Under the Knife: Yankees can take time with A-Rod; more injury news
New York will play it safe with A-Rod's thumb so he's healthy for the playoffs
Justin Morneau's concussion problems make him a risk for this season and 2012
The Rangers want to rest Nelson Cruz to make sure he's ready for the playoffs
September is different. I sat on my porch, reading about the properties of Kevlar Monday afternoon and though it was still August by the calendar, the cool 70s and light breeze here in Indianapolis felt more like September. It's more than the weather when it comes to injury management. In baseball, the rules change. September gives teams what's called roster expansion by most, but it should be "DL nullification" to medheads. The DL is a roster move, allowing a team to get an injury replacement onto the 25-man roster. In September, the 25-man roster goes out the window and the full 40-man roster is in place. Let's call it "9 rules" for September. DL replacements, by and large, come off the 40-man roster, so there's no roster relief. For the most part, teams abandon the use of the DL in September since it has no value to them. As well, there's a financial impact in the experience ratings that teams get from their worker's compensation insurer. (Yes, the same stuff you have at your job and yes, it's a big dollar issue for some teams.) What happens is that players simply sit, day to day, even for injuries that would normally have put them on the DL. There's less clarity, making what I do a little tougher, but that's where I rely on my sources and the team of advisers that help me make sense of all this. If anything, fantasy players have to keep track of injuries more, especially in leagues where the DL rules are strict. I'll be here with you all month to help. Powered by The Airborne Toxic Event, on to the injuries:
It's news when Alex Rodriguez does anything, so hearing that he's going to miss a key Red Sox series is big. Rodriguez's sprained thumb isn't a long term problem, but the Yankees want to make sure of that. They took an MRI, then gave Rodriguez a cortisone injection to get the swelling out. It will take a couple days for that to work it's way through, causing the missed games, but the Yankees seem confident that Rodriguez will return and be ready for a playoff run. One thing to watch for here is bat control. If Rodriguez has more swing-and-misses, it's not a good sign. The other key will be how long the cortisone shot holds the swelling down. If it lasts a couple weeks (or obviates the need for another altogether), Rodriguez should be fine through October.
Justin Morneau is being held out with concussion-like symptoms. This isn't a weasel-word thing. Morneau told the medical staff of his symptoms and they immediately started the protocol despite not having a clear concussion event. Morneau's history caused them to take this very seriously. The dive he had the other night may be a new concussion (though watching the video, it didn't look as if he hit his head) or it may be a recurrence of previous symptoms. They can return, even after being symptom free for months, though it's uncommon. Morneau will be held out for at least several games and definitely until he's completely symptom free. The team won't use the 7-day DL for this, largely because of 9 rules. Over and above the immediate problem, this once again puts the future of Morneau's productive days in question. The hope was that with the conservative management last season, this wouldn't be a problem and it appeared through most of the season to be the case. This is a major concern and one that could send Morneau plummeting in next year's drafts and off keeper lists.
A "broomstick" is not supposed to be Nelson Cruz's leg. It went boom again this week, a Grade I hamstring strain that will cost him at least two weeks. The Rangers are saying three weeks publicly, looking to be cautious with him if possible, but the Angels are still in the rear view mirror. If the Rangers had more of a lead, Cruz could go slow and come back for the last two weeks of the season, getting plenty of off-days. They'll be patient, waiting and watching, but knowing that replacing Cruz is tough enough in the short term, but for the playoffs? Impossible. The Rangers aren't just looking for health from Cruz during this rehab. They're looking for certainty.
Rotator cuff tears are the thing no pitcher wants to damage. Elbows can be fixed. Labarums can be patched back together. Cuffs, on the other hand, remain the one thing that's not even a coin flip for a pitcher. The best hope is to minimize damage, to catch things early. The best recent example of that would be Cole Hamels, who's been able to come back easily from "inflammation." Sources I spoke with said that Hamels' injury was "very early stage. You couldn't even call it fraying." The use of terms like inflammation, fraying, and tearing aren't meaningful in and of themselves because the terms are used along a spectrum. Hearing "tear" is accurate, but not always descriptive. We'll have to keep a close eye on Hanson, especially given his age and his huge jump in innings last season.
I didn't talk about Shin-Soo Choo on Monday because ... ok, this is probably a bit "inside baseball" but maybe a few of you care about how the sausage gets made here at UTK. When Choo got injured, it didn't seem like much. I made a couple calls, was told as much by people I trust, and I didn't even make a note to follow it up. By Monday morning (after I'd turned in Monday's column) it was clear that there was more to Choo's injury than "not much." Choo had been told to rest a week and if this had been another time of the year, he'd have likely gone on the DL. With 9 rules, Choo can attempt to come back before the fifteen days, which could make a difference as the Indians try to hang on in the AL Central.
Sometimes 9 rules help a player come back. With roster expansion, a team shouldn't ever be shorthanded, which allows them to experiment a bit more. The Jays probably won't bring Rajai Davis back for a few more weeks, but they can take the chance of controlling his running and know that if they need to pull him, they'll have plenty available to fill in or even take his pinch running role. Davis' hamstring is "pretty close to healthy" and the 9 rules will make pretty close good enough. Davis is down in Dunedin starting his work, but with the minor league season closing, it's going to be tough to get a read on just how healthy he is, even after he gets back.
Stephen Strasburg will come back next Tuesday, while Jordan Zimmerman is being shut down. It's a mirror image of last year and shows that while the Nats are no better at keeping players healthy than any other team, they are showing signs that they're trying. Strasburg will be back right at the 12 month mark, which is ... say it with me ... not rushing him. If his performance in the minors hasn't shown you that he's healthy and ready, I'm not sure what will. Strasburg will be on very strict pitch limits and could be shut down at nearly any point, but he's back and should be a good fantasy pitcher if you just need K's. Zimmermann's a smart shut down. Just two years post-elbow reconstruction himself, his innings workload is at that point where it's worrisome and the team is at that point where pushing things is meaningless. Having the two of them at the top of next year's rotation is much more important than seeing them together now. (Strasburg is throwing once more on Thursday at Syracuse (AAA).)
Late word that Hanley Ramirez was pulled from his rehab game due to tightness in his shoulder. We'll have to see how this affects his return, which was scheduled for Thursday ... Joe Mauer was back in the lineup Tuesday at DH. He'd missed six games ... Andre Ethier folded like a chair when confronted about his quotes regarding his knee. It isn't going to help him much if the Dodgers don't deal him this offseason ... It's sounding like Jonathan Sanchez might be done for the season. Bruce Bochy's joke about a "race with Buster Posey" tells us just how serious this ankle sprain is ... Jose Contreras will have elbow surgery on Friday in Los Angeles. Dr. Lewis Yocum will take a look around inside his elbow ... Phil Humber made a rehab start Tuesday and is on schedule to return early next week ... Michael Pineda will have three more starts before the M's shut him down. I'm not sure why that's the number, but at least they recognize he's wearing down ... Cameron Maybin had an MRI on his painful wrist. Its not a fracture, as they'd worry, but he'll miss time as they try to control the issue ... I'm off for the Labor Day weekend, but will be back full-steam next week. Enjoy your holiday.