Lilly's shoulder adds to Cubs' pitching needs

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Given all of the indications that the team had no plans to offer free agent Rich Harden arbitration this winter, the Cubs must have been feeling confident about their 2010 rotation. Big-money pitchers Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster were set to lead the way, with rookie surprise Randy Wells and summer acquisition Tom Gorzelanny likely to follow. Maybe the Cubs would take a chance on a rehabbing veteran, but they felt their rotation was set.
Alas, plans have already gone awry with the news Wednesday that Lilly underwent shoulder surgery and was questionable for the start of the season. No major damage was found, but pitchers don’t recover from shoulder scopes quickly. If the Cubs had him back at 100 percent by May 1, they’d undoubtedly be thrilled.
Of course, the Cubs should be able hold down the fort until then, perhaps with Sean Marshall. But it’s not like Lilly’s injury will be the only one they have to deal with. The typically durable Zambrano spent time on the DL this year, and Gorzelanny has dealt with his share of elbow issues. Wells was a revelation in 2009, but he didn’t show the kind of strikeout rate that suggests he’ll be anything more than a fourth or fifth starter going forward.
Fortunately, there will be plenty of guys worth taking chances on this winter. Rehabbing pitchers like Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer and Kelvim Escobar will be available at varying levels of cost. Injury-prone starters such as Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano and John Smoltz could at least bridge the gap until Lilly returns and contribute off an on throughout. There will also be arms with less upside, like Jose Contreras, Braden Looper (probably) and Jeff Weaver.
The Cubs could have chosen to get by without any of them and used the savings to aid the rest of the team. However, that wouldn’t necessarily have been the smart strategy even before the Lilly news. Marshall is important in the pen, and there’s no telling what Jeff Samardzija will provide. The Cubs needed more starting pitching depth either way.

Alex Dickerson to miss 2017 season after undergoing back surgery

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Padres’ outfielder Alex Dickerson won’t see PETCO Park anytime soon — at least, not as its starting left fielder. The 27-year-old was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his lower back prior to the start of the 2017 season, and hasn’t made any kind of substantial progress in the months since. According to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune, he suffered a setback in his recovery process last week and is set to undergo a season-ending discectomy next Wednesday.

Over 285 plate appearances, Dickerson batted .257/.333/.455 with 10 home runs and a .788 OPS for the Padres in 2016. He missed several days with a right hip contusion last July, but hasn’t experienced any substantial health problems since undergoing surgery in 2014 to repair a torn ligament in his left ankle.

The expected recovery period for lower back surgery is 3-4 months, according to Lin, which puts Dickerson’s estimated return just a few days before the end of the regular season. The Padres aren’t scraping the bottom of the NL West, but their 29-44 record doesn’t bode well for a postseason run this year. Assuming Dickerson rehabs his back in a timely manner, he should be in fine form to enter the competition for left field next spring.

Video: Hanley Ramirez’s No. 250 career home run barely left the field

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Hanley Ramirez played a pivotal role during the Red Sox’ 9-4 win over the Angels on Friday night, crushing a two-run homer off of Alex Meyer to bring the Sox up to a four-run lead in the fourth inning.

Well, crushed might be the wrong word. The ball cleared the right field fence with a mere 350 feet, landing just beyond Pesky’s Pole to bring Ramirez’s career home run total to an even 250.

According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Ramirez’s milestone blast wasn’t the shortest home run of the year — not by a long shot. That distinction currently belongs to Rays’ outfielder Corey Dickerson, who skimmed the left field fence at Rogers Centre with a 326-foot homer back in April.