By Will Carroll
July 25, 2011

I could talk about beautiful PNC Park, where I spent a humid Sunday afternoon, but you all know that PNC is the best park in baseball. (Yes, best. Only San Francisco is close.) Instead, I'd rather talk about the thing we have avoided in talking about Pittsburgh for the last decade -- hope.

GM Neal Huntington and his team are pushing .500 and, in a bad division, pushing for the playoffs. The Pirates are still hoping to make a deal, but it's a very tough market. I had thought someone like Aramis Ramirez would be a good fit (and a good story, kind of closing the circle) but my friend John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times says Ramirez isn't likely to come back. Actually, it feels a little like 2007 in Tampa, where it's not quite there yet, but people are starting to see the makings of a contender built for the long term. The farm system isn't as stacked, but Andrew McCutchen is a star and there are some guys who could become good players to support him. They don't have an Evan Longoria, but they do have a deep pitching staff with a couple of guys who could play the James Shields role. If Jameson Taillon grows up to be David Price, PNC is going to be full -- like it was on Sunday -- a lot more in the future.

I close out the tour Monday in Cincinnati, but there are miles to go. Powered by the smell of Primanti Brothers, on to the injuries:

One of the ladies traveling with me on the tour, Lillian Cozzi, is in her 80s, but might be one of the most passionate baseball fans I've ever met. I wish I got around as well as her, and I'm half her age. We talked about the Mets season as we bused down from Toronto on Saturday and her worry was that Santana wasn't going to come back as the pitcher he was. She's right to worry, and we're closer to finding out. Santana threw a bullpen session over the weekend, and if all is right with him on Monday, he'll make a rehab start later this week. Mets fans have to remember not to expect miracles from Santana and to not jump off bridges if he's not Cy Young quality right off the bat. The key is getting back on the mound, staying healthy, and seeing whether or not he can be a top of the rotation pitcher in 2012.

The Rangers lost Beltre to a Grade I strain of his hamstring over the weekend, and while no team ever wants to lose its slugging 3B, the Rangers are in good position to deal with his absence. Michael Young, a former starter at 3B is available, and touted prospect Chris Davis from Round Rock (AAA) was called up to take Beltre's roster spot. The Rangers publicly are saying Beltre will miss two-to-three weeks, but with a Grade I, it's possible that Beltre could be ready at the minimum. Texas tends to be cautious so I'll put the ERD at the three-week mark. Beltre shouldn't have much of an issue when he comes back, so don't make any panic moves if you have him on your roster.

The Red Sox are getting a bit concerned about Buchholz. While they shut him down after they were worried his back issue would affect his mechanics, leading to more problems, there has been a distinct lack of progress. The team thinks that there's an amount of discomfort -- not pain, just discomfort -- that Buchholz will need to work through. If he's going to get back in early August, he'll have to start making progress. Buchholz will throw for the team on Monday before Boston's scheduled game. If that goes well, we could see a rehab start in the near future.

I didn't expect to see Choo while I was in Cleveland, but before the game, Choo was working out, and he wasn't wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired hand. Things are looking positive, though Indians personnel didn't want to say that the time frame for his return has moved up. They're holding on to the Sept. 1 target date, but I'm not so sure. He'll need to have full healing on the thumb before taking the impact of hitting, but if we see him even taking swings before August comes, we'll see him back in the Indians lineup before August goes.

Last week, GM Walt Jocketty said the Reds trade needs change every day. They changed again after rookie SS Cozart had an ugly injury on Saturday. Cozart was diagnosed with a hyperextended elbow after a collision that reminded me of the Albert Pujols-Wilson Betemit play. How long Cozart is out will depend on what, if anything, was damaged as his elbow was forced beyond it's normal range of motion. It can be muscle or tendon (strain) or a ligament (sprain), even bone in some cases. Sometimes it's minor enough or distributed enough among the supportive structures that the injuries don't warrant a grade. He'll miss at least 15 days, but there's not enough info yet to put an accurate ERD on Cozart. The Reds will use Paul Janish in the meantime, but the severity of Cozart's injury could force Jocketty to hit the phones harder.

It's amazing that just days after being unconscious and stretchered off the field that Hudson is back. It's great that there was no more damage to his head or neck after the scary collision with the wall, but not a lot of attention has been paid to the concussion. Hudson wasn't in the lineup through the weekend, but he did travel with the team and was "available" on Sunday, according to Bud Black. It's possible that Hudson is back in the lineup on Monday, but there's been nothing said about the concussion. Let's assume that everything is going according to procedure and that Hudson is not showing any symptoms.

I had the chance to briefly talk to some people about Pujols in Pittsburgh. I wanted to look them in the eye when they told me that there was nothing special or even advanced about the way Pujols came back from his fractured arm. They continue to insist that Pujols' recovery involved nothing special. I asked about the use of (legal) pharmaceuticals like Fosamax or Boniva that are often used to assist in bone regeneration. (Much work has been done on these and some other advanced pharmaceuticals over the last decade due to the increase in combat injuries.) My sources insist that Pujols did not use these. Most surprisingly, they insisted that Pujols could have come back more quickly than he did. "We shouldn't have put him on the DL," one said. "We cost him games, maybe five." Pujols isn't wearing any sort of brace or protection, in the field or at bat.

My sources were less forthcoming when asked if they were sure that Pujols was really from Planet Earth. "If he stopped a speeding bullet or jumped over a building with a single bound, I probably wouldn't be that surprised," one said, with only a slight laugh.

Jose Tabata was in Pittsburgh over the weekend, as the team brought him back to take a look at why his rehab wasn't progressing as expected. It is being cautious with him, but he should be back before August ... Congrats to all the new Hall of Famers and award winners honored over the weekend. Pat Gillick seems likely to be back in the GM chair next season, as well as on a plaque in Cooperstown ... Chipper Jones played just five innings in Rome (A) on Sunday, but declared himself fully healthy and said he'd be back in the Braves lineup on Monday ... Just wondering: would Barry Bonds come back to Pittsburgh? What would his OBP be after a couple years out of the game? I bet it would be higher than Matt Diaz's .309 ... Cameron Maybin set a Padres record with his sixth game with a steal, but he also strained a hip flexor. No word yet on how much time he'll miss ... Jed Lowrie is making progress with his shoulder. He could be back in September ... The Angels are being a bit cautious with Peter Bourjos as he comes back from his hamstring strain, but they're also trying to get Mike Trout some success to feel good about before he heads back to the minors ... Scott Rolen's shoulder is not just bothering him, but hurting him. He hits the DL now, but unless there's significant improvement with rest, Rolen could be done ... Gerardo Parra didn't break anything after being hit on the wrist Saturday. He'll be back in the lineup once the swelling comes down ... Can we stop with the Sam Fuld nonsense? I like rooting for the underdog like everyone else, but we're creating the next Eric Byrnes in the meantime ... The D'backs think they'll have J.J. Putz back mid-week. He'll go right back to the closer role ... Angel Pagan left Sunday's game with dehydration, though the trade speculators churned hard for a bit after there was no explanation for him leaving the game early ... Just the smell of Primanti Brothers was almost enough to knock me off of my diet ... If camp opens up this week, you'll start seeing my football work in early August. I'll be doing the normal position-by-position breakdowns, but I have some additions to it this year that I think will help your fantasy teams even more. It won't cut down on UTK either. I'll be here on the same schedule through the end of the baseball season, then as needed for the playoffs and offseason.

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