Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Slowey to Undergo 'Touch' Examination

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has scheduled a 10 a.m. press conference to disclose results of an early morning medical "touch" examination to determine whether bullpen pitcher Kevin Slowey has a hernia, a condition that likely will require surgery.

Slowey, a reliever who possibly would have been ticketed to be converted into a starter for the Triple A Rochester Redwings if he had been healthy, has been complaining of discomfort in his lower torso, which initially led his physicians to suspect he may have strained or torn his oblique or other lower rib muscles or groin.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam, however, clarified that was not the case, leaving a hernia as a probable cause of his complaints, though nothing is certain. Whatever it is, doctors so far have missed it, but will seek clarification with a simple visual inspection and "touch" examination.

Hernias, especially in the pelvis area, can be subtle to detect, but likely will be more apparent once doctors focus on the question, having narrowed down the possibilities.

Many people with hernias lead relatively normal lives, as long as they avoid serious exertions that would aggravate the condition. But baseball and other sports activities pose significant risk of worsening the problem.

The condition occurs when a weakness or hole in the outer abdominal wall -- perhaps as large as a 50-cent piece but probably much smaller -- allows fat or organic tissue to be pressured into or through the hole, causing discomfort, outright pain or even organ malfunctions.

The cure requires relatively simple surgery, so a relatively quick return to play, after a month or so of rehabilitation, would be reasonable. His sidelining would make it difficult, but not impossible, for the Twins to consummate a trade for Slowey, which evidently is being discussed behind closed doors.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cardinals Move Albert Pujols Into Harm's Way

Cardinals first basemen Albert Pujols has easily borne the mantle of Superman since the first moment of his arrival from the planet Krypton, but every Superman has his kryptonite and  Pujols is no exception.

Ever since his .329 batting average and 37 home runs in his rookie year,  observers have tended to forget that not long after he burst onto the scene he sustained a grade 3 tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of  his right elbow.

Though Pujols has undergone a number of arthroscopic and other collateral surgical procedures and various cleanups since then,  the tear to his "Tommy John ligament" remains manifest and continues to present a threat to his playing ability, especially if he expends significant energy throwing across the diamond from third base to first base.

Thus it seems peculiar that the Cardinals have acquiesced to Pujols' volunteering to play the hot corner,  rather than staying strictly at his much less demanding first base position.

Exercise and other rehabilitative reconditioning has built up enough strength in the remaining,  or untorn,   strands of ligament to provide adequate strength for normal,  everyday activity, but not necessarily enough for playing baseball.

 As long as Pujols plays first base, he might be able to get by,  and so he has.  But in intense, pressure situations throwing hard from third base,  his elbow could come apart at any time.

Let's repeat that one more time:  his elbow could come apart at any time.  In other words,  he could be one throw away from a trip to the 60-day disabled list,  even perhaps from a potential career ending injury.

Certainly one would think that the Cardinals have not only the team's but also Pujols' best interests in determining how to best position him on the field,  but the unexpected move to third base, however intermittent,  begs the question: Can it be possible that the team is willing to risk his health knowing that he very likely will leave the Cardinals when his contract expires at the end of this year?

Parish the thought, but fact remains that the most prudent medical decision would be to keep Albert Pujols strictly at first base,  and better yet, if he does go elsewhere next season, transform him into an American League designated hitter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dusty Baker's Genius Rarely Fails to Surprise

In a world in which Copernicus  was  nearly drawn and quartered, da Vinci was barely one step away from the pillory and Einstein was ridiculed as "addle-brained," is it any wonder that the genius of  Reds manager Dusty Baker is so frequently misunderstood?

In an iconoclasm unparalleled since Baker chose Willy Taveras and his .275 on-base percentage as Reds leadoff batter, and scolded Adam Dunn for walking too much and "clogging up the bases," Baker has now selected swing-and-miss, right-handed power hitter Jonny Gomes to hit in the 2-hole.

Many less-gifted baseball strategists might have thought Baker should have opted in favor of the axiom that a high average, left hander would be better suited to bat second to ensure that the ball would be hit behind baserunners in order to promote their advancement.

That would be too obvious.  Baker has chosen instead the element of surprise.

Stunned by the switch,  frustrated infielders are left to helplessly bump into one another like blind moles on the dark side of the moon, or so it would seem.

Brandon Phillips is right handed, and might seem to be a better choice to bat second, because he is a much better hitter than Gomes, who is hitting .186 (with an OPS around .460 over the past month).

But seeing as Phillips has hit barely more than 20 homers a season with no more than a .275 average Baker cannot resist using him as a cleanup hitter while the highly regarded Jay Bruce (and his 10 homers) bats as low as seventh and gets plenty of time on the bench .

At least Gomes doesn't hit into double plays, owing to the fact that he strikes out more than a third of the time.

Critics so foolish as to question Baker's brilliance need not despair, however.  His lineup cards are a little like Cincinnati's weather; if you don't like it, wait a while and it will change. Baker has used an average of three different lineups a week since the season began.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wedge Storms, Won't Take Ackley's Name In Vain

All that was missing from Mariners manager Eric Wedge's tirade was Dustin Ackley's name,  but he hardly needed to say it.

"I sure as hell am not going to continue watching this!"  Wedge warned reporters after his team upset western division rival Los Angeles but could only scratch out three runs against an unusually wobbly Jeff Weaver in the shutout.  "We are going to get better and we are going to do everything that we possibly can to get better."

Wedge's focus was his 25-man roster,  particularly the performances of  outfielders Michael Saunders and others,  whose efforts have left the team ranked 29th out of 30 in major league hitting. But how far away can an offensive infusion from Triple A Tacoma be  if Wedge is serious about his declaration that "we need something?"

Ackley, 21, a second base prospect relegated to Tacoma after a mediocre spring,  started out slowly this year as evidenced by his .280 overall  average.  But he has begun pounding on the door more recently,  going 19-41 for a .463 average with a bag, eight RBI and two homers over his last 10 games.

The No. 2 overall 2009 pick,  sometimes described as a left-handed version of all-time hits leader Pete Rose, was named the Arizona Fall League's most valuable player last year after hitting .315.  He projects as a high-average competitor with gap power,  but his glove is thought to lag behind his bat.

Fans and other observers are looking for his arrival sometime after the start of the super-2 arbitration clock,  which this year may occur during the first or second week of June,  but Wedge has refused to say much about the time for his callup.

Super 2 or no super 2,  the team claims Ackley's arrival has nothing to do with salary arbitration eligibility.  Little wonder;  Ackley's agent is Scott Boros,  whose track record suggests he will balk at Ackley signing an early contract extension under any circumstances.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dodgers Force-Feed Top Rookie Jerry Sands

With reserve right-fielder Marcus Thames unlikely to come off the disabled list when eligible May 18,  rookie Jerry Sands looks to gain continued playing time as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly force feeds the youngster with starts not only in left field,  but at his natural position at first base.

The 6-foot-4,  240-pound Sands,  primarily filling Thames role as right-handed power bat off the bench,  has been starting almost every day in left field,  then moving to first base against left-handed pitchers while starting first baseman James Loney struggles with a .125 average against them.
Though half of Sands' 14 hits have been doubles,  and he has given a number of pitches a long ride to the wall, so far he has failed to take advantage of his opportunity,  with his average stuck at the.200 mark.   However,  he will not have reached the 100-at-bat benchmark until near the end of next week,  a juncture at which he is likely to be reassessed.

The Dodgers are desperate for punch, and will turn to veteran Jay Gibbons, a left-handed batter recovering from blurred vision, to start in left field against righties, thus putting Sands in a virtual platoon.

While Sands' emergence -- if it can be called that -- is purely opportunistic until now,  theoretically he could surprise observers by winning regular spot in the lineup if only he could perform even fractionally as well as he had been playing at Triple A Albuquerque when the Dodgers called him up as a stop-gap measure.

Sands, 23, the 2010 Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year, was hitting a homer in just about every 10 at-bats,  a total of five to open the season,  and pounding minor league pitching at a .400 clip.  With Thames out possibly into June,  time remains for Sands to prove himself.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Alonso Willing But Reluctant to Go To Reds Outfield

Reds top hitting prospect Yonder Alonso -- stuck at Triple A Louisville because his promotion to Cincinnati is blocked at first base -- is willing to keep learning the outfield if that's what it takes to make the major leagues, though he would prefer to stay at his natural corner position.

"I think I'm a good first baseman;  I like playing first base;  I want to stay there,  but they've already got some guy up there,"  Alonso told Sirrius-XM Radio host Grant Paulsen on Paulsen's Sunday morning "Majors and Minors" program.

The "guy" playing first base for the Reds,  of course,  is none other than reigning MVP Joey Votto,  who is not likely to give up his position anytime soon.

"We text each other every day,"  Alonso said.  "I tell him,  'I hit a home run today,'  and he says back, 'I hit two!"

Alonso, 24, a former first round pick,  rejects calls for him to be traded,  hoping the day will come when he finally takes the field at Great American Ballpark,  at first,  in the outfield or on the bench.

"This is where I was drafted.  This is where I want to stay,"  he said.

The former Cuban national -- who fled the communist controlled Caribbean island when a boy -- is hitting .280 in his first 84 at-bats for the Redbirds, but is heating up.  He has four hits in his last 12,  including two homers.