Daily Dose: Sore elbow shuts down Santana

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Johan Santana has been scratched from his scheduled Tuesday start with soreness in his left elbow. For now at least the Mets have indicated that they hope the injury is a short-term problem, but several teammates suggested Monday night that Santana may be headed for surgery. He’ll be examined further by doctors Tuesday, at which point the Mets should know whether Santana has a chance to pitch again this year.
Santana has hardly been horrible of late with a 3.94 ERA this month and a 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break, but a closer look at his numbers reveals that something has clearly been off for quite a while. After averaging a career-low 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings last season he produced 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings through the end of May this year, but that dipped to 4.5 in June, 6.5 in July, and now 5.5 in August.
To his credit Santana has been able to maintain an ERA in the low 3.00s the whole time, but a three-month stretch where one of the decade’s greatest strikeout pitchers manages just 60 in 100.2 innings is a definite red flag. As rotation-mate Mike Pelfrey put it: “I don’t think anyone expects good news.” If he does land on the disabled list, Santana would become the 20th Mets player to spend time on the shelf this year.
While the Mets hope for one piece of decent news this season, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Jake Peavy made his third rehab start Monday at Triple-A, throwing five scoreless innings with three strikeouts and two walks. As recently as a few days ago the White Sox suggested that he’d need several more rehab outings before joining the rotation, but those plans have apparently changed. Jose Contreras has been booted from the rotation following another bad outing Monday and Peavy could be his replacement.
* Scott Baker was 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA and eight homers allowed through four starts, but after turning in another gem Monday night with seven innings of one-run ball he’s now 12-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 109/25 K/BB ratio in 133 innings since. That includes 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 43/9 K/BB ratio in eight starts since the All-Star break and he’s been the only Twins starter who hasn’t fallen apart over the past couple months.
AL Quick Hits: Scott Downs came off the disabled list Monday, but Cito Gaston said that he’ll be eased back into closing … Edwin Encarnacion (hamstring) took Downs’ spot on the DL after hitting .186 since being traded to Toronto … Chris Davis will be back in the majors Tuesday after batting .327 in 44 games following his demotion to Triple-A … Brad Penny has been dropped from Boston’s rotation in favor of Junichi Tazawa, at least until Tim Wakefield (calf) returns from the DL … Carl Crawford left Monday’s game with lower back tightness … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) tossed three scoreless innings in a rehab start Monday at rookie-ball … Justin Morneau was back in the lineup Monday after missing six games with an inner-ear infection … Roy Halladay got knocked around Monday for a second straight start, coughing up eight runs on 12 hits … Joe Saunders’ (shoulder) return from the DL has been moved up to Wednesday after a successful simulated game … Ichiro Suzuki missed Monday’s game with a strained calf, but hopes to be back in the lineup Wednesday.
NL Quick Hits: Tony La Russa said Monday that John Smoltz was tipping his pitches while struggling in Boston, but facing the Padres, Nationals, and Pirates in his first three NL starts will help too … Cliff Lee gave up just a pair of unearned runs in seven innings Monday, improving to 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA and zero homers allowed in five Phillies starts … Aaron Cook (shoulder) may be able to return before the end of the regular season after an MRI exam Monday revealed no structural damage … Pablo Sandoval left Monday’s game with a strained calf … Ryan Howard homered twice off Bobby Parnell and knocked in five runs Monday, passing the 100-RBI mark … Ryan Hanigan landed on the disabled list Monday with post-concussion symptoms from a foul tip off and Chris Dickerson (ankle) joined him on the shelf … Jason Giambi will likely join the Rockies in September after inking a minor-league deal Monday … Jeff Francoeur is day-to-day with a torn thumb ligament suffering trying to make a catch.

A far-fetched sounding drug test scam

NES TSIONA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 22:  A laboratory technician checks human blood samples before placing the glass tubes on an automated testing line at the Maccabi Health Services HMO central laboratory January 22, 2006 in Nes Tsiona which is located in central Israel. The laboratory, which operates a fully automated system complete with advanced robotics, can test more than 50,000 blood samples a day. The lab is considered one of the most modern of its kind in the western world.  (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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Kevin Draper at Deadspin is passing along a story — and that’s not me editorializing; he’s admitting that it’s unconfirmed gossip at the moment — about a major league player paying a teammate $2.5 million to take the fall for him on a drug test. The story came via a tip from someone who, apparently, had a conversation about the drug test scam with a college baseball player who knew the players allegedly involved in the scam.

Here is how the conversation was recounted:

College Baseball Player: [MLB player’s star teammate] paid him to take his blood test. $2.5 million dollars.

Bar Patron: How does that even work?

College Baseball Player: [MLB player] and [MLB player’s star teammate] were getting tested the same day. They traded samples.

Deadspin says that the story is “probably bulls**t” but that some preliminary investigating they’ve done doesn’t disprove it and, to some extent corroborates it. How it’s been supported or not is left unclear and Deadspin couches all of this in a request for more information if anyone has any. Which, OK, fine.

I’ll offer that, on the surface, this seems like a bit more than mere “bulls**t.” It sounds structurally impossible. If it’s a blood test for HGH as the excerpt suggests, the samples are tested back in the lab to make sure they match up with previous samples. Meaning: the lab processing the sample knows if it’s your blood or not. If it’s a urine test, as Deadspin thinks it may have been, I’m not sure how samples could be switched given that urine tests are directly observed by testing officials. Yes, they watch you pee. They’d likely prevent you from peeing right next to your bro teammate, but even if you did, they’d see you exchange little plastic containers of urine with him.

I’m not going to say that this is 100% bull because we can’t really know for sure, but the scenario as described sounds highly unlikely, approaching the impossible. If someone had a story about bribing a sample taker with $2.5 million well, hey, maybe we’re getting somewhere, because that would get you over some procedural hurdles. For now, though, this all sounds like someone passing along a tall tale.

If it is true? Hoo boy, that’d be fun. At least for people like me who write about this stuff.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.