Under The Knife 9/24/21

The Ticking Clock

The clock is ticking on some teams and next week, I will tell you why. This isn’t so much a tease as a couple piece I’ve been working on, set for the day that the team goes out of contention. (Yeah, it’s possible that it will be all the same day, which would suck. I’ll adjust.) The schedule will be a bit off, because I anticipate at least two happening early next week. Injuries are a huge part of any season, but this one, perhaps more than ever, is deciding the season for several teams and I’m going to highlight exactly why three teams are at home and one team is headed to October, all because of how they managed injuries. Some people say that covering injuries is like being the Grim Reaper. Next week, I’ll live up to that.

For now, there’s plenty to check, so let’s get to it.

Lourdes Gurriel OF TOR (lacerated/bruised hand)

Little things can change a season. Lourdes Gurriel was just ducking to get out of the way of Randal Grichuk’s throw and Grichuk accidentally stepped on his hand. Getting spiked hurts and Grichuk seemed to come down with some force. He was cut and took a couple stitches on the back of his middle finger and it wasn’t on the “grip side” where squeezing the bat would be compromised.

The worry for Gurriel is more the pain and inflammation, since we know x-rays would have shown a fracture. This will likely cost him at least a couple games, but if Gurriel’s able to cover the hand, grip and throw, he could push through and just deal with some discomfort.

Of course, the easier thing would be to DH him, but the ongoing issues with George Springer’s legs make that nearly impossible. Charlie Montoya will once again have to mix and match as the Jays fight for the wild card spot. Down a game, every little bit over the next few games will count and Montoya keeps losing pieces. The Yankees won’t have much sympathy since they’ve been dealing with the same all season, but the pressure and closeness of the race have a different feel. We’ll see what the Jays do in the short term.

Thomas Hatch RP TOR (strained hamstring)

Watching a pitcher walk off the field in pain would seem telling, but … sometimes it’s not. Thomas Hatch was clearly in pain, but Hatch was just called up and expected to be a bulk reliever. The team has been adjusting it’s pen on the fly, so losing Hatch means they’ll have to rely more on Julian Merryweather and Nate Pearson until Joakim Soria returns, but it’s more mix and match with this bunch than bulk. Charlie Montoya doesn’t mind, but it’s yet to see whether a bunch of talented guys can be put together in a fashion that actually works.

Back to Hatch, it’s unclear what the issue was, but he lost control and the announcers said (after the fact) that he didn’t look right. I haven’t seen enough of Hatch to know what’s right and wrong, but the look on his face as he walked off showed me something was very off. Late reports are that it was a hamstring strain, but that was a lot of pain for a simple hamstring strain.

I have to wonder if this was something that was pre-existing, but sources tell me there was no indication and that he was fine in warmups. This likely ends Hatch’s season, but he should have a normal off-season and be ready to compete for a spot on next year’s team.

Nolan Arenado 3B STL (back spasms)

The Cardinals are on a heater right now and with those, you just ride them. They can’t rest people or change things. Lucky socks are lucky and baseball is a superstitious sport. However, injuries don’t care about streaks and will occur whenever. If the Cardinals had the Brewers’ division lead, a mild back condition like what Nolan Arenado is dealing with would be a couple days and no big deal. Those couple days are a very big deal for the Cardinals (and for the Phillies.)

It showed when the Cardinals rolled with Arenado in Thursday’s lineup. Arenado went 0 for 3, but never looked like he was laboring in the field or at bat. Back spasms can be painful, but can also be fleeting, especially with the kind of modalities that modern medical staffs have on hand. It will require time and at this point in the season, those bumps and bruises take up even more time which can overload a staff that’s already dealt with a lot of things. Add in the age of some players and the expectation is that even something small could overload them.

We’ll see how long this run lasts, but the BFIBs are certainly enjoying it. Can they go on a Rockies-like run that lasts into October and puts them in position to take on teams that were better over the long season, but aren’t as good right now? Maybe. But they have to stay healthier than they have been all year.

Jack Flaherty P STL (strained shoulder)

Full credit to the Cardinals. They’ve been doing some pretty interesting things to keep pitchers like Adam Wainwright fresh, like short starting him, juggling their rotation, and using their relievers heavy, but not overly so. I suggested last week that starting Jack Flaherty would likely be the best use and that’s what they’re doing, even if he can’t go deep into the game.

Flaherty will start the second game of Friday’s doubleheader and while there’s no official limit on him, he’s not going too deep. If he gets to 50 pitches, I’ll be surprised, so don’t have too high of expectations. What comes after him is also in question, but I’ll bet the Brewers don’t really care at this stage. Jake Woodford is scheduled to start over the weekend or I’d think it was him. I’m guessing it’s a bullpen game.

Short stint or not, Flaherty is just hoping to be useful and become another part of the streak. I doubt he’ll be used as a bulk reliever, but absent the Cards keeping this run going, they may have to kitchen sink some games in the last week and just let a playoff rotation fall where it may. It’s likely Adam Wainwright in the Wild Card game and come what may. Look to see if Flaherty looks comfortable, is functional with his pitches, and recovers well.

Johnny Cueto SP SFG (strained forearm)

I was speaking to an NL exec about the Giants and when conversation came around to Johnny Cueto, the response to him coming back was “do they need him?” I’m not sure need has much to do with it. Cueto’s still a puzzling pitcher, one that can make hitters uncomfortable with his motion and timing, even if his stuff is not what it was when he was the Reds’ ace years back.

Cueto was in Salt Lake, doing a Triple-A rehab game with Sacramento and it didn’t go well. His 40 pitches only got him through 1 2/3 and he gave up 4 hits and a run. Not disastrous, but a scout told me that he looked “bad against a bad lineup.” It’s hardly what he wants to build off of for a playoff run and the Giants now have to make a decision about his next step and role going forward.

The expectation was that Cueto would return mid-week next week, taking on a Diamondbacks team that’s, well, bad. My guess is they’ll still do this and shadow Cueto with Scott Kazmir and that sentence just made me look at my calendar. For those saying the Giants are winning with smoke and mirrors, a win in that game would convince me there’s some wizardry somewhere. At worst, Cueto’s going to be auditioning as a reliever for the playoffs and hopefully helping the team avoid the wild card.

Chris Taylor OF LAD (stinger)

Losing Chris Taylor costs Dave Roberts a lot of flexibility, so his extended absence due to what I’m told is a stinger is coming at just the wrong time. Taylor’s not a Mookie Betts, but his ability to shift around and be good enough everywhere while putting up good enough offensive numbers does have value.

Stingers are complex. Usually transient, they can indicate something underlying. I couldn’t find out if Taylor has any history of the issue, which is a stretching of a nerve that can happen in a number of ways. The first time I ever had one was playing Pony League baseball. The pitcher wasn’t very good, wasn’t very deceptive, and I decided that if he threw me a fastball, I was going to hit it to New Mexico. I overswung, was ahead of the pitch, and ended up stumbling out of the box with a nasty pain in my neck. It was gone by the time I was at first base, but stingers flat out hurt.

The Dodgers expect Taylor back, but they’ve been expecting him back. At this stage, it’s truly a day to day issue. That he didn’t play in a 10-inning game tells me he might not be as close as the Dodgers have been indicating.

Quick Cuts:

Wander Franco played the whole game at short during his rain-shortened rehab stint. He’s likely to be activated but “used smartly”, according to a source, once he’s back in Tampa this weekend … Kolten Wong was pulled due to hamstring tightness, but was back on the field Thursday. The Brewers are likely to be very conservative over the next week with anything like this … Dakota Hudson was pulled from his last rehab start, which could mean he’s headed to St Louis. Could he be the tandem with Jack Flaherty? … The Astros don’t have to rush Michael Brantley, but internally there’s some issues with his knee that are opening up some worry that he won’t be ready for the start of the playoffs … Jake Odorizzi will start Sunday after missing time with a foot injury. The Astros pitching depth is showing up and there’s questions about how Brent Strom will put together his playoff rotation … Mike Fiers was shut down and is headed for more looks at his elbow. A significant injury could be the end of his career … Byron Buxton was held out Wednesday with a foot issue, but was right back in the lineup and looking normal on Thursday. The Twins won’t risk him over the last week if there’s any issue, but it doesn’t look like there is … The Cardinals are sending Jordan Hicks to the Fall League. It’s an unusual move but calling it an audition is not wrong … Mike Moustakas hits the IL to end the season with a recurrence of his plantar fasciitis … Tyler Naquin joins Moustakas on the IL with his bruised ribs that have lingered.