Under The Knife: The 3B curse and the Twins' struggling medical staff
Sometimes, what looks like a pattern is just a coincidence. When we see that three players -- Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Delmon Young -- have had the flu on top of injuries, it makes me say "hmm." I did so on Twitter and got quite the reaction. Mauer is on the DL with leg weakness, which the team says is a result of the flu, but Mauer says is unrelated. I usually side with the the team on these matters, but Mauer also made that visit for a re-check on his SI joint. Morneau needed work performed on his neck and Young has a ribcage injury that he requested an MRI on. It's just an odd coincidence, if that's all it is. On top of that, the Twins are one of two organizations that have a poor record returning players from Tommy John surgery. They've had three in the last few years and all three haven't returned to level during the normal 12-month recovery. While I think Joe Nathan will get back to level, it's just taking longer. The three surgeries were done by different surgeons and the rehabs weren't handled completely by the team in two of three cases, so there's no single factor here. The argument that the Twins are conservative doesn't fly either, since there's no indication that they slow things down. In the case of the TJ pitchers, they all returned in the normal window of time, but took extra time to get their stuff back. (Specifically, it appears to be control, a matter of proprioception and one of the main reasons that new TJ rehabs are much shorter.) When you take a look at the Twins, a team that once was among the leaders in sports medicine, they've got some things to look at. It's not that I have all the answers, but that it doesn't appear like the Twins are asking the right questions.
Chipper Jones is playing through an injury. That's no surprise, though some had hoped that his advancing age, knee problems, and the absence of Bobby Cox in the dugout would mean that Jones was on a bit of a shorter leash when it came to writing his name into the lineup. It looks like even with the cascade soreness on his knee, he's going to try and play through it. The Braves only gave him one game off, so it's not as if he's going to get any real rest with a here-or-there kind of off-day. The Braves are going to have to watch him to some extent, but there's a school of thought that a player like Jones -- injury-prone, on a short-term deal and close to retirement -- has to be ridden hard to try to extract the maximum value. I'm not sure which is best, but Jones is back because he wanted to go out on his terms. I'm sure he'd like that to be in October, not May.
I guess this weekend was bad for third basemen as yet another is dealing with injury. Kevin Youkilis shifted back to 3B this year to make room for Adrian Gonzalez, but that had nothing to do with his latest injury. Youkilis fouled a ball off his shin, costing him one game. There was nothing more than a bruise and he came back on Saturday, showing some power. It doesn't appear that this is anything to be concerned about, but man, it looked like it hurt. The real worry with Youkilis is that he's one of those "full go" players like Dustin Pedroia or Josh Hamilton. He always seems to be on the edge of something bad and at 32 is older than most expect.
The last of the 3B crop is Geoff Blum and his news isn't nearly as positive. The best Kirk Gibson could say about it was that it wasn't going to be microfracture. It's unclear what the problem is exactly, but it sounds like Blum is having bone-on-bone in the knee or some sort of severe arthritic change. At 37 and with a history of minor knee issues, this isn't that terrible, but it does bring up the uncomfortable question of how Blum passed his physical before signing a two-year deal with the D-backs. Arizona has shown a willingness in the past to take some risks, relying on Ken Crenshaw and his staff to keep people healthy, but Kevin Towers didn't do that much in San Diego. Blum's expected to be out until July, but the recovery could be even slower as we've seen in similar cases.
Jose Contreras isn't the opposite of Neftali Feliz, but he's always been more in the mode of the durable, "rubber armed" pitcher than the blazing fireballer. Contreras relies on the same guile that allowed him to sneak out of Cuba, not pure stuff. That said, he does throw hard and using a split finger grip that
Sometimes specific information doesn't tell us much. Skip Schumaker is out for up to six weeks with a strained tricep muscle in his throwing arm. Earlier reports that it was an elbow injury were actually more telling. Yes, triceps is correct -- it's a severe strain near the distal end of the muscle -- but saying it's an elbow issue is probably more clear as to the loss of function for Schumaker. He'll have to let the area heal up and it's a thin portion at our near the tendon, which led him to worry that he'd popped the UCL. The Cards are leaving some room for optimism, but the month they're discussing he could miss is the low end. That means the Cards will have a middle infield of Nick Punto and Ryan Theriot ... and yes, this is a team that understands advanced metrics.
The Rays are letting Johnny Damon play through a hairline fracture to his finger. While the team reported that there was no fracture after he was hit, it turns out that there was. Damon admitted to the distal fracture, but there's no real issue with it over and above what we knew. The issue is gripability and whether the injury could recur. The Rays staff is comfortable with Damon hitting, but I'm a bit confused why he's suddenly persona non grata in left. Part of it is getting a look at Sam Fuld, who's a better fielder, but I'm curious if there's something more going on here. The Rays should get a look at Evan Longoria this week. He took hitting practice with the team and will do so again on Monday if he feels comfortable. If that goes well, he'll head to either Durham (AAA) or Montgomery (AA) for a short rehab assignment and be back at the end of the week. It's a tough call on weekly move leagues as to whether Longoria should be put back in the lineup, but I'm leaning no. A short week on top of the risk of setback is too much for my comfort.