubhouse. Chipper Jones spoke up about playing in pain, then disproved his own point by coming back too soon ... again. Jason Heyward took the proper amount of time, healed up, and is hitting about the same as he did before. McCann's the quiet one, but also the toughest to replace. McCann might still be underrated despite being voted the starter in the All-Star Game. The strained oblique McCann has is enough to keep him out past the 15 days, but I'm curious to see which path McCann will take. I get the sense that he might try to push things, which isn't a smart thing to do with even a minor oblique strain.

Small things can swing pennant chases, especially when they're as tight as the one in the NL Central. One guy going on a hot streak or a slump can swing things by one game or more. A trade or a player returning from injury quickly can do it as well. But in the negative, injuries can cost a team those one or two games that might make the difference between October baseball and October vacations. Losing an All-Star is even bigger on the negative scale, which is what happened to the Brewers in losing Weeks to a Grade II sprain of his ankle. Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash told me that this was "a significant ankle sprain, but there are no fractures and surgical intervention is not required." Weeks will miss four to six weeks due to the sprain, putting him back around the end of August if things go well.

Minimizing the loss is going to give the Brewers medical staff a chance to shine. It's Weeks' left ankle, so his power shouldn't be affected, but quickness and lateral mobility, especially going to the bag, will be. How well he comes back and when will decide whether or not the Brewers stay in contention, unless GM Doug Melvin can find help in the trade market or takes a chance on someone such as former Brewer Bill Hall, who was released recently.

The last thing a team wants to have happen in the midst of the trade deadline is to have one of its value assets come up with even a minor injury. While teams can (and do) trade players that are injured or on the DL, it's obviously not an ideal situation for valuation. The Rays are asking for a lot for Upton, but an existing quad strain on top of a long injury history is making things a bit tougher. Upton played Thursday against Oakland, but I'm told he was given orders not to run too hard on anything other than a "meaningful play."

The panic over Berkman's shoulder is overwrought. Comparisons of Berkman to players with unstable shoulders aren't just hyperbole, they're wrong. Berkman has a sore shoulder, the result of a strain and some additional inflammation. It could be called an impingement if you stretched the normal definition of such a condition, but the shoulder itself is not unstable. Berkman had a cortisone injection to "free up" the shoulder, which is usually just reducing inflammation in the short term. The Colby Rasmus trade makes the OF situation a bit less sure, but Berkman should be back this weekend after letting the cortisone take hold. We'll see if it lasts more than a week or so. The maintenance and function could be a deciding factor for the Cardinals during their division chase.

Oswalt wasn't going to be mistaken for an ace pitcher during his rehab start at Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. He topped out at 89 mph and was good enough, but "not dominating. He pitched tentatively and that's not him," said one observer. Oswalt nearly hit his limit, going 72 pitches. The Phillies would like to see him near 100 next time out, which will be Monday. That would put him back in the Phillies rotation next weekend, with a bit of wiggle room. The Phils are hoping that Oswalt can slot right back in to his SP4 slot and push them toward the playoffs, but they're also willing to go with three aces instead of four.

Crawford's rough season in Boston keeps getting rougher. He's now dealing with a strained elbow, likely the flexor tendon, and had an anti-inflammatory injection on Tuesday. He's expected back in the lineup on Friday and no later than Saturday. Crawford was 1-for-11 before the injection, so it seems a bit more than coincidence now that we have this fact. With J.D. Drew already out, the Sox have to keep a close eye on their OF depth. That could be helped by a healthy Crawford as well as the imminent return of Ryan Kalish, who could come quickly if his bat isn't too rusty.

There are rumblings that his visit to a specialist is more than just routine for Buchholz, which means it's a key to the weekend for the Red Sox. If Buchholz is pushed back or shut down, the Sox will have to go harder after the thin pitching market to try to shore up their rotation. Since they have the same need as the Yankees, there's an additional complication. Buchholz's back has had further issues during his rehab, which indicates that the medical staff is having a hard time doing more than just making him comfortable. The "he'll have to pitch sore" comments last week from Terry Francona also push us down this path. The Sox normally have a long-term view, especially with young pitchers. They also like to win, so one of those is going to have to give a little bit. If there's one takeaway, it's that the Sox seem as worried about Buchholz being too aggressive as they are about him being injured more than initially thought five weeks ago.

While the Sox struggle with what to do (and how) with Buchholz, the Yankees have a more immediate issue with Hughes. Ivan Nova seems to be pressing for a return to the rotation, and Hughes doesn't seem to have an answer for his diminishing velocity. The changes made by pitching coach Larry Rothschild didn't hold together and, as I'd told you to watch for, Hughes' velocity signals that he's not recovering on a normal schedule. I'm no fan of the idea of a six-man rotation, but the Yankees might need to get creative if they're not able to make a deal for another starter. One of those ideas might be to go to a four-man, using Hughes as the swing/emergency starter to give him extra rest.

Johan Santana went three innings in his first rehab start at St. Lucie (A) ... Joe Mauer hit his first homer of the season. Nice to see him finally healthy, though having it happen in the last week of July is suboptimal ... Tim Lincecum was his normal self just days after illness forced him to delay his start. There are no worries going forward for him ... Justin Morneau is missing time with migraines. This is said to not be related to his concussion from last season ... Jay Bruce's recent struggles match up with his ear infection, but he hasn't shown any real signs of it. I didn't get a chance to talk to him on Monday, but I did see him walking around the clubhouse and at batting practice. He looked normal to me and to several other close Reds observers ... Josh Willingham is back in the field, showing potential trade partners that the A's slugger is healthier ... Dustin Mosely dislocated his shoulder -- again -- on Tuesday. It's happening at the plate, but his next start is in question ... Dayan Viciedo is still dealing with an injured thumb in Charlotte (AAA), so he won't be up to fill Mark Teahen's slot with the Sox just yet ... Denard Span played nine innings for Rochester (AAA), his first time since his concussion. If he's healthy, Ben Revere's emergence might push Span out the door, probably to Washington if they can't get B.J. Upton ... Alexi Casilla was scheduled to have an MRI on his hamstring Thursday after leaving Wednesday's game. No word at deadline about the results ... Shin-Soo Choo will start hitting from a tee this weekend. With Kosuke Fukudome in Cleveland, the hope is that he'll act as a bridge to Choo's return and a bench bat after that ... The Pirates lost Chase d'Arnaud to a broken finger. D'Arnaud's been a nice utility infielder for the Bucs so far ... The SI Inside Fantasy podcast will be up later today. It's late this week due to my tour throwing off our normal schedule. It works out well actually, allowing Eric Mack and I to bookend the trade deadline and to watch the NFL's free agent frenzy.

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