Saturday, February 18, 2006

pitchers and catchers report -- sort of

spring training has often been cause to wax poetic in the baseball world (though never more hilariously than derek smart at cub town did this year). even this page, which so often endeavors to live the life analytic, is moved by the spirit of the season by muses vernal and literary. it is perhaps merely to be accepted that our muse would be of an ironic caste, however, whereupon her singing of even the very phrase "pitchers and catchers report" takes on a darker, worrisome harmonic.

when jason simontacchi was offered a spot as a non-roster invitee back in early february, it made barely a ripple in cubdom. the former cardinal had never been an imposing pitcher, and was notable in his affiliation with the cubs primarily for being yet another of the cubs' burgeoning labrum legion.

but with his departure from camp to visit the dreaded dr. james andrews under a cloud of discomfort in that repaired shoulder, the spectre of the seriousness of labral procedures has returned -- and with it, one hopes, an extra dose of sensibility in the heads of jim hendry, dusty baker and larry rothschild.

let it be a warning to the cubs regarding kerry wood and wade miller. labrum surgery is a very big deal. letting these guys run where they wish to -- or, worse, pushing one of them to perform in order to, say, avoid difficult questions and the inevitable farce of competing non-answers from hendry, rothschild and dusty about why he was throwing out of the bullpen for a sunken ship in august instead of on an operating table -- is an extremely dangerous game and one that shouldn't be played.

given the cubs past honesty issues regarding mark prior, it's also hard not to take this development with a twinge of nervousness. the cubs are disseminating a story through their propaganda outlets about recent "mysterious" illness -- but not throwing off the mound, even if due to other reasons, is easily seen as a simple hedge against the recurrence of the same undiagnosed elbow pain that has kept prior off the mound in mesa in the last two seasons.

just as worryingly, bruce miles has been told it's not just the elbow the cubs are eyeballing this spring.

The Cubs are keeping an eye on Prior’s elbow and his shoulder but say both are fine.

that seems very much like a tacit confirmation that there are in fact worries within the organization about prior's shoulder. in any case, what can be said is that prior has been kid-gloved yet again for health reasons of some kind or another.

UPDATE: bruce miles over at the daily herald is reporting that prior's slow start is what this writer here articulated:

The Cubs insist there is nothing wrong with Prior’s elbow or shoulder. They say they’re easing him into spring training this year so they can prevent the elbow problems that limited him to just one Cactus League game over the past two springs.

whether or not it is just that or more, of course, will remain in the realm of speculation for some time. simply because prior has started to throw from a mound hardly gives him a clean bill of health. the answer to the question will remain some months in the making. (end UPDATE)

so much for the pitching side -- sleep easy there, right? as to the catching side... well, at this point, there really isn't a catching side with michael barrett, henry blanco and geovany soto all playing in the wbc until their teams (united states, venezuela and puerto rico, respectively) are eliminated -- which could be a couple weeks or the bulk of the spring. what that does for or to them this writer cannot say. it could be that they get in all the work they need while representing their nations. but, all else being even, one somehow wishes they were going to be in mesa -- though one might wonder that, with so few pitchers pitching, they may well not be needed.

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