Will Carroll: Prior's long road to return may end soon - Sports Illustrated

Under The Knife: Prior works way back, but maybe not for long

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As teams make -- or at least try to make -- deals at the deadline, it's important to remember that they're buying the future. No one knows what's going to happen six or seven years out for anyone. Mark Prior is proof of that. It's been nine years since Mark was standing out on a La Jolla ball field, playing catch while my photographer took pictures of his mechanics. No one expected the twists and turns of Prior's career to end up with him in Pawtucket in 2012, but he's there. One fluke collision, a couple seasons of heavy workloads, and several shoulder surgeries later, Prior is only now getting back to being a serviceable pitcher. He never got the big contract that his friend (and throwing partner back in La Jolla) Cole Hamels just got, but he seems to be enjoying baseball again.

Due to commitments, I wasn't able to catch up with Mark, but writer Michael Raines did and had a conversation with the former Cubs phenom last week.

Prior told him he's still getting used to being a reliever but has been impressed by how the Red Sox take care of their guys and "put them in positions to get on the field and to succeed. Still, he isn't sure he will return next year. "I haven't got that far, you know? Honestly, I'm just worried about day-to-day, more or less. I want to finish the year out strong, wherever that is. And then, you know, just re-evaluate at the end of the year like I've done every year, see where I'm at and see what I've done and where I can improve and what opportunities are out there." Prior's earned the chance and his stuff could work in the Boston pen. Prior's an object lesson for a lot of people, but he's still just a guy who doesn't really like the attention. All in all, a worthwhile read.

Powered by Cindy, who bought two bats at the Newberg auction, on to the injuries:

It's apparently going to take more than a knee operation and a calf strain to sideline the latest Dusty Baker Show. Yes, this is the kind of team that Baker succeeds with. It doesn't require much in the way of in-game management, is young enough to buy into his us against the world mentality, and has an MVP on the team. (It's a bit early on Joey Votto, especially with the missed month, but he's in the picture.) Phillips' calf strain is not good, but it's not as bad as it seems. The second baseman will miss a couple days while they treat it and let it rest, with a decision coming this weekend. Speaking of Votto, he's taking grounders and doing some light hitting. He could avoid a rehab stint or have just a short one, making next weekend a possibility.

We throw the word "setback" around a bit too easily. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. With any rehab, there are things that happen that might seem like setbacks from the outside and certainly aren't positive, but they are a part of the process. Longoria's rehab from a severe strain of his hamstring hasn't gone as hoped, but his most recent time off from his stint in Durham (AAA) isn't really a setback. It's smart. Longoria felt a bit sore, told the trainers and took a couple days off. He was back in the lineup on Thursday. If he can keep from having the soreness this time, he could be back in Tampa as soon as next week. That said, it's more likely that Longoria will stay at DH for the next few weeks at minimum and perhaps for much of the season.

That ERD is a best guess, based on the fact that Beckett is going to miss his next start. The DL is still an option as his strained back kept him from throwing a side session, which was said to be a necessity before Bobby Valentine would send him out. Beckett is going to have to be shadowed, so I'm not sure what Valentine is doing here, other than giving Beckett another shove. The Sox will need Beckett to show he can pitch before they can even try getting a waiver deal done with him, something widely expected to at least be tried. Beckett's history of back strains is in play here, but the Sox pointedly call this a "mild strain," which is what the Boston press calls "red meat."

Furcal has a long history of back injuries. It's one of the reasons he's a Cardinal at all, after the back stained his time with the Dodgers. It's no surprise that the Cards are being very conservative with him. Furcal reportedly lobbied to get back in the lineup on Thursday, but the medical staff wasn't completely comfortable. He could be back Friday or Saturday, but I'm listing Saturday as the ERD as a reminder that even if he does play on Friday, it's probably better to watch for one game and see if there's any indications that he's back before he's 100 percent. He'll meet with doctors on Friday to discuss several scans that they ran on pretty much all of him. His running is up slightly this season, but it's the first thing that could be sacrificed in order to keep him healthy.

Feliz injured his elbow pitching. This part we know. Tommy John surgery is an all-too-common injury in baseball, at all levels. What we don't know is why. In this case. it could have been many things, from mechanics to fatigue, but many seem to be focused on Feliz's shift to the rotation. Feliz made the shift as part of a plan, giving him a full offseason and spring to get "stretched out" after a full spring last year where he was treated as a starter and then switched to the pen. As a starter, Feliz did throw more sliders, but he threw fewer curves, so let's call that one a wash, especially when you consider he threw more changes as well. Worse, this case doesn't even hold up anecdotally. Sure, Feliz and Josh Bard didn't have good seasons, but what about C.J. Wilson, who made a similar switch a couple seasons ago? What about Andrew Cashner, Chris Sale or Brandon Morrow? Pitchers used to regularly serve a bullpen apprenticeship, a strategy that's actually older than Earl Weaver's usage. An easy answer (or any answer) would be nice, but trying to blame any one thing doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Hopefully it won't take too many more Feliz's before some team decides to do something but I've said that before. Many times.

Gutierrez is still having issues with his concussions. There's something to the idea that baseball concussions seem to last longer because players don't experience these kinds of hits very often. In football, there may be a "survivor's effect" at play, only allowing those that can survive the kind of hits that they regularly take to advance past the lower levels. That's scary, if true, because it means the weeding out process is being done on immature adolescent brains. Baseball has seen its share of concussions, but aside from better batting helmets, there's not much that can be done to prevent them. Gutierrez was hit by a pickoff throw, hardly a common occurrence. (Then again, a two-flap batting helmet might have prevented it altogether.) Other concussions have occurred despite adequate padding on walls and on slides, both feet first and head first. Catchers still get the worst of it, but anyone is susceptible since it only takes one event. The concussion DL and the concussion policy put in place by baseball seems to be working as intended, keeping the focus on the highest standards of care and proper return to play. Those are the things that baseball can control.

Yasmani Grandal was pushed to the DL as a precaution. His strained oblique isn't serious, but there's no reason to push the young catcher ... Carlos Ruiz is dealing with something many don't think exist -- "mild plantar fasciitis." It tends to linger, is very painful, and might be a big reason the Phillies pushed for a catcher in their trades ... Giancarlo Stanton started a rehab assignment and should be back in the Marlins lineup early next week. That would be slightly ahead of the four week expectation, but a big homer helps make his case ... Bobby Valentine is off script again. He thinks that David Ortiz is possible for this weekend. Ortiz thinks he's 50 percent. At some point, you'd think Valentine might start consulting with the medical staff before speaking ... I'd think that pitchers would already have something like this, but then again, it seems like less pitchers wear a jacket when they're on the basepath these days ... Johan Santana threw a bullpen on Thursday. He's scheduled for another on Friday, something of an odd setup that I'm told is to test his recovery. We'll have to see how that goes before we figure out the next step for the Mets' ace ... Dan Haren will start Sunday for the Angels, after being skipped Wednesday due to a sore back ... Jose Bautista isn't pain free with his wrist. They'll be very conservative with him ... Devin Mesoraco might have a novel appeal for bumping an ump. He may argue that he was concussed. The downside here is that Mesoraco wasn't pulled until later, which might be arguing against his own medical staff. Mesoraco was placed on the seven-day concussion DL on Wednesday ... Josh Hamilton isn't doing himself any favors. I can confirm that he has no unusual physical issues right now ... Jordan Zimmermann's start was pushed back due to shoulder soreness. Any other issues in the Nats rotation is going to make it even hard for Mike Rizzo to shut down Stephen Strasburg ... Howie Kendrick isn't quite Brandon Phillips, but he does have his own strained calf. He won't miss much time ... Neftali Feliz was in the Rangers clubhouse Wednesday. That's normal. What wasn't normal is that he was still a bit sedated after having Tommy John surgery earlier in the day. It went well ... Jayson Werth was activated as expected by the Nats. He went 1 for 3 and didn't show much, positive or negative, in this first outing.