Conspiracy theorists pervade modern society, whether they are arguing that the 1969 Apollo Moon Landing was a Hollywood fabrication or debating the merits and subplots of the Kennedy Assasinations. Perhaps you see these people walking the streets with sandwich boards trying to tell us that the world will end in 2012 or that Roswell 1947 was a government cover-up for 60+ years of extraterrestrial co-habitation. They may spend their days in coffee shop booths, scribbling frantically in tiny notepads while watching the world go by the window – often seeing “truths” out there that the average person doesn’t see. The more pronounced of these tortured souls make hats out of aluminum foil or strap metals colanders to their heads in fear of the satellites monitoring their brainwaves. Sometimes they can be found at newsstands pouring over copies of the National Enquirer, UFO Weekly or Baseball America. Indeed a lot of these Lone Gunmen are also baseball fans andmany pride themselves on being Phillies fans as well.
There was a time when Phillies fans simply believed both they and the team were cursed. Being the first professional sports team to lose 10,000 games would give anyone an inferiority complex but that is not the case anymore. Since championships were won in 1980 and 2008, the Phillies can hold their heads high – even in Queens or the Bronx. Since 2007, the Phillies have managed to establish themselves as one of the elite franchises in MLB. They have won four straight NL East titles, won the NL pennant twice, made three NLCS appearances and remain the prohibitive favorite to get back to the World Series in 2011. All of that may be true but the conspiracists seem to believe that this team is cursed – that we have somehow sold our souls to the devil or that the evil forces of the universe have conspired against our beloved Philadelphia Phillies.
Actually, it’s just baseball.
First it was Brad Lidge, who has not been seen on a Major League mound since his offseason shoulder surgery. Next, Chase Utley was diagnosed with a chronic knee problem that might require surgery, could be career-threatening and kept him on the shelf from Spring Training through May. Blue chip prospect Domonic Brown was supposed to infuse this lineup with youth and promise until he broke his hand in a Spring Training game. Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Jose Contreras, Brian Schneider, Ross Gload and Roy Oswalt would follow, each missing time due to injury. Adding insult to injury, Raul Ibanez was having trouble keeping his average above the Mendoza line through May. Obviously injuries (and slumps) are part of baseball and over the course of a 162 game season, every team must contend with streaks, swoons, nicks and scrapes but the Phillies injury bug seems disproportionate.
Roy Oswalt experienced back problems earlier this year when he strained it working to help his family recover from tornados which ravaged the south. Oswalt has always battled with spinal injuries and discomfort but has always managed to overcome them. This was a concern when the esteemed veteran pitcher was acquired by the Phillies at the 2010 trading deadline (even with a $16M price tag). Skeptics once again fear that Oswalt could be lost for the season or possibly forced to end his career. Oswalt sounded relieved on Saturday when he was told that his season is not over and that he has a chance to help pitch the Phillies to another championship.
According to team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti, an MRI revealed mild bulging discs in Oswalt’s back as well as thickening around the facet joint, which puts pressure on the nerves down his leg. Team doctors are suggesting a series of injections as the next step – with Oswalt deciding between epidural, lidocaine or cortisone shots. Such a program would sideline him three to five weeks (after the procedure) while he strengthens his back. Oswalt will fly to Dallas sometime next week to seek a second opinion from spine surgeon Dr. Andrew Dossett – whom Oswalt visited two years ago while dealing with mild lumbar spine inflammation as a member of the Astros. Oswalt knows from experience that an epidural can just mask the pain and wants to ensure he’s healthy enough to pitch into the postseason.
“I’m not going to come back and try to pitch through it like I did last time,” said Oswalt, who felt the pain sink to his leg two or three weeks ago. “[I'm] not really helping the team throwing five or six innings at 85% velocity.” Oswalt could tolerate the pain for the two hours or so he was pitching, but the bigger challenge was in preparation between starts. It takes him two or three days to recover from an outing, and while he can handle basic back exercises he cannot do any weightlifting or running. Oswalt has lost six pounds, likely the result of not being able to properly work out, eat properly or manage painkillers.
Doctors told Oswalt that the disks in his back would eventually rupture, requiring surgery. Oswalt is hopeful that may not be the case once he stops pitching for good. On Friday Oswalt was placed on the 15-day disabled list, but he will likely be shelved until August depending on the timing of the procedure.Don’t consider that a nod toward retirement nor should it be a death knell for his 2011 season. Oswalt will wait until after the season to decide on his future and downplayed the comments he made after his most recent start, in St. Louis.
“If I was on a team that was out of it, I’d think different,” Oswalt said. “You don’t want to risk your life after baseball as far as doing different things you have to worry about every day. I don’t want to be on painkillers the rest of my life, that’s for sure.” So until further notice, the Phillies are down to three aces (Halladay, Lee, Hamels who have been virtually unhittable despite lack of run support) and will use Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley to fill the gaps until Joe Blanton’s return sometime in mid-to-late July.
Madson diagnosed with inflammation in hand
The “feeling” (or lack thereof to be specific) in closer Ryan Madson’s pitching hand has officially been diagnosed as “inflammation.” This means that for a few days, the Phillies will have to draw straws to find themselves a temporary fix as the new “closer.” Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, Ryan Madson have all held this role in 2011 and it would appear that until the All-Star Break, someone other than Madson will take over.
Madson, who experiences soreness in the small muscles of his right hand with certain pitch grips, received a cortisone shot on Friday and will throw on Monday or Tuesday and progress as necessary. Manager Charlie Manuel indicated that the pain is below the knuckles of Madson’s middle and ring fingers. Madson injured his hand on May 20, against the Rangers, when he was hit with a line drive. X-rays taken at the time were negative, and an MRI revealed no structural damage. Since that time the progression of the injury has become more evident with each appearance.
Ryan Madson last pitched on June 18, in Seattle. In Madson’s absence, the Phillies will use Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes as substitute closers. The shift could leave space in the sixth and seventh innings (where they had been pitching), forcing the Phillies to rely on recent callups Juan Perez and Scott Mathieson. Veteran port-sider JC Romero has officially been given his unconditional release by the Phillies and could be claimed by any Major League team wishing to do so. If he clears waivers Romero has the option to report to AAA Lehigh Valley or retire at the age of 35. Once a reclamation project as a refugee from the Minnesota Twins, Anaheim Angels and Boston Red Sox the Phillies claimed Romero off waivers to contribute to their 2008 championship season. Romero (81 G, 59 IP, 2.75 ERA) was the left-handed compliment to Brad “Lights Out” Lidge who was 41 for 41 in save opportunities. Romero has never come close to his 2008 numbers over the past 2-1/2 seasons despite being re-signed as a free agent over the offseason. He is replaced on the roster by Juan Perez – who is himself a reclamation project last seen in the majors with Pittsburgh.
In other injury news, Joe Blanton has stretched out as far as 100 feet in long toss and will throw a bullpen session on Monday.
Brad Lidge threw a bullpen session on Saturday and will throw another on Monday.
Time for a visit from the Good Doctor. Roy Halladay threw more frames than anyone in his league in two of the past three seasons and is again leading the National League in IP (118 1/3 in 16 starts). The A’s will counter on Sunday with former Phillies farmhand Josh Outman (traded in 2008 for Joe Blanton), who has delivered a quality start in five of his last six outings.
Due in part to Outman’s stellar campaign, A’s starters boast the third-best ERA in the Majors, at 3.18. Led by the “Big Four,” (Halladay, Lee, Hamels & Oswalt) Philadelphia’s starters are tops in the league, at 3.07. The three pitchers the A’s face this weekend are a combined 20-8 with a 2.54 ERA – and their record would be even more impressive if they weren’t floundering for offensive support.
As of Saturday, Halladay either led the NL or was tied for the lead in wins, complete games, innings pitched, strikeouts and walks per nine innings. Now if the Phillies offense could just provide some run support, that would be fantastic.
The truth is out there…
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org