Friday, September 6, 2013
Injuries that could change October
By Buster Olney
It's been a great stretch for the Dodgers, but Matt Kemp has largely been an observer.
We’ve reached the stage of the season when a lot of injuries are probably not going to be healed by the time the playoffs start, a time when the team athletic trainers and the doctors are running out of time to fully treat their patients. In a lot of cases for contenders, open questions will linger about whether star players can actually be productive when they come back.
Here's a look at the top injury situations hanging over contenders with three weeks and three days remaining in the regular season -- in a race against time:
The team’s description of his injury -- that the best hitter in baseball has an abdominal issue -- has been obtuse, and imprecise, which is well within the rights of the Tigers. They’re kind of going the route of an NHL team that describes an ailment, officially, as a "lower body injury" during the playoffs.
Which leaves us to speculate, and Cabrera’s injury does seem to have all signs of a sports hernia.
If that’s the case, it means Cabrera is going to have to deal with this until he has corrective surgery -- and he has demonstrated over the last month or so that he can hit with his injury. But you do wonder if, in his effort to protect Cabrera during the postseason, Jim Leyland may consider playing Jhonny Peralta at third base when Peralta becomes eligible to rejoin the team.
He is the most important run producer in the middle of St. Louis lineup, and while the Cardinals got good news about his foot injury from the other night -- it’s not broken; it’s sprained, mildly -- the reality is that different players heal from this sort of injury at different speeds, and the team probably has no idea when Craig can get back to what he was doing.
He is in Arizona working out and taking live batting practice daily. He seems to be healthy, as he recovers from an ankle sprain, but he needs to get comfortable at the plate. Kemp had about 15 at-bats in a simulated game on Thursday.
There will be a day soon when Kemp will return to the Dodgers’ lineup, and because they have a big lead in the NL West, manager Don Mattingly will have an opportunity to play him regularly to see how much Kemp can help -- to see what they see. Then, as the playoffs begin, Mattingly will have that information as he chooses which of his four established outfielders (Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig) he will sit.
My own opinion: I don’t think the Dodgers have any real expectation that Kemp will represent an upgrade -- in 62 games this season, he hit .263 with five homers in 251 plate appearances -- and if he demonstrates in the final weeks that he can be better than one of the three other guys, well, then they’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The Braves are safely bound for October, but Heyward could be a key factor in whether they succeed upon arrival.
When he suffered a broken jaw when he was hit by a pitch thrown by the Mets’ Jon Niese on Aug. 21, he was swinging as well as he had at any stage in his major league career, and doing so while hitting leadoff for Atlanta. The initial projection was that Heyward would be back within four to six weeks, and he is making progress, as GM Frank Wren detailed in an email on Thursday: “He has started light baseball activity of throwing and tee swings. Will see [the doctor] again next week to see next level of progression. He has done well so far.”
Heyward has a complicated swing, and earlier in his career, he has sometimes struggled to put it all together quickly. But as time has gone on, he has gotten to know his swing better and better, and it’s possible he could be back before the start of the playoffs. Th Braves were extremely hot when he left, in part due to his performance at the top of the order.
The Indians are three games out in the AL wild-card race, and Masterson suffered a rib-cage strain in his last start. There doesn’t seem to be any real timetable with this, because he probably cannot be completely healthy again before the end of the season. He is just going to keep trying to pitch until it’s possible, until time runs out on the Indians’ season -- and time may run out entirely before he throws his next pitch in a game. We’ll see.
For much of this season, he has been a backbone of the Pirates’ offense, and because of a hand contusion, he is not able to swing a bat or throw. Pittsburgh’s decision to add Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau was built, at least in part, on the reality that they really have no idea if Marte will be able to help them at any point the rest of the season.
He has been Cincinnati’s ace in recent seasons, but there probably isn’t enough time for him to rebuild his pitch count and become a factor in the rotation, especially in light of the fact that the Reds have other very capable starters, from Mat Latos to Bronson Arroyo to Homer Bailey. In a phone conversation Thursday evening, Reds GM Walt Jocketty said that Cueto could become a wild card in the Cincinnati bullpen, and that pitching coach Bryan Price has been greatly encouraged by what he has seen in Cueto as he prepares to return.
He threw 71 pitches in his last rehab start in the minors, and is in line to return to the Boston rotation next week. The Red Sox don’t know what he’ll be when he comes back, and the good thing is that no matter what Buchholz provides, Boston’s rotation down the stretch and into the postseason should be solid because of the recent improvement of Jon Lester and the pre-deadline acquisition of Jake Peavy.
Tampa Bay took a flier on Crain in making a deal for him when he was on the disabled list of the Chicago White Sox with a shoulder problem. Crain really didn’t make any progress in his first month with the Rays, but in recent days, there have been some really encouraging signs. It remains to be seen whether he can come back quickly enough to help.
In the postseason, Cincinnati could see Matt Carpenter, Pedro Alvarez, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Heyward, Adrian Gonzalez and Ethier, among other left-handed hitters, so they could really use Marshall, who has been so effective in the past. Jocketty said Thursday night that Marshall is making progress, although he is a little behind Cueto in his recovery.
• The Yankees blew a lead in the ninth inning against Boston after a big comeback. From ESPN Stats & Information:
Thursday was Mariano Rivera's first blown save against the Red Sox since August of 2011 and his first against Boston at home since September of 2010. But in his career he's had more blown saves against the Red Sox than any other team, with 15 in total. The Orioles are second, as he's blown nine against them.
A) Got hitters to chase and miss: Peacock saw hitters chase 30 percent of his pitches out of the strikezone and they had a 30 percent miss rate overall. Those were up from his 21 percent chase and 17 percent miss rates that he brought into the start.
B) A nasty curveball: Peacock had a very good hook going and he knew it. He threw his curve a season high 30 percent of the time and saw A's hitters go 1-10 against it with 7 strikeouts.
From Elias: Peacock entered Thursday night’s game in Oakland having limited right-handed batters to a .190 batting average this season, while lefties had hit .298 against him. So Athletics manager Bob Melvin packed his lineup with seven left-handed batters or switch-hitters to try to take advantage of that rather extreme breakdown. But Peacock was equal to the task, limiting all those lefty swingers to just three hits in 20 at-bats and earning credit for the Astros’ 3-2 victory. Peacock struck out nine on Thursday, and now has 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings against Oakland this season.