Barely more than one week into the season, disabled lists are growing:
Phillies: Jimmy Rollins. Angels: Brian Fuentes.
Orioles: Mike Gonzalez.
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Cubs: Esmailin Caridad.
And that was just Wednesday.
Baseball has long been governed by the capricious forces of pitching and health. This year, perhaps as much as any other in recent memory, the DLs are looking like All-Star teams.
Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge, Huston Street and Kerry Wood.
Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb and Ted Lilly.
Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Brian Roberts.
Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman.
Team Injured has enough talent to win almost any division.
So, what to make of the latest additions to the ranks of the infirm?
Well, the Angels and Orioles must find new closers. The Cubs will need to cobble together a setup crew for the eighth inning. And the Phillies are without a former National League MVP. Here’s a look at the four new cases, listed from the greatest impact to the least:
1. Brian Fuentes — Angels. With Fuentes idled by a back strain, Fernando Rodney becomes the Angels’ interim closer.
Rodney converted 37 of 38 save opportunities for the Tigers last year. He can do the job, maybe even better than Fuentes. That’s not the issue. In fact, Rodney earned his first save as an Angel on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
The greater concern is what happens in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
At the start of spring training, it looked as if the Angels would have a strong bullpen. They had Fuentes, Rodney, Kevin Jepsen and veteran Scot Shields to handle the late innings.
But the collective performance has fallen somewhere south of expectations. The bullpen had a 5.68 ERA through eight games. Shields, returning from knee surgery, didn’t retire any of the three New York hitters he faced on Wednesday.
When a closer goes down, middle relievers become setup men. The results aren’t always pretty. One Angels source indicated that Fuentes is likely to come off the disabled list when he is eligible to return April 21. The day can’t come soon enough for a team stuck at 3-6.
2. Jimmy Rollins — Phillies. Rollins lands on the DL with a freakish right calf strain that the Phillies hope will require a two-to-four-week recovery.
Rollins is very durable. This is only his second stay on the disabled list during a decade in the big leagues.
The Phillies will need to win without him for a month and perhaps more, just as they did when he was out with an ankle injury in 2008. (Rollins’ month-long absence from the starting lineup didn’t stop them from winning the World Series that year.)
Charlie Manuel has enough mashers to get by without the lineup catalyst, but the team won’t be as dynamic. Juan Castro will probably replace him at shortstop, with Shane Victorino moving up to the leadoff spot.
The Phillies entered Wednesday with the most runs scored (50) in the major leagues. The loss of one player can’t ruin that … right? 3. Esmailin Caridad — Cubs. Just when it looked like the Cubs were figuring out their bullpen, they put Caridad on the disabled list because of a strained right forearm. Wrigley Field isn’t an easy place to pitch. Not in April. And not when the Cubs’ bullpen roles are murkier than the bottom of the Chicago Drainage Canal.
Carlos Marmol is the closer. We know that much. Aside from that …
“We have a little sorting out to do,” manager Lou Piniella told MLB.com.
I’ll say. The Cubs arrived at camp with the idea that Angel Guzman would be their setup man. He’s out for the season. Then they were excited by Caridad during spring training. Now he’s gone, too.
In comes the Setup Committee. Never a manager’s first choice.
“Caridad hurts,” one American League executive said. “They are already searching for answers, and he was going good.”
Jeff Gray came up from the minors to replace Caridad. Gray allowed two earned runs in one inning against the Brewers on Wednesday — but earned the win anyway.
The Cubs expect that Caridad will be able to return after the minimum 15 days. If he doesn’t, the trade rumors are certain to begin anew.
4. Mike Gonzalez — Orioles. Months after signing a two-year, $12 million contract to close for Baltimore, Gonzalez is sidelined by an injured throwing shoulder. Of all the injuries here, this one sounds the most ominous.
I asked multiple Orioles people about Gonzalez on Wednesday. None of them could offer an estimate as to when he may return. That’s a bad sign.
He was given three save opportunities in his young Baltimore career, and he blew two of them.
“The way Gonzalez was pitching,” one scout said, “the DL is the best place for him.”
Why isn’t he higher on this list? Easy: He pitches for the Orioles, the only non-contender affected by Wednesday’s widespread DL-ing. Jim Johnson saved 10 games last year and is probably the most capable internal replacement.
But the Orioles are 1-8. Their closer appears about as often as the kickoff specialist for a football team that never scores.