Debate all you want about good springs, bad springs, or breakouts. Spring Training stats are among the least valuable things in baseball, but at this point, people seem to use them like they're meaningful. The small sample size and questionable competition conspire to make them illustrative, but not instructive. The one thing we can all agree on is that health is not so ambiguous.
With just over a week left before Opening Day, teams are past the point where they can get their players ready in some cases. In others, they'll be holding their breath, hoping that the next game is one where the trainers will only need to pass out ice and remove tape after the game. There are still fights for roster and rotation spots, but you'll see the shift from preparation to protection. Not all of the injuries were -- or even could be -- avoided and that's why I'm here. Powered by the new R.E.M. record, on to the injuries:
Peavy had made such a solid recovery from his lat reattachment that it seemed he was going to make the Opening Day roster, if not the Opening Day start. Peavy had no setbacks and showed no loss of velocity or ... well, any issues. But here at the tail end of camp, Peavy's come up with rotator cuff tendinitis, something that's not uncommon, especially given that Peavy hadn't pitched for a while. The question is whether this is simply getting back into pitching and having a common issue along the way, or whether this is related in some way to the surgery. No one seems to think this is from a change in mechanics for Peavy, who looks the same to me and to several scouts who have seen him this spring. Reports are that the tendinitis is "concerning, but not serious." The Sox will likely have Peavy on a course of anti-inflammatories as they ease his work back. Even if this stays as minor as it appears, a DL stint is likely as it would both save a roster spot and allow Peavy to make a rehab start in the minor leagues. Watch to see when Peavy gets back on a mound for more of an indication as to when he'll be back in the Sox rotation.
Wilson's strained oblique was never the worst of problems, but one of the hardest parts of a trainer's job is pulling the reins back on a player. It's harder when he's a passionate, outspoken one such as Wilson. The Giants closer thinks he'll be ready for Opening Day, but the staff doesn't seem quite so confident. It is going to be close, so Wilson might not go to the DL, or if he does, the team may get him on there quickly and let the 15 days run so he misses a minimum number of games. Oblique strains have a tendency to recur, so the team will be watching this closely and trying to keep The Beard going forward as conservatively as possible. Right now there's enough of a chance that he won't go on the DL that I'm leaving the ERD (estimated return date) off. This is definitely one to watch over the next few days.
It's time to stop worrying about Nathan. Tommy John rehab is one of the most predictable things in baseball, and while there's not a definitive study showing just how predictable it is, the anecdotal evidence is there by the truckful. Nathan's in a very similar situation to Billy Wagner last year, and Nathan's body type and work ethic makes it even more likely that he'd rehab well. Nathan has shown no issues aside from stamina during the spring, and for a closer, stamina is only an issue in the abstract. It's possible that he'll lose a save or two if Ron Gardenhire looks to Matt Capps on the third day of back to back-to-back save chances, but that's just smart and not likely to lose too many fantasy leagues. (Then again, it is one reason I don't like head-to-head leagues.) Nathan is fine and should be drafted based on his talent, not his injury. As always, feel free to talk up the injury in pre-draft chat, hoping that your competitor isn't reading this column.
Street has shown control and stuff this spring while avoiding injuries. Of course, he's done that in eight innings of work. Street has always been talented, but over the past few seasons, his ability to stay healthy enough to get on the mound has been the problem. That he's been able to do it for a few weeks is nice, but it tells us next to nothing about his ability to continue doing it. One of the hardest things in sports is picturing an athlete in the now. We let our images of that player, shaped whenever they occurred for us, to distort what we see now. However, it's also an issue with "short term memory." A pitcher with a long injury history like Street, someone like Rickie Weeks, who had one healthy season, doesn't suddenly erase that history. It's good, but it's not a complete change. Remember that when you're thinking about Street on draft day. History trumps eight spring innings every time.
I hope I don't have to echo the work of Tom Verducci here. Latos is kind of the embodiment of a lot of the things Verducci has written about when it comes to young pitchers regarding sharp increases in workloads and what happens next. The 23-year-old Latos jumped from just over 100 innings across three levels to more than 180 for the Padres last season. That's a jump whether or not you include minor league innings in the calculation. The Padres were caught in a dilemma last season as they tried to hold onto their playoff spot while also protecting Latos, who looked and pitched like he'd hit a wall down the stretch.
Latos came into camp this season as the established ace, but he's had trouble with his secondary pitches and seems to be struggling. It's just spring innings, so I'm not drawing big conclusions, but if Latos is feeling the workload from last year already, that's not good. My worry is more about how he'll do in the second half, when cumulative fatigue really starts to wear on him. Bud Black has a job ahead of him with Latos, one that could make or break the team's chances not just this year, but over the next several years.
Anything that happens to Harper is going to amplified, even more so after the well-chronicled injury to Stephen Strasburg. Harper injured himself at the tail end of camp and everyone took notice, despite the fact that Harper is ticketed for Hagerstown, not Washington. Harper injured his ankle, described to me as a "simple sprain," though the team elected to have some images done to be sure. The team is likely to be very conservative with anything that happens to Harper. There's no need to rush him, and as one team source told me, "He's a big deal around here." If there's anything to note, it's to ignore how long Harper is out. This is not going to be a normal timeframe for recovery.
The Mets had Beltran play in not one, but two minor-league games on Tuesday. It seems excessive, but during Spring Training, the teams control things. Beltran was removed for pinch runners twice, thanks to the spring's relaxed substitution rules. Consider them more like controlled scrimmages and you get the picture. Beltran did pretty well, going 2-for-8 with a double and showing what one observer called "a good trot." He was the DH and after the game said that he's not close to playing the field. The next step will be more games, shifting to allowing him to run the bases within the next week, absent a setback. There's still no way to tell how Beltran's knees will progress or how long they'll hold up. There's no chance he'll be ready for Opening Day, and it's beginning to look like playing at all is in question. One source said the Mets are "back to last summer, and [Beltran] might shift to surgical options and let the Mets collect on insurance."
I used to know that Moises Alou was the guy who'd been in UTK the most times, but I stopped counting a bit ago. My guess is that Bedard might be right up there, since his stop-start rehabs have kept him in these pages quite a bit over the years. Bedard had his third shoulder surgery in August, again cleaning out damage inside the shoulder. Early results on this one are good, with Bedard emerging as one of the biggest surprises in the Cactus League. He's good enough to lock down a spot in the Mariners' rotation, but talent has never been the question with Bedard. Whether Bedard can stay healthy is entirely another matter. The M's have Plan B ready, as they came into the season with hopes for Bedard, not expectations. And as good as the spring innings have been, don't discount Bedard's long history. It's one thing to think "this might be the year" and another thing to pay too much for a lottery ticket.
I hate when teams say a player has "no structural damage." Muscles are structures and Francisco has an issue with two muscles, but in one location. The Jays announced that Francisco had soreness in his pectoral muscle and inflammation in his biceps. This might sound like two distinct problems, one in the arm and one in the chest, but both muscles come together in nearly the same spot in the shoulder. The Jays will work to get Francisco more comfortable, but the anti-inflammatories will need time to work, meaning there's little chance that Francisco will be ready for the start of the season. With Octavio Dotel also hurting, that puts the saves chances there for Jon Rauch, though it's hard to get a read on what John Farrell will do in his first season as manager. I think Francisco will need to go on the DL, but that it will be a near-minimum stay. The worry has to be that with all the options the Jays have for saves, Francisco will end up missing his chance at the closer slot again this season.
I'm not ashamed to say that whenever I hear Hanigan's name, the initial notes of "Hard Knock Life" come to mind. For catchers, it often is a hard knock life, and Hanigan took one of those knocks, taking a foul ball off his throwing hand. The injury isn't that serious -- enough to alter the way Dusty Baker is making out his lineup, though Hanigan has been able to participate in batting practice. Things look as if he'll be ready for Opening Day, especially with the depth issues that the Reds have at catcher. While Devin Mesoraco rebuilt his prospect cred last season, he's not yet convinced the team that he's ready to take over just yet. Mesoraco will start the season at AAA Louisville while Hanigan tries to hold on to the starting job, with Corky Miller and Ramon Hernandez (who has a sore elbow) holding Mesoraco's place.
People seem worried about Matt Cain, but my worry is more about how he'll react to the sharp increase in innings that come with a World Series run. That extra 21 innings of high-stress work has taken down pitchers before, so I'm dropping Cain slightly on my board. Eric Mack has him at 54, which is about right ... David Freese is moving well and could see increased playing time at 3B for the Cards, assuming he can stay healthy for once. Tony La Russa would be smart to keep to his plan on limiting Freese's exposure early in the season ... Derrek Lee hasn't had a healthy spring, but it's been bad luck. He should be ready for Opening Day after his latest issue, a bruised foot ... Joba Chamberlain got back on the mound Tuesday and showed no issue with his oblique. He did get knocked around some, but he was out there trying to show he was healthy. He'll be ready for the opener ... Brandon Webb will throw live batting practice on Wednesday. He's at least a month from a major league start, if not more ... Many are surprised that Tanner Scheppers will head to the AAA rotation and not the Texas bullpen. His injury history has many believing that he won't last as a starter, but Texas' pitching program is pretty unique. It's results that count ... Angel Pagan said his sore back occurred because of the Mets' bus. If that excuse works, MLB players everywhere will be trying it ... If Barry Bonds is found not guilty, think there are any teams that would consider him as a hitting instructor? ... Yes, something good can come out of drug testing ... This is very cool. Curious what word a team would use today since "Larrupin'" hasn't held on to its place in the lexicon ... The idea that day-to-day injuries can be predicted is laughable to me. Until traumatic injuries are shown to have some pattern or predictability, I'll stick to the system that's worked for me for nearly a decade and even that only works in large numbers.