Deer antlers: the hot new PED

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Given how many baseball players spend their offseasons hunting you’d think we would have heard about this by now, but this is the first I’ve heard of ground up deer antlers being used by athletes as a PED:

They harvest the so-called velvet antler (a soft coating that covers deer antlers) in New Zealand, freeze-dry it and then grind it into a powder. It then gets shipped to the United States, where it gets put into either capsules or liquid extracts that can become a simple mouth spray. You can buy it for $68 a bottle.

For the elite athlete, experts say it’s essentially a human growth hormone, one of the substances organized sports is trying to keep out. The difference here is deer antlers are natural, not synthetic, and properly discovering it in a test falls somewhere between extremely challenging to virtually impossible.

Apparently the active ingredient — IGF-1 — is one of the main proteins in human growth hormone. The author of the piece — Dan Wetzel — talks about its use being widespread in the NFL and gets quotes from the usual hand-wringing suspects about just how awful this is.  Indeed, as this story was being written I was asked to ship my personal fainting couch to the WADA offices in Montreal because they’re suffering a shortage.  It wouldn’t be so bad but everyone up there is afraid that the medication doctors prescribe for cases of the vapors might unfairly impact their job performance.

Of course, you know where all this is heading:

Freeze-dried, ground up, liquid extract, New Zealand velvet deer antlers. That’s the level the athletes will go to gain an advantage. Anyone got any good ideas how far the leagues have to go to stop it?

I suppose that question is inevitable. Seems to me that another question should be asked first, but isn’t: does the stuff actually improve athletic performance one iota?  Because HGH hasn’t been proven to do so. At all.  But of course, anti-doping groups don’t care nearly as much about that as they do about coming up with, selling and promoting the latest drug testing methods and shaming those who don’t seek their seal of approval, so it’s understandable why that’s all glossed over.

Oh well.  All I know for sure is that given what passes for reasonable suspicion these days, Luke Scott’s Hall of Fame case is in deep trouble.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”