From the Philadelphia Inquirer....
The injury that has sidelined catcher Mike Lieberthal since the Phillies' Grapefruit League opener 10 days ago may be more worrisome than first suspected.
Though the Phillies have maintained for days that the injury is not serious, the catcher's discomfort and the actual area of that discomfort could be cause for alarm.
It was revealed yesterday that Lieberthal has an abdominal injury rather than just the general soreness in his hips and thighs that he and the team had reported since he missed Sunday's game against Toronto.
The fact that Lieberthal has an abdominal injury is significant because of his history. In 1998, he missed almost the entire second half of the season with a pelvic injury.
Lieberthal said that he does not believe the new injury is related to that one. He said that the pain from the pelvic injury was lower and gradually got worse as he continued to play. This time, he feels as if he is getting better each day.
The two-time all-star conceded that if this had happened during the season, he would have been forced out of the lineup for at least a week. He also conceded that he will be concerned next week at this time if he still has not returned to the lineup.
"I'm not that concerned, because I can do everything," Lieberthal said. "I can catch, I can throw, and I can hit."
Lieberthal omitted running from the list, and that's because it's the one thing he still can't do at full speed. He said that he tried jogging after the Phillies' morning stretch yesterday but still had abdominal pain.
"Whenever I start to run hard, I feel it pull a little bit," he said. "It's getting better, though. If it wasn't getting better, I'd be more concerned about it. It really has improved daily."
Still, it is not known when Lieberthal will be back in the lineup. He said that he will tell the team when he is ready to try to run full-speed again.
"I probably won't run until it's fully gone," he said.
Ed Wade, the Phillies' general manager, said that the team is not alarmed but is proceeding with caution.
"There's certainly reason to be cautious," he said. "We pay attention to every injury, and the fact that he had a long-term problem before gives us more reason to pay attention.
"The indications are still that he's getting better, and he should be back out there soon. It just sort of makes sense to take a cautious approach and go off Mike's cues right now."
Lieberthal, Wade and manager Larry Bowa all maintain that there is still plenty of time for the catcher to get ready for the season. Bowa said that he will get Lieberthal at-bats in minor-league exhibitions if necessary.
Even if Lieberthal is all right and returns to the lineup in the near future, his injury raises questions about the organization's catching depth. That area that took a hit when the Phillies traded Johnny Estrada to Atlanta for pitcher Kevin Millwood in December.
"I'm not as comfortable now with the catching situation as I was before [the trade]," Wade said. "That was one of the reasons we were very reluctant to trade Johnny. Catching is very thin industry-wide."
Wade said that he has told his major-league scouts to look for potential catching help this spring. In an ideal world, he would love to get somebody with the same credentials as Estrada, but he knows that's not likely.
Without Estrada, the Phillies would have to turn to Todd Pratt in the event of an injury to Lieberthal.
Pratt, a career backup, said that he thinks he could handle the job.
"If people don't think I can do it, I don't think they know baseball," he said. "I remember Mike [Piazza] going down for two weeks in 1999 [with the New York Mets], and I went out and hit .320."
With Piazza sidelined by a knee injury for most of April that year, Pratt hit .319 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
"Just because I haven't played every day in the major leagues doesn't mean I haven't played every day before," Pratt said. "Who's to say I can't do it? What do they have to go on?
"I've been a backup my whole career, but look who I've backed up. [Darren] Daulton [in an earlier stint with the Phillies], Piazza and Lieberthal. It's not like I'm not in shape. I'm in great shape.
"But I don't think it's going to be a problem. Mike is going to be fine."
That's what everybody thinks and everybody hopes in the Phillies' camp.
I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.