Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Everybody Hurts Sometimes by Rick Kaplan

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer

OAKLAND (June 12) – My apologies, Esteban.

I wrote in this column, over and over again, that the A’s made a mistake in acquiring Esteban Loaiza for $22M for three years.

At first, he did indeed look like a lemon. He couldn’t get anyone out with an 82 MPH fastball that wasn’t moving, and went on the DL after four starts.

Loaiza said that he was injured, but that he would be back to pitch effectively for the Oakland Athletics.

Click below for more!On the same day that Rich Harden went back on the DL, June 8th, Loaiza shut down a potent Cleveland offense in a seven inning, four hit gem.

He was right.

The coincidence of Harden, who had only come off the DL days earlier, and Loaiza trading places on the DL should highlight the growing impact of injuries on the game today.

Incidentally, I am more than a little curious as to why Loaiza kept being sent out there when it was apparently obvious to A’s insiders that he was injured.

Jim Colburn, the former (1973) Brewers’ 20-game winner, and current Pirates’ pitching coach and national spokesperson for the old school, sounds like he might even have approved of continuing to send the injured Loaiza back to the mound. “In my era, if your arm was sore, you would rub tobacco juice or dirt on it and go back out there.”

Pitchers were already starting to break down regularly by the time of Colborn’s era in the bigs, 1969-78. It was the dawn of Tommy John surgery (1977). Maybe they were just running out of tobacco juice and dirt. And Sandy Koufax and others, in fact, were already using copious amounts of Capsolin and dangerous anti-inflammatories like Butazolidin.

Now, in 2006, it seems undeniable that something has changed fundamentally. According to the latest data I could find from STATS, Inc., in 1992 about 4.7 pitchers per team would spend some time on the DL during an entire season. By 2002, only ten years later, these incidents had almost doubled, to about 7.9 per team. And that was five seasons ago.

Right now, as this column is being written, the Washington Nationals have eleven (11) players from their 40-man roster on the Disabled List, including nine (9) pitchers, five of whom are starters. Five of the pitchers are probably gone for the season.

Yet, the Nationals have won sixteen of their last twenty-two ballgames.

The DL is growing. Look at some of the players recently or currently DLed, or in rehab: Bartolo Colon (2006 AL Cy Young), Chris Carpenter (2006 NL Cy Young), Roy Halladay (2005 AL Cy Young), Alberto Pujols, Derrick Lee, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Ben Sheets, Jeff Kent, Bill Mueller, Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, Willy Mo Pena, Mike Hampton, David Wells, Troy Percival, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Dimitri Young . . . A DL All-Star Game, anyone?

Rosters are being disrupted like never before.

But some teams manage to keep winning. And more and more, we are learning that as much as the injuries themselves, it will be the planning and response to the injuries that is going to determine who wins a division, just as much as defense or team speed or power does.

That’s why I wrote recently that I am nominating A’s trainer Larry Davis for 2006 American League MVP.

There is a growing sense around the A’s and other well-managed organizations that managing recurring injuries and visits to the DL is now an everyday part of playing the game, one that, just like positioning outfielders or situational hitting, can be anticipated and executed as needed.

In that regard, teams are going to have to pay increasing attention to their bench depth, and the durability of players, if they want to be successful in MLB.

Teams that do this, and have contingency plans for injuries, are going to be in the thick of the race. Teams that fail to are not.

It seems like virtually every team is facing this challenge as more and more players move in and out of the line-up, and from the locker room to the trainers’ room, on an almost daily basis.

It’s hard to compare injuries head-to-head, but we can get a sense of how various teams are dealing with the problem.

The Dodgers have been hit massively. Not only has Eric Gagne headed back to the DL after one appearance, but their 2005 closer, Yancy Brazoban, is probably out for the season. L.A. has lost Bill Mueller at third to the DL and Jeff Kent at second (due back any day), Cesar Itsuris at short, and their starting catcher Dioner Navarro is on the 60-day.

But they are hanging on and fighting for first place in the NL West, having been nimble enough to add Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra during the off-season, and install four rookies, including the wonderful-looking former Athletic prospect, Andre Ethier, in the starting line-up to help make up for the injuries. Perhaps most importantly, they were wise enough to go out and get Danys Baez, a proven closer, anticipating any problems with Gagne.

Contrast this planning and understanding of the game as it is today, and the emerging and central role of injury management in it, with the Yankees ineffective approach to the same problem.

There has been a lot of media attention paid to the disappointments and setbacks due to injuries the Yankees have sustained recently. I wonder if as much ink has been devoted to what the Yankees are doing about it.

No doubt, it’s a big deal that Matsui and Sheffield both may be gone for the season. And Sean Chacon came off the DL yesterday to pitch against the A’s.

But the A’s, who methodically swept the Yankees this weekend, have had injury problems of their own. In addition to losing Rich Harden. Bobby Crosby didn’t play in the series at Yankee Stadium, and Frank Thomas, their hottest hitter, missed Sunday’s game with a sore quad. Mark Ellis broke his hand and will be out another month, Eric Chavez is playing with a torn hamstring, and so on. We’ve already talked about Harden and Loaiza.

One of the key differences in this series, as much as effective bullpen work and key home runs, was the apparent lack of effective scouting and preparation for eventualities on the part of the financially well-endowed Bombers.

I guess money really isn’t everything. The Yankees have made a number of horrendous decisions in regard to big ticket older legends who are wearing down and are very vulnerable to injuries. It started with Kevin Brown, and continued with Randy Johnson, as we saw on Saturday, and even the recent courting of an over-the-hill Roger Clemens. This apparent mindlessness and naivete in regard to past laurels includes even the younger hurlers Jaret “DL” Wright and the perpetually injured Carl Pavano.

We are in the middle of an apparent epidemic of injuries in baseball. The reasons for it may be varied and even debatable: the physics of bigger and faster players generating greater forces and stresses on their bodies, and those they collide with or pitch to, performance-enhancing substances, even keener competition that results in more fatigue.

Interestingly, Ed Stern told me that the New York Times recently reported that pitchers who go six innings in today’s game are throwing an equivalent number of pitches that were seen in complete games thirty years ago. The Times speculates that the reason for this is that the hitters are better and more disciplined, they go deeper in the count, and a lot more has to be done to get them out.

More stress and strain, more injuries.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a pitcher, such as a Koufax or a Herb Score, who threw in the mid-nineties, was a freak. Now, if you don’t throw ninety or ninety-two coming out of high school nobody is going to waste a draft choice on you.

So, while it very well may be true, as the great old-time hurler Elden Auker claims, that there may be conditioning problems such as too little running and the current fashion of limiting hurlers’ pitch counts, these higher levels of performance are probably introducing a whole new menu of anatomic problems that we haven’t seen much of before.

I think many of us are still living in another era of baseball. A past time of absolute loyalty and one-team careers, starting pitchers throwing complete games every fourth day come hell or high water, and a turn-of-the-century(1900) ‘Old Oriole’ mentality of stickin’ it in the mud and playing through the pain.

In some ways, injuries are introducing an intriguing uncertainty into baseball. Opprtunities for new story lines (Mike Rouse?) and new players abound. We are discovering that there may be a levelling influence as a result of injuries, in which money perhaps doesn’t have the same stranglehold over the standings when a celebrity outfielder must be hurriedly replaced by an available yet unproven entity from Columbus. For heaven’s sake, TLong was playing right field for the Yankees last week!

CHANGE is the name of the game today. We can analyze why, but if you don’t understand that like-clockwork rotations of the Stewart-Welch-Moore-Davis variety, or etched-in-stone starting infields that play together for eight years, like the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey ensemble, or even batting orders that last for more than a week, are now all ancient artifacts that can only be found in Cooperstown, then you can’t understand the game today and what it takes to win.


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