Under the Knife: Does Strasburg need to change his mechanics?
Stephen Strasburg will be back in September, but he needs to fix his mechanics
Bartolo Colon will be back this weekend. Derek Jeter could return early next week
Josh Beckett's poor start against Philadelphia could be a sign of bad things to come
Stephen Strasburg is back to throwing off a mound. That latest milestone in his recovery is a big one, though it's tough to make any sort of judgments about this since the timing is very much slowed down. Let's be clear -- he's not behind schedule, but the Nats have set him on a very conservative path, extending several of the rehab phases with a target of having him back in D.C. sometime in September. The assumption has been that Strasburg would need a few rehab appearances in August in order to build stamina, though the minor league calendar is a bit of an issue. (The regular season ends at the start of September.) In his first mound session, Strasburg was able to "let go," getting his pitches up to "the low 80s" according to reports. That's not exactly letting go, for a guy who regularly pitches in the high 90s. Sure, he's going to naturally be conservative in the first outing, but his arm should be very fresh as well. It's not a concerning detail yet.
What did set off a lot of questions was something I was told and tweeted about on Monday. "His mechanics look exactly the same," I was told by one observer. I won't get into the fine details of his mechanics here, but if Strasburg hasn't corrected the timing issues by this stage of his rehab, it's tougher to do so as he goes into the stamina-building stages. While Strasburg hasn't been throwing from a mound up to this stage, he has been doing a lot of work and by this point, he'll have been doing a lot of work with a baseball. My biggest concern is that we still don't know about the forces that Strasburg is putting on his arm. The Nationals spent millions to sign Strasburg and thousands on his rehab, but have yet to do a basic biomechanical analysis. I simply do not understand why the Nats in particular and teams in general don't do this as a matter of course. The Nats are working blind as they try to return Strasburg, not knowing if there's any significant flaws or parts of his delivery that simply put too much force on the elbow, shoulder, or other components of the kinetic chain. Lots of people asked whether "same mechanics" was good or bad in regards to Strasburg, but the answer is that we don't know. I don't know, you don't know, and the Nats don't know. Strasburg's going to come back and he's likely to be as effective as other Tommy John pitchers in doing so, but if he's doing the same things, about the time he's ready to sign his next big contract, he might be close to needing another new ligament.
Derek Jeter is running! Derek Jeter is running! When something like this, a milestone, yes, but inherently unimportant, I feel like that guy in Airplane! telling you that Leon is getting larger. Jeter is running and it's progress, but he's still not back to equal strength in both legs and he's still resisting the idea of playing a couple games in Tampa. With the Yankees about to head out on a road trip, Jeter's return isn't exactly a huge rush. It wouldn't surprise me to see him back early next week, which would give him a couple games before coming back to the Bronx. With a long road trip after the break, if the Yankees do care about Jeter's milestone happening at home, that has to be the plan.
The news is better, or at least a bit more predictable, for Bartolo Colon. Colon had a side session on Tuesday and if the Yankees brain trusts feel good enough about it, he'll be back in the Yankees rotation this weekend. Colon is said to have not lost any stamina, going an easy sixty pitches in his side, though I'm sure that the Yankees will be shadowing him with someone during that first start. The start would come against the Mets, which would force Colon to bat as well, which wouldn't be ideal. I'd expect to see Colon with a shouldered bat or maybe a bunt-no-run play going.
Josh Beckett got back on the mound for the Red Sox, but it didn't look like he was comfortable there. This is completely subjective, but he simply didn't look comfortable. He wasn't dominant, didn't have his control, and just looked off. Sure, nearly two weeks off could give "rust" but given an illness, given his side work, and given everything we know about Beckett, it was disconcerting to not see the guy we'd seen for most of the first half on the mound. It's one night and one guy's opinion, but I just have a bad feeling about what I saw on a lot of levels. Beckett needs to come back and show something on regular rest his next time out or he's going to put even more pressure on the front office to beat the Yankees to the trade line.
It feels like the phrase I keep saying this week is "it's possible." Adam Wainwright thinks he can become the baseball version of Rod Woodson, coming back in season from a devastating injury. Wainwright has a lot of things working for him, starting with the timing. He was injured early in spring training, giving him the maximum healing time possible in season. He's worked as a reliever before, and it's unlikely that in eight months, Wainwright could work on stamina. Wainwright is already throwing at the five month mark, which isn't unusual. He's still quite a ways from throwing from a mound or at speed, but given that a couple pitchers have come back in under ten months, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. Add in the Cardinals need for relievers and the significant financial incentive that Wainwright has to push things a bit, and yes, it's possible. In theory, it's possible to come back at the six or seven month mark, but no one's done that. Yet. We've seen the shift in return time for ACL surgery and even in Tommy John surgery, but we haven't yet seen where the minimums actually are for either due to the value of the players. Most are like Strasburg, where it's more prudent to wait and go slow than push the envelope. Remember, it's possible, not probable.
Things aren't always as bad as they seem. As Jose Tabata was carted off the field this weekend, it looked very bad. He couldn't stand or put weight on the leg without assistance, something that indicates a very high grade strain and high level pain. A couple days later, things aren't so bad. He did go on the DL, but all indications are that his mid-grade strain will only necessitate a minimum stay. Tabata's speedy, but not a speed player, though the worry is his home ballpark. PNC's expansive leftfield area requires almost a second CF, so any loss of range is bad news, both for Tabata and for Pirates pitchers.
The Phillies took the cautious route with Ryan Madson, placing him on the DL. He's been pitching with an injured hand since mid-May and while he's had a couple bad outings, he's been reasonably effective. That means that something they found might get worse if he keeps pitching through it or that something they were doing had a short shelf-life. The "small muscles" affected must be impinging something and creating an issue. I'm working to get more information and a better handle on what to expect here, but for now, Antonio Bastardo is a bit more valuable in the next month. Madson might be back at the same time as Brad Lidge, which will make for an interesting decision for Charlie Manuel.
Back in the day, I actually collected e-mails that accused me of bias against a team. "You must really hate ____!" they'd say, usually a bit more colorfully. I don't root for or against any team and I never root for an injury, but that didn't stop me from getting accused of hating all 30 teams in short order. The fact is there's only so many things I can cover, so I have to pick and choose a bit. Bigger names and bigger teams get more interest. With Justin Morneau, there's not much to say yet. He's going to have minor neck surgery and miss six weeks or so, but until he has the surgery, we don't have any new information beyond the plan. So no Twins fans, I don't hate you. Morneau was actually one of the more interesting interviews I ever did, back in the early days of UTK.
The College World Series is one of those events that belongs on every sports fan's bucket list. It's even better as a player, so it's no wonder that a player would consider doing anything and everything to help his team. Christian Walker, the South Carolina slugger, is playing with a broken hamate bone. It's painful, though I'm sure the team's medical staff is doing what it can to keep him comfortable as well as functional. Walker will need to have it fixed, but trying to play through it is an understandable decision. If he can manage the pain, it's not going to be a long term problem. Walker shouldn't hurt his future prospects by going for the title.
Shin-Soo Choo had his thumb surgically fixated. The news wasn't as good as it could have been, with a minimum recovery at two months. His return is going to depend a lot on how well he heals and where the Indians are in the standings ... Despite baseless speculation, Delmon Young has a Grade II ankle sprain (not a high ankle sprain) and no fractures. It might end up shorter than the six weeks I listed on Monday ... It used to be that "going to Birmingham" was an easy shorthand for a pitcher's problem. Now, with two world-class facilities sharing his time, going to see Dr. James Andrews requires me to check my calendar to see if he's in Pensacola or Birmingham. For Josh Johnson and the Marlins, either is bad news ... Brian Matusz's velocity has been way down in his last couple starts. Nice to see Buck Showalter is going to "talk to him" about it ... Tommy Hanson wasn't as dominant as Brandon Beachy coming off the DL, but he was pretty darn good in his own right ... Bryce Harper has missed three games with a bruised thumb. The Nats are just being cautious ... Jonathan Broxton has been shut down at least three weeks, but any further problem will likely lead to surgery. His season is in real jeopardy ... Carl Crawford is jogging, but not running yet. He'll likely be activated next week if things progress as expected ... Things were going well for Clay Buchholz during his side work, putting him on track for a Fourth of July return. Reports from today say that might be a bit early and that he's still having some pain in his lower back ... Bobby Jenks returned to the Sox bullpen and threw a scoreless inning. That's a good sign given his recurrent back issues ... Jason Kubel took three walks in his first rehab appearance, which is a problem for a guy who needs swings to get activated ... Pedro Alvarez looked solid in his first rehab start. He went first to third on a hit and showed no problems. The Pirates seem to be in no rush to bring him back, hoping he'll find his swing during a trip through the affiliates ... I love when readers send me stuff like this ... Brandon Webb is being shifted to AAA despite poor results in AA. He has a couple weeks left on his rehab assignment, but hasn't shown anything resembling his old stuff ... Junichi Tazawa made his first start back from elbow reconstruction on Monday. He got knocked around and only lasted two-thirds of an inning. He's been optioned, so there's no rehab clock ticking ... Jon Niese passed all heart tests. The Mets elected to have him take them despite the thought that it was heat-related ... I'll be at the #redstweetup on Friday night. Stop by and say hi if you're in the area.