I talk a lot about safety here, but today, I'm going to intermix it with a bit of minor-league vanity. In the minors, the players are more controlled. They have to follow the edicts of the commissioner (and their teams) or they get suspended or sent home. It's due in large part to the lack of a union to protect their rights. Minor league players have a different, stricter drug testing program that includes blood tests (or at least the right to test their blood) and they're required to wear the new, safer helmets.
This week, the new helmets came up when I was talking to one of my minor league sources, who told me a story about a player who got hit in the back of the head.
"I was hanging in waiting for the ball to move, but it didn't" he said the player told him. "I turned and it hit me in the back of the head. I didn't even really feel it. I went down to one knee not because it hurt but because it was part of turning away."
That player stood up, took his base, and was checked by the athletic trainer as part of concussion protocol. He showed no symptoms, stayed in the game and finished it.
I asked my source if he could go back to that player and ask whether or not the player would wear the helmet in the major leagues.
"No, it's just not cool enough," the player said. "I'd rather look cooler regardless of how this helmet feels."
I should have been stunned, but I expected it. Five other players who heard the conversation agreed. It's more important for them to "look cool" or "fit in" than it is to wear a piece of equipment. I'm a big believer in individual responsibility, so one part of me wants to say "Hey, it's his head." The other part of me knows that there's a kid somewhere who's going to get hit worse and might wear protective equipment if he saw his heroes wearing it. Protective equipment for pitchers is the same thing. Unless these things are mandated, they're never going to catch on, and even then, there's resistance. I hope that the MLB and the MLBPA can agree on some sort of standard for protective equipment in the next CBA, one that would mandate the use of the best available safety equipment, in part to protect the players and in part to protect the kids.
Now, let's get to the injuries:
It wasn't really 106 mph, but Aroldis Chapman came off a few days of rest and showed that his arm was fine. The problem now is that the Reds aren't really sure why he had the inflammation, which leaves them guessing about how he can be utilized. If a couple days rest is needed, then he can't be used in the setup role that was envisioned for him, nor could he be a closer. Would he be better suited throwing every fifth day as a starter or as a long reliever with enforced rest, perhaps paired with someone like Mike Leake, a soft-tossing control artist who's got some workload issues? My idea would be to use him every third day for two high-leverage innings at a time, which would put him near 100 innings on a season, something he should be able to handle. But a better idea would be to get a good direct measure of his fatigue rather than guessing with timing and usage patterns. Figuring this out on the fly is going to be a big issue for Dusty Baker and Bryan Price, as well as Walt Jocketty. With more pitching on the way (including an effective Dontrelle Willis), the Reds have the time and the depth to work it out.
A lot of people have e-mailed to ask about Evan Longoria and why he's been absent here for so long. The simple answer is, when there's nothing to report, I tend to ignore it. I'm a believer in the old "no news is good news" adage and in rehab, that's true. We sometimes call it T.R.I.P. -- typical rehab in progress. That's what's happening with Longoria -- he's spending a lot of time with Ron Porterfield and the rest of the medical staff, healing up and getting ready. Longoria is finally making some visible progress as he took some swings on Tuesday. If he responds well, we'll see him amp things up as he moves toward his April 29 return.
Sometimes, it doesn't pay to come back early. Victor Martinez came back Monday after missing Sunday's game with what was termed a minor groin strain. Instead, he aggravated it and appears headed for the DL now. The strain itself isn't significant but the team doesn't want to play a man down and feels that Martinez would do well with a significant rest to get the groin back to full strength. Martinez was supposed to be the 1A catcher with Al Avila, but they're platoon doesn't follow any discernible pattern. That leaves it to be more of a "rest" platoon that exposes Avila a bit and didn't serve to keep Martinez healthy either. Based on what we know now, I'd expect Martinez to hit the DL. (Update: Yep, that's what happened.) The Tigers would be smart to sharpen up their plan for his usage during his DL stint.
It could have been worse, which seems to be a recurring theme for Jake Peavy. Peavy had some tenderness in the area near where his lat was reattached last year and the Sox took no chances. He had some images done and the MRI showed no problem in the area. The Sox will slow down his rehab, adding perhaps a week and a rehab start to it, assuming all goes well. The worry with this specific problem is that there are small changes, likely unconscious and imperceptible, in Peavy's mechanics, leading to varying problems as he tries to get himself back in shape. The irony here is that Peavy is in Birmingham, a few miles away from the American Sports Medicine Institute, where the White Sox could get a real idea of what's going on with Peavy. For now, the Sox will keep being patient and let Peavy come back slowly.
The Mets waited a couple extra days for Jason Bay. What they saw from him in his rehab starts wasn't that the strained intercostals were a problem, but that he needed more looks at live pitching. They sent him back to Florida (to avoid a trip to Buffalo) and expect to activate him on Thursday. One source admitted that his results Tuesday and Wednesday could lead them to extend his rehab, but at this stage, it's about baseball results and not medical issues. The Mets feel like Bay can help them, though it's certainly a work in progress in New York right now. The decision to place Brad Emaus on waivers shows that the Mets are not going to be terribly patient during a process that could start to see as many scouts as fans in the stands.
The Yankees have held Alex Rodriguez out again with a confirmed strained oblique, but continue to call the injury day-to-day. This one seems to be exactly that case, with Rodriguez waiting on the clearance from the medical staff before coming back. Oblique strains tend to linger and can have harsh setbacks, making this conservative play the smart one. Rodriguez could miss a few more days, but the DL isn't a consideration absent a severe setback.
The Angels haven't seen as much progress from Kendrys Morales as they'd expected. Morales' freak injury just hasn't gotten back to functional. At this stage, it's less about fixing something as it is figuring out how to make him productive at a point different from where he started. The term M.M.I. is used for this, meaning maximum medical improvement. That doesn't imply any sort of failure, but 100 percent is usually a false goal anyway. Morales will amp up the running and the baseball activities over the next 10 days, but there are a lot of chances for a setback along the way. He'll need about 10 games worth of at-bats on a rehab assignment, though some of that may come at the complex.
One of the persistent myths I deal with is that a trip to see Dr. James Andrews is always a bad thing. It's never bad in any sense, though for fans, seeing your pitcher come out with a scar and the promise of a long rehab isn't good. Often, however, players see the good doctor and come back without a new scar. Pedro Feliciano is one of those, though in this case, no surgery isn't as positive as it might seem. The fact is that shoulder capsule surgery is one of the more speculative in the business. Like all surgeries, it's better to try everything else before saying "Yeah, we have to cut." Feliciano will be on a throwing program over the next few weeks as the Yankees hope he can contribute in the second half. Odds are, it should be clear, against that happening. I came really close to putting an ERD here, but there's just not quite enough clarity just yet.
Quick Cuts: Justin Morneau missed a game with flu, the same thing that's been going around the Twins locker room. The Twins also had Joe Mauer visit his spinal specialist on Monday, a scheduled off day. Mauer told reporters his leg weakness, the visit and his illness were all distinct events. ... Ubaldo Jimenez made his Tuesday start and while he lost, it has to be considered successful. He stayed around his 90-pitch limit in five innings of work and showed no issues with his thumb. ... Brandon Morrow will be activated for a Saturday start. ... Brad Lidge is starting a shoulder-strengthening program. This won't include throwing until at least the end of April, if not longer, despite some reports to the contrary. ... It's slow progress for Brian Matusz, who's throwing again, but weeks away from returning. The O's also put Justin Duchscherer on the 60-day DL, but there's no material change in his rehab. ... David Aardsma has begun a rehab assignment and is expected to be back with the team (if not in the closer role) by the end of the month. ... On a non-fantasy note: Paul's Boutique is every bit as good today as it was in 1989. I'm not sure any hip-hop album holds up as well. ... You'll definitely want to subscribe to the Inside Fantasy podcast, which was featured on iTunes last week. On this show, Eric and I talk fantasy, but we also get the chance to talk about the Indians with their field manager Manny Acta. Later this week, we'll have an "Inside Extra" interview with legendary comedian Tom Dreesen. ... My first ballpark Tweetup is happening May 14 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash and Milwaukee's own Trenni Kusnierek will join me. If you'd like more details, click here now.