Friday, February 16, 2007

wood injured (sort of)

just a day in, dear reader, and the gods have sent us a warning against our hubris.

Kerry Wood skipped the first throwing session after hurting his ribs Monday slipping out of a hot tub, making him the first Cub to be sidelined with an injury. ... Wood was able to laugh about his minor injury.

Piniella surprised reporters when he announced Wood was unable to throw because of an injury sustained falling out of "his hot spa" then asked that no one make a big deal out of it. Wood said his injury was minor and that he expects to begin throwing off a mound in a few days.

"It's about that time of year, isn't it?" he said. "Just typical. I was getting out of the hot tub at the house and took a little spill. Didn't think anything of it, and it hurt a little more than I thought. Nothing's wrong.

"It's just going to be a few extra days. My arm feels great. My body feels good."

certainly this isn't much of an injury, but this writer cannot describe how sickeningly familiar it is to write that headline.

moreover, it does illuminate a different and more meaningful topic, which is the state of wood's shoulder and how it may affect his new role. it's no slight to his intentions, which are wholly honest to be sure -- but there's little doubt that wood's shoulder is screwed up and that isn't just going to go away. let's revisit what we know.

by the spring of 2005 -- some two years ago -- wood's reliability as a team building block being seriously questioned here and elsewhere on the back of what at that time was mostly elbow trouble. he of course went on that year to start just ten games -- five in april, and after a hiatus another five in july with what what first called "tendonitis" and then a "strained shoulder". this was followed by the first instance of the club proactively taking wood out of such a critical role, moving him to the bullpen that august. the statement, however, came at a very high cost -- for wood was destined to have surgery in that offseason, and rather than having it the club trotted him out to the mound in an utterly lost cause.

this needless delay shortened wood's recovery time, and indeed -- as may have been expected -- he was not ready for spring of 2006. but the more damaging long term news that emerged from the procedure was that, besides the expected debridement of his rotator cuff, wood's labrum has been repaired -- a surgery that often means the end of professional pitchers. minor surgery on his medial meniscus (knee) compounded his delay.

still many hoped for the best, while this page urged low expectations for both wood and wade miller, who joined mark prior to form the dl triplets. shoulder problems continued to plague his rehabilitation, and his first start of 2006 did not come until may 18.

wood's season was over just three games later. the diagnosis finally came in as a torn rotator cuff. he subsequently decided against yet another surgery, with the hope that a program of exercize could undo the damage.

the cubs found a way (to the surprise of this writer) to bring him back in 2007 with the expectation of pitching out of the bullpen, but what this page said on the eve of that may 18 return remains trenchant.

wood's rehabilitation is far from over -- the lingering effects of labrum repair run over years, not weeks. it is in fact quite likely that he will never be the pitcher he once was nor ever fulfill his considerable lost promise. ... he has proven beyond any doubt that he is simply not the kind of reliable pitcher that a team can build around -- his gifted arm is also cursed, it would seem.

given the disastrous pitching of ryan dempster, who fulfilled this page's every damning expectation in 2006, giving fits to fans and management alike, many have tagged wood as a potential closer this season. but examine again the litany recounted above, dear reader, and ask yourself if wood really should be placed in another high-leverage role on a club that finally showed the good sense to remove him from one in 2005.

after all that has transpired, it is in the estimation of this page impossible that wood will be the pitcher he once promised to be -- and highly unlikely to even be the pitcher that he was even over the last couple years. now approaching 30 years old with a laundry list of surgical procedures to his credit, his ephermeral talents are likely already slipping away. his drive remains unquestioned -- the sisyphean efforts which he has applied to his livelihood are testament to that, and this writer for one would feel a triumphant return justice for the man. sadly, however, the harsher light of reason calculates long odds for such a sentimentally satisfying outcome.

putting wood in the role of closer for as long as he may be able to endure it may not be the greatest risk this team will take this year, but it will form the bullpen around him and -- in the event of his remission -- leave a gaping hole in its most crucial spot. with dempster continuing to revert to pathetic career norms, it seems a far more durable solution to promote bob howry -- who has been the most effective reliever on the staff over his career -- and allow him to command the role as his own from the start. wood will certainly find use if and when healthy, but this bit of prudence may do much to maintain the stability of the bullpen over the course of the coming season.

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