Baseball Injury Report

Featured Note of the Week

Rich Harden (RHP, OAK)
A day after it was announced Harden was going back on the DL, this time with elbow problems, more details were released. He has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his pitching elbow. It is described as a moderate-to-severe sprain, but there’s been no talk of the need for surgery at this point. His ailment is being compared to that of the Blue Jays’ A.J. Burnett, who has struggled with his ailment all spring. When Burnett first developed his sprained UCL, the diagnosis was a mild one. Houston starter Brandon Backe, still a candidate for Tommy John surgery if he doesn’t heal completely, received a moderate sprain diagnosis.

When the comparisons are made to other pitchers, Harden’s situation indeed sounds more dire even as the medical staff denies any surgery talk. Based on the new information, Harden sounds like he’ll miss a minimum of two months, maybe three months. If it were three months, he wouldn’t be back until early September, a point in the season the A’s likely would shut him down for the year rather than risk further injury.

From Injury Watch Notes This Past Week

Albert Pujols (1B, STL)
The Cardinals placed Pujols on the disabled list (his first time) with a strained right oblique muscle. Initially, just after the injury occurred, reports circulated around the Cardinals that Pujols would miss up to six weeks and was out indefinitely. A day later, some in the Cardinals organization were backing off that timetable, preferring to wait until the results of last Monday’s MRI are announced. The extra time also would let Pujols recover some while the medical staff evaluates the ailment, 48 hours after it occurred.

Waiting a couple of days can and usually does give the medical person doing the diagnosing a better look at the ailment. The MRI results came in without a conclusive result, so we’re back to square one. In the past, oblique injuries fall in a wide range of recovery times, with 30 days being the starting point on how long the player will be out. We’ll lean toward this timetable until the latest medical report is released.

Eric Gagne (RHP, LAD)
His troublesome pitching elbow swelled up after his first game back after being activated off the DL this past week. The MRI done on the elbow revealed inflammation around the ulnar nerve but no structural damage. In some cases, neuritis of the ulnar nerve in the elbow can require surgery if it does not respond to treatment and becomes a chronic condition. A deeper look at Gagne’s condition may indicate this is a possible future scenario.

The nerve surgery he had earlier in the year was a different and smaller nerve, which was in an almost constant state of inflammation. Surgery ended up being the only viable option. If Gagne struggles to pitch without constantly developing pain involving this nerve, then surgery as an option will be looked at much closer. The Dodgers will place him on the DL early this week. They hope the nerve condition will calm down with rest and treatment. If not, more drastic measures will be needed.

Larry Bigbie (OF, STL)
St. Louis placed Bigbie on the disabled list with an umbilical hernia. This malady is found a lot more in very young children than adults. Hopefully, it does not involve any obstruction of his intestines. He’ll have surgery to repair the hernia shortly. The recovery time depends on how severe the hernia was and how much surgery is needed to repair the damage. If my memory serves me correctly, this is the first umbilical hernia involving a major league player in the 13-plus years I’ve been covering major league injuries.

Chad Orvella (RHP, TB)
The Devil Rays have demoted Chad Orvella to the minors after he posted a 7.79 ERA this season. At the major league level this season, he has 18 walks and 14 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings of work. The Devil Rays indicate his problems are a combination of confidence and mechanics. While that’s the possible answer, there might be another reason. Late last year, Orvella was looking solid in the Devil Rays bullpen before coming down with soreness and inflammation in his pitching shoulder. His difficulty in throwing strikes and periodic reports about a drop in velocity raises a red flag. It’s not out of the question that his mechanics have changed due to the arm ailment of last year. A report that he’s ailing in the near future would not be a surprise.

From Injury Speculator Notes This Past Week

Jason Isringhausen (RHP, STL)
When a pitcher has a 3.55 ERA, a 1.62 Ratio and 1.04 SO-BB ratio, something has to give. Mostly likely, it’s the ERA. A week or so ago, Isringhausen said this is the best he’s felt in the past few years. When players make that kind of a statement, it can be part wishful thinking or an attempt to deflect rumors that all is not right. The fact Izzy has walked 23 and struck out 24 in 25 1/3 innings giving him an inverted ratio is a concern. To illustrate how bad the walks are, he’s just one away from matching his 2005 season high of 25 in 59 innings last season. Isringhausen still has two thirds of the season to complete!

A detailed look at my Spring Training notes and winter notes doesn’t reveal an ailment that might be causing his control problems. Another sign his struggles are mechanical is his K/9 rate. His K/9 rate sits at 8.53, right in line where he should be. This suggests his fastball, velocity and shoulder strength are okay. If his struggles indeed can be traced to a mechanical problem, look for Izzy and Dave Duncan to correct the problem sometime this season.

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