Baseball Injury Report

Editorial note: In last week’s newsletter, I speculated Todd Helton (1B, COL) would miss a month due to his condition. I based it on several pieces of information, including a physician who works with Crohn’s and Ileitis patients. I based my statement on his analysis that Helton had lost a considerable amount of weight and strength and what the typical patient would go through. Using 20-20 hindsight it’s obviously we didn’t have an accurate read on his condition.

Within 24 hours of the newsletter being posted, reports circulated that Helton was likely to go out on a rehab assignment surfaced. Obviously my analysis was incorrect. At the time the column was posted and e-mailed, I believed the information and analysis to be accurate. For those of you who read my work from other locations that is published daily during the week, you received the Helton update the next day.

Publishing a column once a week can have its shortcomings, as we’ve seen with the Helton issue. Sometimes it’s a difficult balance between trying to get the analysis out as quickly as possible and waiting for one more piece of medical information.

Featured Note of the Week

Is Morneau’s Left Elbow Bothering Him?
Last fall, Justin Morneau and the Twins decided that he didn’t need surgery to remove several bone chips from his left elbow. They were convinced he could play with the chips in the joint. That may or may not be true when the 2006 season is done, but the bigger question was and is, how well can he play?

Currently, he’s batting just .204, some 25 or so points below last season’s disappointing .239. Morneau reasoned after last season his struggles were due to the elbow ailment as much as it was due to the pneumonia and other ailments he struggled with in the spring. Healthwise, 2005 was a disaster for him. Currently he’s on pace to hit 40 home runs and 106 RBIs, so where is the concern?

His strikeout rate in 2004 was once in every 5.2 at-bats; this year it’s 3.8, so he is swinging and missing more often. Combine this fact with his depressed batting average, and you’ll likely see his home run numbers drop in 2006. Is it written in stone he’ll struggle in 2006? Not yet, but in another four weeks or so a third of the season will be in the books.

From Injury Watch Notes This Past Week

Tomo Ohka (RHP, MIL)
The Brewers placed Ohka on the DL Wednesday with a shoulder injury that will sideline the right-hander for at least a month. The medical diagnosis is “partial undersurface tear of the rotator cuff” and a “capsular injury.” In simple terms, Ohka has tearing of the rotator cuff capsule (the broad ligament encompassing the rotator cuff). It sounds like he also has an injury deeper down than the typical rotator cuff also.

The plan of action is to rest and treat Ohka for two weeks and then re-evaluate him. If he doesn’t show a noticeable improvement, look for surgery to be scheduled. If he has surgery, he’s gone for the year. If he avoids surgery, he could rehab with the potential of returning in, say, four to eight weeks.

Casey Kotchman (1B, LAA)
Kotchman revealed last Wednesday that he is battling mononucleosis, often called “mono,” an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Signs of mono include fever, sore throat, headaches, white patches on the back of the throat, swollen glands in the neck, feeling tired and not feeling hungry.

Typically, noticeable symptoms last about four weeks, though the range that the infection remains active in the body can be from two to 12 months. Still, it’s somewhat surprising Kotchman indicates he’s been suffering from mono for about seven months. His main complaint is fatigue, a symptom that more times than not would have cleared up by now.

There is no medication or treatment for it other than resting and letting the virus pass. With the information available, it’s not out of the question Kotchman will battle the fatigue aspect most of the 2006 season. The end result is a loss of strength and energy, and his numbers to date have suffered because of the virus and loss of strength.

Esteban Loaiza (RHP, OAK)
Sometimes long-term contracts can have a detrimental effect of major league players, especially pitchers. They’ll try and pitch through or even hide an injury, trying to justify their huge contract. Maybe this is what happened to Loaiza. He hurt the left shoulder (left trapezius muscle) on April 23 but told the A’s he was fine. His numbers told us another story.

That said, it still doesn’t explain the drop in velocity and loss of command earlier in the season. There is some speculation in the Bay Area that he had some mechanical issues that caused his early season problems, and after he tweaked his mechanics, the shoulder started to bother him. Problem is, it’s his left trapezius (not his pitching shoulder) that was and is the problem. Reports that he’ll work on his mechanics on the side while on the disabled list suggests his DL stint should be a short one. The big question is how well he’ll pitch once he gets back?

From Injury Speculator Notes This Past Week

Is Reed’s Wrist Still Bothering Him?
Jeremy Reed’s (OF, SEA) season began under a cloud of concern regarding a sprained right wrist. Late in Spring Training, several sources first reported a fractured wrist, and Reed began the season on the disabled list. It turned out to be an old fracture from his youth, and he was in the Opening Day lineup. We were told it was a sprained wrist and that he’d bounce back quickly.

Now more than a month into the 2006 season, Reed just ended a 0-21 slump. He’s batting just .188 with a paltry .247 OBP. His strikeout rate, like Morneau’s, is up in 2006. Last year, he struck out once in every 6.6 at-bats; this year it is 4.9. The Mariners felt he could improve upon his .352 slugging percentage by adding a few home runs and doubles and pushing his SLG above .400. Right now his is .290 and that isn’t getting the job done.

Is it the wrist? It would explain the decrease in power, contact and the uptick in strikeouts. If Reed doesn’t have any ligament damage or undiscovered fractures in the wrist, he should rebound shortly.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

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