Under The Knife: Demands of shortstop to slow Tulo's return
Rockies use of pitch limits will likely doom the Rockies' four-man rotation
Movement demands of SS may keep Troy Tulowitzki out longer after surgery
Dustin Pedroia will hit below his normal level, but below most replacements
Rob Neyer does a great job giving the history of the four-man rotation, something currently being tried by Jim Tracy and the Colorado Rockies. For those who didn't click, the four-man isn't a new idea, but Tracy is tying the four-man to a ridiculous 75-pitch limit. That will last until one of his already bad starters has a 30-pitch first inning and is lifted in the middle of the third inning, or worse, just shy of five innings while holding the lead. GM Dan O'Dowd doesn't want to take that call from an agent.
Physically, there's no reason this can't work even if untied from the pitch ceiling. The key is not some artificial limit, but a real measurement of the pitcher's level of fatigue. Pitching is more of an anaerobic activity, meaning it relies on the muscles being fueled. Fatigue occurs when the muscles start to weaken due to activity and lack of fuel. This should be easy to measure, but only a few teams are even trying this, and one of them is not the Rockies. Worse, it seems Tracy is doing this to save the bullpen. The idea of the four-man is based around getting your best four pitchers more outings. The idea of matchup relievers is to get the best possible advantage for the pitcher as well as having a fresh pitcher who is in his first go-round of the batting order. (Alternatively, you could assert the relievers are limiting the number of times around the order that a starter is asked to go. Tomato, tomato.)
We've been here before. The Rockies tried this. I'd even forgotten that I'd written this article in 2004. Everything I say then could be said now. When the Rockies abandon this in a few weeks, it will be another data point in keeping a smart idea out of baseball. Several, most notably Bob Boone's Royals, have tried and failed. It's not the idea, but the execution. The four-man rotation is a concept that deserves a real effort, not the kind of jury-rigged desperation we're seeing yet again.
On to the injuries:
Tulowitzki was expected to need surgery to repair a sports hernia. (Yes, it says strained groin. There's really just a semantic difference.) Instead, Dr. William Meyers cleaned out scar tissue that was irritating a nerve. There's no defined timetable for the return from this surgery, but with the demands of the SS position and the lateral motion needed, expect Tulowitzki to be on the long end of any range. The Injury Database says that the range for a sports hernia is anywhere from 26 days in a nonsurgical case (Ian Kinsler) to 95 days for Trot Nixon's surgical fix. The median is about 50 days for a sports hernia, but it's not the best guidance for this procedure. Part of his return will depend on what the Rockies do with him out. If they're way out of even the wild card, the Rockies are likely to shut down Tulowitzki to make sure he's ready for next season. Right now, I'm setting the ERD optimistically, just a bit above the median.
Pedroia was back in the lineup on Thursday, as expected. Pedroia will try to play through his strained adductor at this stage. Sources tell me that the plastic brace has been effective in limiting the motion during his at-bats, until a new variable -- a broken bat -- entered the equation. Pedroia doesn't break many bats, so this shouldn't be a recurring problem, but it's certainly possible, even probable that it will happen again. This issue is one of maintenance and function, so the past couple weeks probably provide us with the pattern. Pedroia will hit below his normal level, but above that of the likeliest replacements. He'll have occasional setbacks, but come back quickly. It's not ideal and not what you expected when you drafted him, but something is better than nothing ... unless there's more 0 for 5 nights.
Word from the Phillies is that they wanted to see Utley play a full nine innings before they'd consider activating him. Playing in two extended, back-to-back outings of six and eight innings would seem to indicate that his knees are holding up, and quotes from Utley give that same lean. He told the media that his knees felt good when he woke up, so the maintenance work seems to be holding. That's hardly a guarantee, but if last year's work after his return is taken into account, it's a positive. The Phillies could see Utley back before July 4, but I've missed the date enough not to move the ERD up too much. We should get a big sign on Friday, when Utley is scheduled to play the full nine. (The Phillies also think that Ryan Howard could start a rehab assignment in the next week.)
Marcum is still in the Tommy John "honeymoon," that five-year period post-surgery where the transplanted tendon is seemingly invulnerable. Marcum had the surgery in '09. It was unlikely that the ligament had snapped again (since it's not likely yet fully ligamentized), which left other issues, like muscle strains and bone chips as the most likely culprits. The Brewers aren't saying what the problem is specifically, but they're saying there's no structural damage. Marcum has already missed one turn and having missed his side work, it's unlikely he'll be ready to go this weekend. The retro DL move is possible if the Brewers feel they need to bring someone up, but even then, Marcum could be back quickly. This doesn't look to be a long-term issue, even if he hits the DL as I expect, but one that should worry Marcum owners.
We finally have a solid date for Drew's return. Assuming things go relatively well at Reno (AAA), Drew will be activated next Wednesday. The schedule doesn't do Drew many favors, so look for Willie Bloomquist to get more work spelling Drew as the team works him back in slowly. Drew may also miss out on late inning work, as scouts have said that his tentative first step is costing him some range in the field. Drew has hit a couple of homers during his rehab and even one triple, so his bat seems to be normal even if his ankle is yet to get back to full health. The D'backs have to hope that his ankle holds up as well as Buster Posey's similarly injured ankle has for the Giants.
Things have been quiet around Carpenter. He's been quietly rehabbing, making the slow progress that doesn't get reported because there's nothing sexy about it. Carpenter's not in game shape, but he's throwing and looks like he's closer to a rehab assignment. The Cards aren't sure what they'll get out of Carpenter, but there's no evidence right now to suggest he won't be able to start. The comparable here is Peyton Manning, who played for years with a similar nerve problem before finally needing big surgery. Carpenter doesn't have 300-pound men hitting him and seems willing to pitch with some pain. Now's the last chance to buy low on a pitcher who knows how to come back and has a very favorable schedule.
I honestly don't know much about Runzler, but he was something of a wake-up call for me. I flipped over to a random Giants game as Runzler was warming up and thought "who?" I'd never heard of Runzler, at all. Then his first pitch was 97. Suddenly, I wasn't wondering who he was so much as where he came from. Runzler might be the first lefty throwing upper 90s with anonymity. He's got a great K rate but no control, and now it seems his arm is breaking down. He's making progress on a return, throwing at Fresno (AAA), but the Giants seem happy to let him work on some things (like control and command) during his rehab. Runzler personifies the jump in velocity we've seen over the last decade. I'm not sure what's causing it, but perhaps the increase in matchup relievers, emphasis on conditioning, and pitch counts at even lower levels are having this unintended consequence.
Mark Teixeira came in and pinch-hit Wednesday. He's not 100 percent after taking a ball off his heel, but he's not going to miss much time either ... Andrew Bailey is ready to head off to Ft Myers for his next step in rehab. His bullpen sessions have gone well enough that the Sox are beginning to plot out his rehab assignment and return ... Drew Storen will throw BP this weekend and could start a rehab assignment within ten days ... Jamie Moyer is pitching well at Norfolk (AAA) and has a couple days left before his opt-out kicks in. The O's seem inclined to call him up ... It's not easy being on the DL. It's worse when there's a lot of people on the DL ... Brandon Beachy had Tommy John surgery on Thursday. He'll be back around this time next season ... Alex Avila came off the DL just in time, after Gerald Laird came up with a strained hamstring ... Bud Norris will have a rehab start on Saturday. If it goes well, expect the trade talk to heat up for Wandy Rodriguez ... Jerome Williams hits the DL after he wasn't able to make it back in time from his asthma attack. The Angels will keep Garret Richards in the rotation for now ... Drew Stubbs will begin a rehab assignment Friday after missing time with an oblique strain ... Jesse Litsch is done for the season due to shoulder issues. His father once disputed my rating of his son as a "red" risk during an event. In 2008 ... That didn't take long. I'm curious if we'll see more of this kind of image rehabilitation from other players and teams. One amazing fact from the Clemens trial is that there existed 300 pages of medical records for a player who was relatively healthy. I hate to think what Moises Alou or J.D. Drew's file might look like.