Under The Knife 9/11/21

Free Friday: I mean Saturday

“The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

Today’s anniversary is going to be marked by many people in many ways, but twenty years doesn’t feel like that long ago. There was a week without planes in the sky and the idea that baseball - capital B Baseball - could be stopped was almost unthinkable. But it was.

It wasn’t football that brought it back. Or basketball. The moment, at least for me, was George W. Bush walking out and throwing a strike, which is not easy to do, let alone on that big a stage and wearing a bulletproof vest. When Baseball came back, America followed and it felt that way again, a bit, last year with COVID.

A war that had begun just before Bush threw that pitch just ended. Twenty years have passed, for better or for worse, but if you watch the game that day and watch a game today, baseball is the constant. Perhaps the most important pitch that day wasn’t from Bush, but from Orlando Hernandez, the Cuban refugee and throwback pitcher, bringing baseball back with a pitch to Ray Durham.

Heck, Under The Knife didn’t exist, in any format. It was still eight months away.

I’ll do today what I do most days - I’ll watch a baseball game or two and I’ll remember why, for a week in September once upon a time, I couldn’t do that. The terrorists haven’t won, because I’ll be watching the most American game, the one that reminds me of the America I want. I hope you will all do the same.

Gerrit Cole SP NYY (strained hamstring)

Gerrit Cole was able to make his throwing session on Thursday despite the hamstring still being tight. His turn doesn’t come up until Monday so the Yankees can do some more treatment and get more comfortable with the idea that Cole is ready to go. They’ll likely have someone shadowing him as well and I don’t expect he’ll go deep, but things have gotten off plan with this team as well from time to time. If Cole is shoving, he’ll likely be able to push Aaron Boone to stay out.

On the other side, it’s also plausible that Cole will still be pushed back. It seems less likely, but the Yankees aren’t in a desperate, do-anything mode. They won’t risk losing Cole for the likely Wild Card game for a game in mid-September. There is some depth here, though the quality drop-off is notable.

The bigger issue is whether Cole is legitimately past the injury, mild as it was, or whether this is something that a high-effort pitch or even a wrong step might exacerbate. That’s a bigger concern and one the medical staff is going to have to get absolutely right. Losing Cole now, even for a couple weeks, would be devastating. One of those “two to four week” hamstring strains we ignore in May get very important at this time of the season.

Jameson Taillon SP NYY (strained ankle)

That Yankees depth I mentioned? Not as much as it was, with an ankle strain putting Jameson Taillon on the shelf for at least one start. Yes, it’s strain, with a T. The issue is with a tendon - but not the Achilles. There’s several in the ankle, along with ligaments, so it’s impossible to say which one. Sources tell me that the injury is considered mild, but that Taillon was at a bigger risk of re-injury if he went out there and moved on it, which sounds like his bigger issue is lateral motion.

Lateral motion in the ankles is unfortunately non negotiable for pitchers. Taillon’s right ankle is his ‘push’ leg and the kind of lateral forces is more than most realize, even just for stability. Add in the kind of motions that pitchers need defensively and you can see why it’s problematic.

As with Cole, the Yankees have to take a longer term view. Losing Taillon hurts and the drop to likely replacement Sal Romano is notable, but losing him for longer than a start or two is worse. Taillon’s been surprisingly durable this season, so it’s a shame something got him here at the end. Is fatigue a factor? It’s hard to say, with so many of these types of ankle issues simple trauma.

Chris Sale SP BOS (COVID)

Chris Sale tested positive for COVID, the latest Sox player to do so in a recent cluster. There’s a lot of controversy here regarding some statements, but I’ll leave those for another venue and focus on Sale. What’s not known is Sale’s vaccination status, which changes how quickly he could be back. Sale told the media he had COVID in January of 2021, but that it was a mild case. His Sunday start is expected to be taken by Garret Richards or perhaps Nick Pivetta, if he’s cleared.

Sale has recently been outspoken and energetic, leading a players-only meeting, so this setback is problematic for that push, unless this is simply one of those statistically unlikely things. Breakthrough infections do happen and Sale would be back quickly, if that’s the case, but if not, he’s only got himself to blame for missing extra time.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID and the vaccine’s protection, especially from variants. The league has been doing a relatively good job, though I’m curious how recent mandates might change whether teams are allowed to or are even required to have everyone vaccinated. We’ve seen really high numbers with many NFL teams after protocols and incentives were very clearly laid out to any that refused a vaccination. Where that goes with baseball, either this year or next, remains to be seen.

Mike Trout OF LAA (strained calf)

Mike Trout is still rehabbing, but for all intents and purposes, he’s shut down and won’t return this season. The Angels won’t say it out loud and do want to see a healthy Trout before ending the season, or at least a Trout that they feel is on the way to having a healthier 2022. Planning for 2022 should be easy - build around Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and fill in the gaps with the strongest players the budget will allow, new CBA pending. Unfortunately, there’s lots of questions about what direction the Angels will go, even after going all in with an unbalanced and bold draft strategy.

Judging year over year attendance effects is impossible right now and most research indicates that the effect comes a year later, at least in terms of winning or losing. Does that mean that not having Trout factors into next year, or does it mean that his expected return should reduce any effect? Or, do people, even in Orange County, just not care enough about watching the best player in baseball, or is it enough that one of those is in town at a time?

Bonus - Mike Trout is 30 and has 310 homers. Is it possible that Trout doesn’t reach 500? Who ends up with more career homers, Trout or Bryce Harper? Remember, Harper is a year younger.

Mike Fiers SP OAK (sprained elbow)
Chris Bassitt SP OAK (facial fractures)

The A’s are in the AL Wild Card chase and you could squint and say there’s still time to catch the Astros. To do so, they’ll have to do it with a rotation that’s over half unexpected. Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas are solid at the top, but James Kaprielian coming back after almost three seasons to put up over 100 innings? Maybe. With Chris Bassitt and Mike Fiers out, those last two spots have been the issue. Cole Irvin seems to be running out of gas and Paul Blackburn has just been a live body. Getting either or even both back would be huge.

The A’s medical staff might deliver both. Chris Bassitt has been throwing, with a bullpen scheduled for Saturday, while Fiers is ready for a rehab assignment. The minor league season going long is a bit of a boon for Fiers and others in this situation, though historically players have gone to the complex or done sim games and been just fine.

Fiers faced hitters on Friday, as part of a schedule that looks to be leading to that rehab start next week, perhaps in Vegas. There’s enough bullpen depth to not need Fiers to go deep, so building up is less about six or seven and more about three or four in his first start. The A’s can get creative with the best of them so I doubt that’s an issue.

Fiers is returning from a minor sprain - yes, a small tearing of his elbow, not unlike what Jacob deGrom is dealing with. Fiers had a visit to Dr. Andrews and an injection of PRP back in late June, so the work and treatment that Fiers and the medical staff have put in might pay off, right when they need it most.

Mike Clevinger SP SDP (sprained elbow)

At ten months, Mike Clevinger is throwing short distances on flat ground. I get that he wasn’t coming back this season after his delayed Tommy John surgery took things into November. Still, the rehab shouldn’t change and unless Clevinger had multiple setbacks along the way, he should be at a point where he’s well past the medical rehab and into the building the arm up. Again, the calendar might be more involved here, but given the sheer number of Tommy John cases the Padres are rehabbing now, seeing one go really long isn’t a great sign for the future of Clevinger or the rest of them coming.

Clevinger has plenty of time to heal up, then build up for next spring and if he’s not 100 percent on day one of the earliest pitchers report, there’s a big issue. A source tells me that the Padres are currently dealing with twenty - 20! - rehabbing pitchers, all coming back from Tommy John, along with any other arm injuries or other injuries that the team’s medical staff is dealing with. That’s simply insane. (I think the number is slightly less, but it’s not far off.) The Padres had six 2020 Tommy Johns, admittedly a strange year and only one, minor leaguer Reggie Lawson, has returned. Lawson’s pitched six innings at Double-A so I’m not ready to call that a raging success either.

The Padres may well end up with one of the most devastating injury-stat seasons of all time and could make the playoffs anyway. That’s testament to some talent, but imagine if they could cut those injuries by some percentage. Are there 15 wins there? Probably not, but it might be enough to lock in that Wild Card, to get a home game, or at least be more comfortable in this season. Worse, how many of these will they get back next year and how do you build a roster with this much uncertainty and risk?

I do know that Clevinger should be in next year’s rotation, that the rotation should be so deep that AJ Preller is going to have to have a plan to deal with the possibility of “too many pitchers”, and that the Padres had better fix this issue or they’ll just be doing it again next year.

Quick Cuts:

Some of the Yankees depth is headed to the pen. Domingo German will face hitters - likely a sim game - over the weekend and next steps could be a rehab outing or straight to the pen depending on his success and recovery … Zack Britton didn’t just have a bone chip removed. He had his UCL replaced and will miss much if not all of ‘22, which is the final year of his Yankees contract … Mike Shildt told the media he though Jack Flaherty would return this season, but as a reliever … Shane Baz missed his Triple-A start on Thursday with a stomach bug. No big deal. You still can’t tell me Baz isn’t the fourth or fifth best starter for the Rays, but this is a long term thinking club. Speaking of, congrats to Erik Neander for the extension. Like pitchers, the Rays seem to grow smart execs on trees … Zack Greinke threw a pen on Friday and should be back in the rotation early next week … Reid Detmers threw a pen and could be back quickly from COVID, or not, depending on what the Angels decide about how to schedule out the rest of their games … The same is true for Noah Syndergaard, who’s pushing for at least some pen work with the Mets … Brandon Nimmo told the media he’ll be back at the minimum, next weekend, from his hamstring strain. It’s possible, but team context is key again … The Orioles have shut down Matt Harvey and as a guy who took up 127 innings for a million bucks, that’s a bargain if only in saving them from using younger arms in a giveaway season. Whether he comes back next year should depend on whether the Orioles see themselves as more competitive. He’s relatively healthy so someone will give him a look … The Braves can’t seem to keep a catcher healthy. Stephen Vogt’s out with a hip issue and it could cost him then rest of what’s left of the season … Jake Cronenworth has a broken finger, which could force Fernando Tatis Jr back to the infield. The shoulder is at risk and yes, Tatis is serious about avoiding surgery on his shoulder. Cody Bellinger’s struggles factor high in that preference … There are three pitchers over 180 innings (Zach Wheeler, Sandy Alcantara, and Adam Wainwright) and only two more (Walker Buehler, Robbie Ray) over 170. Will we have a 200 inning pitcher at all? Here’s why only 22 pitchers have 28 or more starts. That’s the problem.